When the big three parties and the Madhesi Morcha struck a seven-point deal early this month to push the stalled peace process forward, what could have been an eighth point was dropped at the last minute.
As the month neared its end the “eighth point” is in danger. There is an air of uncertainty over the informal understanding of the four signatories. It had to do with yet another extension of the constituent assembly.
The informal understanding was to give another six months to the constitution-making body. Accordingly, the government registered a constitution-amendment bill in the parliament last Friday to extend the CA’s term by six months.
Prime minister Baburam Bhattarai appears confident of pushing through the bill. He says, all major parties will come on board to ensure the two-thirds vote required to pass the bill.
While the ruling coalition partner Madhesi Morcha’s leader and the deputy prime minister Bijay Kumar Gachchhdar has gone public to throw his weight behind Bhattarai, the major opposition parties have spoken out against the bill -- after remaining silent for two days.
The UML Chairman, Jhalanath Khanal, ruled out the extension of the CA unless the prime minister resigned.
A day later, Nepali Congress president Sushil Koirala spoke out. He was not as blunt Khanal, but the message he wanted to give was clear.
Koirala said, the Nepali Congress has not decided yet to support the CA extension move and expressed surprise at the whip reportedly issued by the chief whip Laxman Ghimire to vote for the move. He instead demanded that the Nepali Congress be allowed to head the new government after November 30 when the CA’s extended tenure expires. He appeared to suggest that the CA’s extension can be supported only if his party was guaranteed to lead the new government.
Prime minister Bhattarai, on his part, has been boasting of “national” as well as “international” support in his continuation in office until the “peace process and the constitution-making is completed”.
Amidst these claims and the counterclaims, a key “international” personality is scheduled to arrive in Kathmandu three days before the expiry of the CA.
The man is none other than finance minister of India, Pranab Mukherjee, who has been “in charge of the Nepal affairs” over the past few years.
Ostensibly to sign a double-taxation agreement the former foreign minister of Nepal’s most influential and on many occasions decisive neighbour is scheduled to hold political talks with all key political actors of Nepal including the president, the prime minister, the top leaders of all major parties during a 12-hour stay in Kathmandu.
The CA extension drama is sure to drag till then irrespective of the claims and the counter-claims of the domestic actors.
It was not for nothing that the opposition parties pleaded ignorance about the informal understanding on extending the CA. Although the case is pending at the supreme court too and that its ruling can also influence the course of events, but those in the know say, the picture will be clear only after Mukherjee’s visit.
That is, the CA’s further extension will hang in balance till the last minute. So does the political future of the country. Agreement or disagreement among the domestic actors is sure to take a back seat as a last-minute drama plays out in the Nepali political theatre – one more time.