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Interview

Constitution by May 28 is getting doubtful: Dr Lohani

Nepalnews: Going by the present political scenario, do you think a new constitution will be promulgated within the stipulated date of May 28?

It’s doubtful. If you had asked me the same question two months ago, I would say, the chances of a new constitution being promulgated within the stipulated time is 70 percent. Now, it has dropped to 40 percent.

Nepalnews: What has changed in these two months?

For the constitution to be promulgated on time, the three parties have to agree on a number of issues. The two main issues are the form of governance and state restructuring. Now, during the last month or month and a half we have had a sub-committee. The sub-committee was working effectively with Prachanda as its chairman, and Madhav Nepal and Ram Chandra Paudel and a couple of us as its members. The sub-committee has resolved a number of issues including the form of legislature and judiciary. These were major breakthrough. But, now suddenly Prachanda has declined to lead the sub-committee saying that there are other pressing engagements. Now, you know constitution making is the most important issue at present. What more important issue could be there other than constitution drafting? So, our perception is that his party did not want him to go ahead with it. So now, the sub-committee is there but it is virtually dysfunctional.

Nepalnews: What happens if the constitution does not get promulgated on time? Will the CA term get extended again?

Well, the situation is fluid and I cannot tell you what will happen. We don’t have a position to seek another extension. What will we say to the people? We don’t have much to show to the people about what we have done in the extended one year. So, unless there is a concrete plan of action about what we are going to do and the time we require for that, we cannot seek extension.

Nepalnews: So, what will happen then? If a new constitution does not get promulgated on May 28 and the parties don’t even reach consensus to extend it, what will happen?

A vacuum will be created. A big question of legitimacy will arise. Basically, a state of confusion! Nobody can predict now about what exactly the situation will be. In the worst case scenario, various elements might want to take advantage of such situation. So, the political parties have to become serious on time. Basically, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the three largest parties. Among them, the UCPN (Maoist) is the most responsible as the largest party, and Prachanda as the chairman of the largest party. In fact, we have never discussed the major issues of constitution drafting seriously yet.

Nepalnews: Some people, particularly the UCPN (Maoist) leaders, say some foreign forces or ‘unseen’ elements that do not want peace and stability established in Nepal are hindering the constitution drafting process.

There is a saying in Nepali that translates to ‘A person who does not know how to dance, blames the stage’. Nachna Najanne Aagan Tedho! Same thing is happening in the process of constitution writing also. The Maoists and the other big parties have not become serious in constitution writing. They are too busy in power games. In discussing who gets the defense ministry and who gets the home ministry. In fact, so far they have never sit down seriously to discuss the issue of constitution writing.

Nepalnews: What are the major issues remaining to be solved in the constitution drafting?

There are two issues. One is the form of governance and the other is state restructuring. The Maoists want the Presidential system, Nepali Congress wants parliamentary system. In fact, if they are serious and commit the constitution drafting can still be completed on time. If they give up petty power issues and really commit themselves to writing constitution. Of course, there will be differences. But, middle paths can be found if we sit down seriously for dialogues. We have solved a number of issues in the sub-committee. But, we have never discussed the two major issues. And now Prachanda has backtracked from the sub-committee just when it was making ample progress. So, we suspect the Maoists, or some hardliner leaders inside the Maoists, don’t want to go ahead with constitution making.

Nepalnews: What’s your party’s take in form of governance and state restructuring?

As long as the system guarantees fundamentals of democracy like separation of power, independent judiciary, periodic elections, freedom of speech, freedom of press etc we are open to both. Or, a mix of both systems could be an option.

Nepalnews: Why is the army integration process taking so long? Is the delay in army integration affecting the constitution drafting process?

Again, there has been no serious negotiation in the army integration, too. The UCPN (M) is dilly dallying on the army integration process. They want to keep their army until the constitution promulgated. Some other parties including ours want the army integration to complete before the constitution is promulgated. Because, once the constitution is promulgated we don’t want two armies in the country. There has to be one army and one constitution.

Nepalnews: So, why the delay in army integration ? Can it be completed before May 28?

It can be, if they want to. But, they have not shown the seriousness. The model for army integration has not been finalised. Jhala Nath jee and Prachanda agreed on a certain model in the agreement they signed. But, that’s not the way to go about it. There is a legitimate body, the Army Integration Special Committee, to decide on the model of army integration. It has not been discussed in the committee and two individuals try to supersede the legitimate body and sign an agreement without consulting anyone.

Nepalnews: What’s the major difference in army integration ?

The Maoists do not want to give up control over their army. They want to integrate the army in such a way that, their army takes salary from the government and obeys their command. Basically, they want their army inside the Nepal Army. Now, we don’t accept that. We don’t agree for a separate army inside Nepal Army. There has to be only one army.

Nepalnews: But, the Maoist leaders have been saying they are ready for any model.

They say, they are ready for any models in the public speeches and in the media and do nothing. If they are ready for any model, why can’t they sit down in the special committee and decide on a model. They have their representatives in the special committee. If the special committee decides on a model, it can be implemented.

Nepalnews: How long do you think these processes of army integration and constitution drafting will prolong?

It should not prolong for long now. People are tired. We extended the CA term by one year saying we would complete the constitution drafting in one year. Now, we have very little to show about the progress made in the past one year. People will lose faith in this political system if this status quo prolongs for long.

Nepalnews: To say that it should not prolong for long is one thing. But, looking at the way things are going on now, how many months or years more will this transitional phase continue?

