By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
On the surface, everything looks calm and quiet in Nepal. Perhaps the political leaders think that the present status quo eminently suits them and they can take their own time to find a solution for the current constitutional impasse.
This does not appear to be a correct reading of the situation. There are subterranean tensions amongst all sections of the people, the civic bodies and within parties that may erupt into an unmanageable law and order situation any time.
On the 5th of this month, President Ram Bharan Yadav finally called for a meeting of the top leaders of 27 political parties and urged them for the umpteenth time to forge a consensus at the earliest to end the current political impasse and constitutional hurdles. Surprising that he waited so long to get the parties together. Perhaps he is also at his wit’s end to decide on the next step!
Media reports indicate that the President warned the political leaders that the State was heading towards constitutional, economic and administrative crisis due to the political parties and the government’s inability to end the deadlock even after two months of the dissolution of the constitutional assembly.
But the warning does not appear to have had the desired effect. The President gives the impression of being totally helpless. Political leaders do make frequent statements on the grave situation in the country but beyond that nothing seems to be moving!
On 30th July, the Election Commission formally announced its inability to have fresh CA elections on November 22nd as desired by the government. A week earlier the EC wrote to the Government to amend all electoral laws and also amend the interim constitution to hold the elections. Nothing was done by the government and the dead line has passed. With the closure of the passes and many regions in the north by end November, elections can be thought of only in April next year! The EC cannot be blamed for the delay as it could not have formulated the necessary rules and directives for the elections in the absence of clear legal provisions. The EC was not even consulted when the date was announced by the Bhattarai government!
Arjun Narsing KC, one of the top leaders of the Nepali Congress in his article (31st July)in the media said that “constitutionally and politically the country is journeying through a dark tunnel of uncertainty and anxiety.” He has suggested that one should go for elections to the parliament, then convert the parliament into a constitution making assembly and produce a constitution within six months. The official line of the Nepali Congress also appears to be for fresh polls to Parliament that can function as a constituent assembly.
Under what constitution can elections to the parliament be conducted? Not under the 1990 dispensation which is dead and gone and that too when the interim constitution is in place. If one questions the legality of the interim constitution, then it would cut at the very root of the present dispensation where the President and the care taker PM are still functioning?
Another senior leader of Nepali Congress Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat wrote a two-part series in the media as to why ethnic-based division of provinces is not suited to Nepal. He has made a convincing argument but it is too late in the day now for the Nepali Congress to demand a non ethnic division of states unless the Nepali Congress and the other mainstream party UML want to permanently alienate both the Janajathis and the Madhesis.
It must have been known to the Nepali Congress leaders that once the late G.P. Koirala conceded a federal system of governance, the division of states into ethnic provinces was inevitable. No one raised his/her voice over that decision that was taken thenwithout consultations among the senior leaders.
If the differences amongst the political parties relate only to the division of provinces on ethnic lines, then a solution could be found to move forward. But there appears to be too many subterranean differences that are not openly declared.
We see once again many including some from the ruling parties claiming that a revival of the CA is the best option. It is not clear what the official stand of the UCPN (M) is. PM Bhattarai says that he will not step down until the parties agreed on a package deal- an agreement on the next prime minister and the process to promulgate a new constitution. No one knows what the package deal is.
The Maoist leadership is deliberately obfuscating the issue. Their stand as is made out in the media is that the CA elections must be held but are “willing to keep the revival of CA option open.”
It must be clear by now that elections to any entity- the CA or the parliament cannot be held before April next year. The calculation of both the Maoists and the Madhesi Morcha appears to be to cling onto the government until the next elections. The Nepali Congress is not helping the issue either by some of them announcing prematurely that the government should be handed over to Deuba ,of all persons!
It is time the President takes a decision now either way- revival or fresh elections quickly and move on. The integration process is stalled and the army is awaiting instructions from the political leadership on the problem of age and educational qualifications. It is time the government gives a firm direction to be a little flexible on these issues and take those three thousand and odd ex fighters of the PLA into the new entity being formed under the Army. On the integration process, it cannot be denied that Prachanda has taken a great risk and despite opposition from within ( witness the proceedings of the 7th plenum) in pushing it through to a stage where it is irreversible now.
Once again when problems are galore, the ire is directed towards India as if the neighbour is responsible for all the lapses of the politicians in the country! . This is helped not a little by the pronouncements of some analysts who claim unnecessary credit for some of the earlier developments during the Jana Andolan II and later. I see no purpose in a well-known professor recalling the days of fifties when King Tribuvan is supposed to have offered Nepal to India! The question its- in this charged atmosphere today is it necessary to muddy the waters further?
What has been missed in all this is the emergence in Nepal of a clear and pronounced pro Chinese group in the form of CPN (M) led by Mohan Baidya. Baidya’s Group which considers India as the main enemy was given a great welcome in China in the last week of July. In his ten days tour, Baidya talked to the international department of Chinese Communist Party and other very senior officials. Baidya on his return declared that “China is worried about the possibility of Nepal losing its sovereignty due to increasing interference from international power centres” Nobody seems to have raised the issue of China interfering by entertaining a group which openly calls for “peoples revolution” in Nepal.