Last Minute Moves
VOL. 05, NO. 21, May 18, 2012 (Jestha 05, 2069)
Under pressure from the fast approaching May 27 deadline, 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.
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.
Consensus calls for
• 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
Constitution Of Parties In Pipeline
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.
As the deadline for the promulgation of the new constitution is approaching, Nepal is witnessing chaos and anarchy. From east to far-west, various groups have been shutting down roads and cities. Kathmandu is no exception. Bahun and Chhetri Samaj, along with other eight groups, enforced a two-day general strike here. The situation in far west is much worse, with a virtual a civil war like situation reigning in the region of late. Till the time of writing this analysis, political parties were unable to produce any compromise and consensus on the constitution writing process.
Political parties have already made it clear that they will decide on the disputed issues on the basis of majority voting in the Constituent Assembly (CA). But the meeting of CA has already been postponed several times as the CA´s Constitutional Committee (CC) that was expected to prepare a list of questions on the disputes of constitution to be asked for voting at the CA meeting couldn´t finalize the questionnaire. The CC decided to conduct a vote on the disputes after leaders of major political parties failed to settle differences in constitution writing through consensus.
Ball At CC Court
Failing to finalize the list, the meeting entrusted CC Chairman Nilamber Acharya with the responsibility of preparing the list with the help of a group of five lawmakers and present it for endorsement at the committee´s meeting on Sunday. A group of lawmakers like Dev Gurung of UCPN (Maoist), Ramesh Lekhak of Nepali Congress (NC), Bhim Rawal of CPN-UML and Laxman Lal Karna on behalf of Madhes-based parties were assigned to assist Acharya in preparing the questionnaire. The lawmakers needed to work on subjective questions and make them objective. Some questions are already in an objective format. The subjective questions need rewriting, redrafting and breaking down so they can be put to vote. Though top leaders said they would also continue inter-party talks to settle the thorny issues, they instructed the CA secretariat to be prepared to conduct voting in the 601-seat CA.
The Constitutional Committee (CC) on Friday decided to send a list of 117 disputes in the constitution to its Dispute Resolution Subcommittee after it failed to convert them into objective forms. The 61-member CC decided to do so after its members said they could not convert the questions into objective forms unless fundamental political issues such as system of governance were first settled.
According to CC secretariat, there are 117 questions yet to be resolved. Officials at the secretariat said the number of questions will increase once the officials change them into objective forms. The list is likely to increase further as several lawmakers from various political parties have registered some supplementary questions at the CC secretariat. The voting will be conducted only after the CC chair tables the questionnaire at the CA meeting and it is distributed among all CA members.
Security Sector Reforms
Following the order of State Affairs Committee of the Legislature Parliament, the government plan for security sector reforms has been halted.
Nepal Army has proposed to create vacancies of two Lieutenant Generals, six Major Generals, 10 Brigadier Generals, 14 Colonels and 50 Lieutenant Colonels as part of its internal restructuring. The creation of the senior positions in the army will cost the government an additional Rs 120.5 million a year. Nepal Army and the government hold the view that internal restructuring was necessary as the army´s strength had grown from 18,000 to over 92,000 in 47 years since the last restructuring was carried out.
Lawmakers argued that there was no haste to bring internal restructuring in the army´s organization as the country is already in peace after a violent Maoist conflict. They also argued that it was not good to create additional vacancies at a time when there are suggestions from various parties to downsize the army that saw increase in its strength from around 40,000 to 92,000- during the Maoist conflict.
Alliance for federal state
As differences on the federal structures are growing, Madhesi and Janajati lawmakers have united for identity-based federalism. Following the decision by the major parties to resolve the contentious issues of the constitution writing through voting in the Constituent Assembly, a group of lawmakers from the Madhesi parties and the Janajati caucus reached a formal understanding Thursday to stand united to press for identity-based federalism for each of the major ethnic groups.
While signing the four-point understanding, they said federal provinces should be determined on the basis of the reports prepared by majority members of the State Restructuring Commission (SRC) and the Constituent Assembly´s thematic committee on state restructuring. Both the reports say the country should be federalized on the basis of single ethnic identity. Leaders of the three major parties and the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) on Friday said they have narrowed down their differences on federalism and are likely to agree on an 11-province model.
Big Parties Differ Over 'Party Whip' On CA Members
While a large number of lawmakers who have grouped themselves under different ethnic, women as well as other caucuses in the Constituent Assembly (CA) have challenged to defy party directives if they feel the directives go against their respective communities, the major political parties differ over whether CA members are bound to follow the party whips. While the UCPN (Maoist), the largest party in the CA, has said the lawmakers are free to cast their votes on various provisions of the new constitution as per their conviction, leaders from the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML have said lawmakers are obviously bound to abide by the instruction of their respective parties. As members belonging to Janajati and Madheshi caucuses of CA are demanding their rights to express conscience in CA, CPN-UML Chairman Jhalanath Khanal has strictly instructed the party lawmakers to abide by the party decisions and instructions while voting on issues of the constitution in the Constituent Assembly and warned them of stringent disciplinary actions if they breached the party´s directives.
Given the current political developments, there is every likelihood of a prolonged political instability reigning in the country in the coming years. Although Nepal’s four major political parties are working together to bring a consensus to have a constitution before May 27, they are yet to reach a consensus on several issues. Promulgation of the new constitution is not going to end the political instability Political parties have been looking at several options to avoid the political crisis after May 27. Their first and foremost effort now is to promulgate a new constitution before the deadline expires. As time is running out to bring a complete constitution, political leaders are considering a brief constitution giving the Legislature Parliament to deal with controversial agenda like federalism and boundaries of provinces later. Party leaders are also considering to extend the tenure of CA by imposing a State of Emergency. This view is strong in Maoist party. As Nepal’s apex court has already made it clear that the tenure of CA cannot be extended beyond May 27, leaders of political parties are in a no-option trap.
Whether political parties can agree to extend the CA by imposing state of emergency or bringing a new constitution by withholding complex issues like federalism, Nepal will go into another phase of transition. This transition will last till the completion of the elections of the new legislature at the center and provinces. It may go even beyond 2013 as Nepal will require administrative, judicial and other capabilities.
In a scenario if CA promulgates the new constitution leaving disputed issues like federalism to the Legislature Parliament, Nepal’s donor partners can support parliament members to bring various models and power sharing in debates. Similarly, they also can play a role to build opinions through dissemination of information on various federal models.
Development partners can also support for holding the elections at the two levels and for institution building. From administrative to judiciary and police institutions, there is a need to establish a working mechanism in place at all level. Strengthening institutional capabilities will be vital to sustain the new system.
In case of option 2, the extension of CA, support from Nepal’s donor communities will be more important. They can provide technical support to settle the disputed issues and in building new state institutions. Their expertise will be needed in the areas of judiciary and legislature from centre to provinces in a more complex situation than in the past.