MAY 27 DEADLINE
VOL. 05, NO. 21, May 18, 2012 (Jestha 05, 2069)
As the May 27 deadline for promulgating the constitution draws closer, major political parties are making the last-minute moves to guide what should follow. Desperate to avoid any major political and constitutional crisis and hold on to the power with the ‘legitimate’ tag, the major political parties have finally settled the system of governance and forged consensus on the issue of federalism. The parties also agreed on federalizing the country into 11 provinces
By KESHAB POUDEL
While listening to more than two hours of speech and argument from Maoist leaders Prachanda and prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel lost his patience. Poudel finally opened his mouth accusing Maoist leaders of their insensitivity towards constitution writing. Unlike other meetings of the past, the bilateral meeting between Nepali Congress and UCPN-Maoist held on Tuesday (May 15) at Prachanda’s residence turned tense.
“Baburamji and Prachandaji do not want to see the promulgation of the new constitution,” blamed NC leader Poudel. Maoist leader Prachanda and prime minister Baburam reacted by blaming Nepali Congress and CPN-UML leaders for the current political stalemate.
“You and your party are responsible for the crisis. You are conspiring against promulgation of new constitution,” thundered prime minister Bhattarai. “Don’t play with the regressive slogan. People will uproot your party.”
The meeting virtually turned into a war of words. Deputy prime minister and general secretary of Nepali Congress Krishna Prasad Sitaula intervened and pacified both the leaders. “Let’s go for business, this is not the time to resort to blame game,” Sitaula said.
Many see the frustration is natural as leaders of political parties have spent almost the whole of their time in bilateral and multilateral negotiations. However, they failed to come up with any compromise on the 117 disputed issues. From Constitutional Committee to Constituent Assembly, the differences continue to persist, particularly on the agenda of state restructuring, and the form of government and judiciary.
As differences continue to widen, Indian ambassador to Nepal Jayanta Prasad met the leaders of major political parties and reportedly urged them to abide by the five-point agreement signed two weeks ago.
Deal at last minute
One after another, leaders of Nepal’s four major political parties held a series of meetings over the last week to find a consensus on constitution drafting and finally they agreed on Tuesday to settle disputes in many issues.
The Constituent Assembly has resolved all issues except five in the past four years. “We have already almost resolved the issues related to judiciary, citizenship and electoral system, state restructuring and system of governance “, said General Secretary of the Nepali Congress Krishna Prasad Sitaula.
Leader of the Front Bijaya Kumar Gachchhadar also said, “First we will ask the three parties to agree on the federal model. Then we will register our reservations. But we will not be an obstacle in promulgating the constitution by May 27.”
A meeting of Dispute Resolution Sub-Committee entrusted the taskforce to put into writing the agreement. The taskforce comprises Radhe Shyam Adhikari and Ramesh Lekhak from the Nepali Congress, Barshaman Pun and Khim Lal Devkota from the UCPN(Maoist), Bhim Rawal and Agni Kharel from the CPN-UML and Kalpana Rana of Rastriya Prajatantra Party on behalf of various small parties represented in the Constituent Assembly (CA).
However, United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) refused representation in the taskforce, expressing reservation over the Tuesday´s agreement. The taskforce has been entrusted to put into writing the agreement between the parties and questionnaire on 117 issues to be put to vote in the Constituent Assembly by 2 pm, Wednesday.
According to Article 70 of the Interim Constitution, the Constituent Assembly shall, in order to pass a bill relating to the constitution, vote on the preamble and each article of such bill introduced before it. Under this article, it will take at least a couple of weeks to pass a single article.
With a consensus decision, the government has already registered a bill for the amendment of article 70. However, the delay in summoning of the Legislature Parliament has made even the future of the bill uncertain.
Now the situation is that the constitution can be promulgated under a political announcement from the Legislature Parliament. Nepal’s restored parliament has made a similar political announcement in 2006 making many articles of the Constitution of Kingdom of Nepal 1990 redundant.
Along with constitution writing, political leaders are also making a secret deal on power sharing. From UCPN-Maoist leader Prachanda is said to be in a power race. In all the meetings, Prachanda not only found fault with the man he made prime minister, he privately admitted of making a mistake by propelling Bhattarai to the top executive office.
He complained that Bhattarai embarrassed him by taking a number of actions without consulting him. Bhattarai, according to him, ignored his suggestion to not dismantle the house of landless people in Bagmati at a critical time ahead of the constitution deadline.
