By Mohan Khadka
The Constituent Assembly (CA) has dissolved just before midnight (May 27) without delivering the new constitution after witnessing four years of political bickering and brinkmanship.
The assembly turned defunct after the major parties that were engaged in hectic negotiations failed to arrive at a consensus on the thorny issue of state restructuring, particularly the number of the provinces and the basis of creating them.
There were several rounds of bilateral and multilateral talks at Prime Minister's Baluwatar residence and in the Speaker's chamber in Singha Durbar, but the whole exercise proved futile. Till the last moment, leaders involved in the talks were intermittently telling media persons that the talks were moving in positive direction.
Key dialogue took place mostly outside of the CA, including the last-minute talks between the major political forces – UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and United Democratic Madhesi Front – despite the CA members demanding that the House be allowed to take a decision whether to extend its term.
There were angry protests outside the CA building, Naya Baneshwor, while the top leaders engaged in talks. The CA members also staged demonstration at the CA premises, demanding that the CA session start and allow the house to decide the course. However, the session never got underway. CA chair Subas Nemwang as well as the top leaders of the parties did not show up as the assembly awaited an unceremonious demise.
The formation of the CA for the first time in the history of Nepal was the key agenda of the popular movement of 2007 that put 240-year-old monarchy to an end and turned the country into a federal democratic republic. By far the most inclusive representative body the country ever had, the CA proved to be a costly affair in the country's political transition with an estimated Rs 8 billion rupees going into it.
Initially, the 601-member CA, which was elected on 10 April 2008, was mandated to complete the task of constitution-writing in two years, but due to sharp political polarisation, especially over the power, and lack of deliberations on the statute the parties failed to get anywhere closer to preparing even a preliminary draft although a number of issues related to the constitution had been settled. The House that doubled as legislature parliament amended the Interim Constitution and extended the deadline four times.
On November 25, 2011, giving its final verdict on a writ petition challenging repeated extension of the CA's tenure, the Supreme Court stated that the CA's term could be extended only one more time and that the Assembly will be defunct if the constitution is not promulgated within the extended term.
On May 22, the government registered 13th constitution amendment bill in the parliament to pave the way for three-month extension of the term of the Constituent Assembly irrespective of the apex court's November 25 verdict. However, responding the writ petitions filed against the government move, the Court on May 24 issued a ruling to the government, asking it not to proceed with its decision to extend the term of the CA that ended the possibility of the CA term extension.
As the parties could not find common ground on the key issues, mainly the federalism, related to constitution drafting despite series of discussions till the night of May 27, the CA expired without delivering the new constitution.
Meanwhile, following the talks breakdown, the government rushed to declare fresh CA polls in less than two hours head of the official expiry of the CA as the NC and the UML refused to go for the proposal to extend the CA term "one last time".
Ministers from the NC, UML and some fringe parties walked out of the cabinet meeting, protesting the proposal to declare fresh CA elections. The cabinet eventually announced polls for November 22.
Bhattarai defends decision to go for fresh polls, says it was the only choice
In an address to the nation from his Baluwatar from Baluwatar residence this midnight, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai said there was no alternative to announcing fresh elections.
He claimed that the government had to take the election decision after the [Maoist] proposal to issue the constitution through the CA procedure was rejected [by NC and UML] and that there were attempts to abort the constitution-drafting process. He said seeking fresh mandate would be the best option "to keep alive the aspirations of the people for change".
He also claimed that the government would successfully conduct the elections on 22 November this year, expressing hope that the President would approve the cabinet decision.
Politics heads to uncharted territory
With the CA's demise without delivering the constitution amidst deep political rift, the country's political transition has embraced further uncertainty. The next few weeks and months might see more political division with the Nepali Congress, the UML and their allies trying to pull every possible string to topple Bhattarai government and foil its election plan. A fresh round of blame game for the CA's failure will ensue, leading the confrontation to a new height. This might also complicate the peace process which otherwise has made a slow but significant headway.
For the parties, the biggest challenge will be to regain public trust and arrive at some kind of compromise on the new political course, especially the roadmap for constitution. nepalnews.com