By S. Chandrasekharan.
As expected after hectic last minute drama and negotiations, the three main parties -the UCPN (M)- the Maoists, the Nepali Congress and the UML reached a five-point agreement at 4:00 A.M. today to give a three-month extension to the interim constituent assembly thus avoiding a constitutional vacuum.
The agreement is on similar lines like the agreements of the past in being too general in nature and lacking in specifics thus giving enough flexibility to the signatories to delay or continue the negotiations. What is important is that the Constituent Assembly will continue for another three months and if the past record is any indicator, unless the Maoists relent and show sincerity in pushing through the integration and in the drafting of the new constitution, no progress can be expected.
The five point agreement as read out by Bhim Rawal of UML said
1. To complete the basic tasks of the peace process within three months.
2. To prepare the first draft of the constitution within three months.
3. To implement effectively the various past agreements reached with the Madhesi front including the one to make the Nepal Army an inclusive institution.
4. To extend the CA term by three months.
5. The Prime Minister to resign and pave the way for the formation of a consensus national unity government.
For point 1: It is not clear what the basic tasks of the peace process are supposed to be. Till the end, Chairman Dahal of UCPN had refused to consider any question of handing over the weapons to the Special committee as demanded by the Nepali Congress before agreeing to the extension. There is a hint from the Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Paudel that the Maoists have informally agreed to a figure of 5 to 6 thousand Maoist combatants for integration. Dahal has apparently told the Nepali Congress leaders that he will have serious problems within his party if any step is taken to hand over the custody of the weapons now. The best that can be achieved within three months will be to take steady and irrevocable steps towards integration like classifying the combatants for integration, rehabilitation and discharge with full benefits and deciding and implementing finally on the number to be integrated.
For point 2: As recently as on 13th, Sushil Koirala of Nepali Congress mentioned in the Reporter’s Club meeting that ” Constitution drafting and peace process can be concluded within the next seven days if the Maoists show honesty towards their commitment” There are very many contentious issues to be decided for the new constitution and at best only a skeleton constitution with a broad outline can be prepared within the stipulated time. Even for this, the sincerity of the Maoists alone will not be enough. All the political parties will have to cooperate. The special task force headed by Dahal could perhaps be revived.
For point 3. It is said that but for the active role taken by the Madhesi Group MPRF whose number has swollen to 70 (with Upendra Yadav isolated), this five-point agreement could not have been arrived at. In return the Madhesi groups have asked for an immediate recruitment of over 10,000 Madhesis into the Nepalese Army to make it an “inclusive” one. It remains to be seen whether this can be implemented within the stipulated time. At best, what can be expected is to accept the principle and frame rules and regulations for making the Nepal Army an inclusive one. Perhaps a token recruitment can be expected.
For point 4: the CA has already been extended. The Interim Parliament amended the constitution for the ninth time with article 64 amended suitably with 504 for the motion.
For point 5- Regarding the resignation of the Prime Minister, there is going to be a problem. The Madhesi groups which mediated are under the impression that PM Jhalanath Khanal will straight a way resign paving the way for a consensus government. But Khanal has already announced that he will resign at a time when an “alternative is prepared for the national government and its formation materialised.” This would mean many days or even months before the PM decides to resign. This is going to be a tricky issue for all the parties as the agreement is very clear that the PM has to resign first and thus pave the way for the consensus government. He is unlikely to do so on some ground or other.
There is always the danger of the politicians going back to the “business as usual mode” once the constitutional crisis is averted.
As I see it, much depends on the Maoists. Prachanda could still prove that he is a natural and a national leader with a vision.