Prachanda’s confessions of ‘mistakes’ with the men he once labeled ‘foreign stooges’ and ‘puppets’ were not merely meant to criticize Bhattarai. What he was aiming at was a further extension of the constituent assembly that was to die its natural death two weeks later.
Having forced his views through the party’s central committee for “the peace process and the constitution making” in place of the popular revolt, Prachanda has now sought to assure the UML and the Congress leaders that he was committed to “a democratic constitution”. For this, however, he maintains that the CA should not let die without completing the task.
His trusted vice-chairman Narayan Kaji Shrestha ‘Prakash” said, “The meetings were aimed at looking for a basis to forge a consensus among the three big parties and SLMM and give a message to the people that the constitution was possible.”
But the uncertainty remains. Even now. With just a few days away from the constitution deadline, said a Nepali Congress leader, “the basis for a consensus with the Maoists can come about only after the Maoists put into practice what they pledged –on constitution and particularly on federal structure”
It is not that nothing has moved forward. The Nepali Congress and the UML have been somewhat positive after Prachanda expressed the commitment to a democratic constitution.
A reliable source told NEW SPOTLIGHT that Prachanda is hell bent on reaching an agreement on extending the CA because of the pressure from within to let the CA dissolve and prepare for a popular revolt. Prachanda realizes that such a move will be suicidal for the largest party in the CA. “He is closer to an agreement with the other parties.”
But the other parties will find it difficult to trust the Maoists. They will continue to suspect the Maoists’ commitment to democratic constitution merely as a lip service. Critics point out that such a policy does directly contradict with the communist ideology of the former rebels.
To take these parties and the international community into confidence, Prachanda will have to risk a vertical split in the party to keep the dissenters away as a splinter faction, otherwise he runs the risk of indulging in manipulative politics with the other parties. The last minute moves ahead of the constitution deadline, however, around what it does and what it does not.
There are, however, some apprehensions. The Nepali Congress and the Madhav Nepal-Oli faction of the UML suspects that the Maoists may go for fresh polls if they failed to promulgate the new constitution as par their wish. Their suspicion is based on ambiguity about the status of the incumbent government in the constitutional vacuum from May 27.
Although nothing can be predicted at this point of time, the continuation of Bhattarai as prime minister is increasingly looking unlikely. It is not for nothing that senior Maoist leader Mohan Baidhya has been calling, and holding secret talks, for a national government comprising all the parties.
Prachanda is not averse to the idea. The only thing he wants to be sure is that he should lead the new government. That is one thing, however, which is not sure yet. Hence uncertainty continues even at the eleventh hour, although a last-minute three-party agreement on promulgating the new constitution appears on the cards.
If things go as designed by political leaders, Nepalese will get another constitution this year not by way of enough discussions but in the form of a declaration as it was done in 2006. The restored House in 2006 amended the constitution of Kingdom of Nepal 1990 under a parliamentary proclamation.
This proclamation will be made on the midnight of May 27. The meeting of senior party leaders held at the residence of Prachanda on Tuesday decided to bring the constitution by May 27 any way.
As there is a lack of time to follow the constitutional processes and the CA procedures, this will be the only option left. Even in the new constitution, political leaders have made agreements not to include federalism. There will be the mixed form of government and a judiciary having provision of a constitutional court and a mixed elections system. According to a sources, chairman of the Constituent Assembly Subas Chandra Nembang will announce the document at midnight of May 27.
In his recent interview, Chairman Nembang has already said that the Legislature Parliament will continue after the completion of constitutional process on May 27. Leaders of four major parties have already directed a core group of people to draft the constitution, which will be tabled in the CA.
In his interview, chairman of the Constitutional Committee Nilambar Acharya said that it is impossible to bring the constitution by following existing rules. According to him, it will take at least a month to do so even by suspending many procedures.
“The constitution will be drafted as per the wishes of political parties,” thundered prime minister. The new constitution will be the document of political parties rather than the people’s document
• Mixed form of governance — directly elected President and prime minister chosen by Parliament
• President and PM to share powers with more rights vested with the latter
• Strength of federal Parliament will be 376: Lower House will have 311 members — 171 elected through first-past-the-post system and 140 through proportional system.
• Strength of National Assembly will be 65: Five members will be elected from each Pradesh Sabha, 10 members will be appointed by the President on Cabinet’s recommendation
• Number of constituencies: 171
• Pradeshes will be multi-ethnic with all ethnic groups enjoying equal rights
• A federal commission will be formed to settle the issue of merging and separating areas
• Parliament will remain the supreme body with the authority to censure President and the PM