It mostly depends on leaders of the large three parties, and the largest party in particular.

Nepalnews: There have been too much talks about constitution in the past half decade in Nepal. Nepal has had three constitutions in the past. The 1990 constitution was described as one of the best constitutions in the world. So, do you think the constitution alone will guarantee peace, stability, prosperity and development in Nepal?

I still think the 1990 constitution was one of the best in the world. It was very democratic and had guaranteed all fundamental rights. The only place it had lapses was in the power devolution to local bodies. The constitution did not have provisions guaranteeing authority to local bodies – the VDCs and DDCs. According to the 1990 constitution, administration was very centralised – Kathmandu centric. That is going to be reformed in the new constitution. There will be clear provisions on power devolution. We are going into federal model where local authorities will have full authority in deciding how to use their resources. So, this transformation from a unitary system to a federal system will be an improvement. Having said that, constitution alone will not guarantee anything. It largely depends on people who interpret it.

Nepalnews: In recent years, there have also been lots of talks about foreign intervention in Nepal? How strong is the foreign influence in Nepal? Is it really as bad as touted outside?

Look, if you are united within your house, nobody can intervene. Otherwise, it’s natural that neighbours will have interest in your house in special circumstances. China and India both are rising powers and Nepal is going through a transitional phase. If everything was running smoothly, it would have been a different matter. But, when things are not going on smoothly, they can ask, hey what’s happening? Is there anything we can do? You can call it intervention, interference or cooperation. But, it’s natural.

Nepalnews: To what extent is it going on? Is it just showing genuine concern or also trying to influence decisions to suit one’s interests?

The thing is, if you are united at home, nobody can interfere. If the political parties in Nepal work together and say, look it’s our issue and we can solve it ourselves nobody can do anything. If you yourself start wrangling in internal matters and invite the foreign powers to mediate, certainly they will come.

Nepalnews: Are political parties, party factions or individual leaders using foreign power centres against others to gain advantage over them ?

I don’t want to blame any particular persons. But, the tendency is going towards that. Looking at the frequent visits of leaders to foreign and coming back here and bragging saying I met this leader and that leader shows hints that the tendency is going towards that. Now, it’s okay if you have genuine friendly talks with foreign friends. But, if you try to corner others based on your relations with parties and leaders in other countries, the sign is not good.

Nepalnews: You have been into politics since four decades, since the Panchayat system and have also become foreign minister in the past. To what extent there used to be foreign influence in Nepal in the past?

Not much. Then, the situation was different. It was monarchy-centric. Politics was centred towards the king and foreign influence was not felt.

Nepalnews: What about the post-1990 period, when the King was stripped off his power?

Even then, there was a constitution. There was (or were) elected parliaments. And the parties and the leaders played within the parliament and the members of the parliament. After emergence of conflict and when the election could not take place time, the tendency of seeking influence of foreign powers rose. And it escalated after the people’s movement II as it is transitional phase, and there is not much system in place.

Nepalnews: What’s your party’s real position on monarchy? Is it likely that your party might adopt a policy of constitutional monarchy if such situation comes?

Nepal is a republic now. And we have accepted it. That’s why we are in the system. Whether, there will be monarchy or any other system depends on the people. People are the supreme power and if one million people come out on the street and say we want monarchy, monarchy will be restored, the same way monarchy had been abolished following the mass movement II. Not just the issue of monarchy, our position is, all clauses in the constitution should be put on referendum once passed y the constituent assembly.

Nepalnews: In the present scenario, former royalist parties have very little space left. What future do you see for former royalist parties like yours?

The message is clear. People have told us, come united we will vote for you, stand divided we will not. We have seen that in the past elections. In 1991, when we contested elections as two parties we received very few votes. People rejected us. We received only three seats in the parliament. In 1995, we contested the election as a single party and we got 20 percent of the total votes, the same proportion Nepali Congress has received in the Constituent Assembly (CA) election. Ours became the third biggest party. However, our party made a mistake again of splitting. In the elections after that we contested as various divided parties and we did not fare well. So, the message is clear. Now, we have got the message. We have pretty could scope if we contest united. Also there is a scope for a liberal nationalist party like ours in the national politics. Ours party is a nationalist party. Democracy is our means, nationalism is our end. There is a need for a nationalist party like ours. There is no alternative. Other parties like Nepali Congress and UML have been tried and failed. The unification process is underway and we will be contesting the next election as united party. I am sure, if we contest as a united party we will fare well in the elections.

Nepalnews: You have also become a finance minister in the past. Recently the secretary at the finance ministry who had a reputation of honesty and high caliber resigned from his post abruptly. What’s your say in this incident?

Well, I think Khanal was an honest, thoroughly professional person. It’s unfortunate that a professional personal like Khanal felt the need to resign. Khanal said that he resigned due to some differences with the finance minister on the whole idea of supplementary budget. If that’s true, it’s not a good reflection on the state of affairs of the country. Khanal also said, he resigned as the concept and design of the supplementary budget was being prepared outside the finance ministry. It’s very unfortunate that the finance allowed that to happen. Supplementary budget is not required at present. Supplementary budget is brought when the government is in a very difficult situation, when it is running short of money and in case of emergencies. It does not make sense to introduce supplementary budget at this time. The government has money. There is surplus money, they are not able to spend it. And again you are trying to bring supplementary budget. It doesn’t make sense!

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