The internal party rift on the PR selection has not even cooled down and another conflict has stalled the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly (CA). Making noise now is the tug of war between the head of the state and head of government on who will call the symbolic first meeting of the CA.
Almost two months have passed since the CA election but the freshly elected members have not had the opportunity to formally convene. The Election Commission has submitted the full result of the election to the president and the government and the as per the constitutional provision, the first meeting of CA should be held within the 21 days of the publication of CA candidates' final name list. The stage is set and the infrastructure is ready. But the debate of whether President Ram Baran Yadav or Chairman of the interim government Khil Raj Regmi should summon the first CA meeting has blocked the process from moving further.
What began as an issue of political difference has now become a legal case. Demanding that the president should call the first CA meeting a writ was filed on 27 December by Democratic Lawyer’s Association. The Supreme Court has even directed a show of cause in the name of the Regmi government. But another writ was filed by advocate Mukunda Adhikari demanding that the chairman of the interim government Khil Raj Regmi should call the first meeting.
The answer to the question now rests on decisions on the conflicting writs. The Supreme Court will have a hearing on the cases on Wednesday. Even the High Level Political Committee has surrendered and left the decision to the court.
Why the debate?
Since the conclusion of the CA election, the president has become a figure of controversy. While Nepali Congress has maintained that the President Ram Baran Yadav should continue to head the state, leaders of CPN-UML were quick to say that with the new mandate, there should be a new president as well. UCPN (Maoist) supported UML, widening the divide between UML and NC.
In this uncertain situation, President Yadav seems to strongly want to establish a relationship with the CA and hold of honour of calling its first meeting. On the other hand, the election was successfully conducted by the Regmi government and it seems right that he conclude his responsibility by calling its first meeting.
The political parties have a difference of opinion on the issue. Pointing out international practice, NC has been says that the President should call the CA meeting but UML has strongly opposed the forwarded Regmi’s name. The government spokesperson Madhav Poudel has even said that the head of the government should call the first meeting of the CA and take the credit for conducting the elections.
Meanwhile, senior advocate Tika Ram Bhattarai has said that the conflict has been triggered by political differences between the political parties, misinterpretation of the constitution and clash of the constitution’s interpretation.
Other political analysts say that the present debate stems from an old conflict that has appeared between the two several instances. President Yadav had not supported the Regmi government when it tried to take decisions on appointment of new ambassadors, appointment of national human right commissioners and amendment of Police regulation, pointing out that the government appointed to conduct elections cannot make decisions on such issues.
What does the interim constitution say?
As per the Article 69 of the interim constitution, the first meeting of CA should be held within the 21 days of the publication of CA candidates' final name list in the national gazette. Article 69(1) specifies a provision that the first meeting of the CA should take place at the call of the Prime Minister. This leaves clear opening for Regmi to take the call.
However, Article 51 (1) of the constitution provides that the President can summon the Legislature-Parliament meeting time to time on recommendation of the Prime Minister and Article 51(2) states the President can prorogue the House session on recommendation of the Prime Minister. Our constitution provisions a unicameral house, divided into CA and the parliament.
What is the way out?
The obvious silence of the usually active High Level Political Committee on this issue is almost shameful. If the HLPC had ironed out all issues when it paved way to establish the Regmi government, then perhaps there would not be so many hurdles for the CA to convene.
However, it is important to protect the dignity of both the head of the state and the head of the government and find a compromising solution. It is useless to lengthen this debate that has now become an issue of prestige.
The way out is within the interim constitution. There is no necessity for the parties to recommend an amendment to the President. The council of ministers could to specify the date and time and venue of the first CA meeting, and the president could in turn call the meeting as recommended. The result of this tug of war is now with the court, but there need not be any losers.