As the political stalemate continues, PRIME MINISTER DR. BABURAM BHATTARAI'S government has come under attacks from all around, both from within his own party and outside. Yet Dr. Bhattarai is confident that the present government will complete the peace process and constitution writing. The situation may be tense, but prime minister Dr. Bhattarai seems to be in a relaxed mood. After meeting a delegation of journalists, prime minister Bhattarai spoke to KESHAB POUDEL on various issues at his residence in Baluwatar. Excerpts:
How likely it is to promulgate the constitution by the deadline?
I am certain that this CA will promulgate the new constitution by May 27. This is not my guesswork or personal calculation. It is based on my firsthand interactions with major political parties. Even RPP-Nepal leader like Kamal Thapa wants the new constitution. Nobody wants the dissolution of CA without writing the new constitution.
How do you evaluate your tenure?
I have done what I pledged to do before taking the responsibility. The constitution writing process is on the right track and the peace process is close to conclusion. To accelerate the development process, I have announced good governance and economic development packages. The recently announced good governance program will improve the delivery system of the government and provide basic services to the people. The governance program has several components directed to improve the delivery system and make the administrative units accountable to the people. My aim is also to reduce the level of corruption. By making current vigilance center more effective, I want to reduce corruption.
How is the response by Nepal’s development partners?
Nepal’s development partners are very supportive to the program. Everybody wants to see an accountable system in place and everybody wants to see an effective delivery system. These are the prerequisites for the overall development of the country.
Do you see any breakthrough in peace building and constitution writing?
Certainly, you will see a breakthrough in constitution writing very soon. The peace process has already moved ahead following a month’s disturbance. The government has already started handing over of the money to discharged combatants.
If that is so, why are the media talking about the differences?
Of course, we hold different ideologies, but there is a consensus among us to secure a new constitution. Every political party has its own ideology and agenda. Thus, they have been pursuing their own agenda. Everybody agrees that there is the need to have a constitution to shorten the transition. We have already agreed on a number of issues like elections process, fundamental rights, legislature and tires of government. There will be agreement on the forms of government and restructuring of the state.
Given the differences on state restructuring and forms of governance, what kind of a constitution will CA produce?
The new constitution will be neither the people’s constitution as demanded by my party nor the constitution demanded by Nepali Congress or the 1990’s parliamentary democracy. The new constitution will be moderate and address both the agenda. I am confident that the new constitution will be promulgated despite our differences over many issues. There is no option before us.
Till now there is no sign of such a consensus around the corner, how can we expect political agreement?
Mind my words, there will be a consensus at the final stage. I can again assure you that the new constitution will be promulgated within four months. In overhauling the entire process, it is normal to see some kinds of disagreement. The coming two weeks are crucial in the history of Nepal.
What do you mean by that?
I have told you that there was a breakthrough in the peace process with the start of the discharge of combatants choosing voluntary retirement. We are also formulating the Truth and Reconciliation Bill and Disappearance Bill to heal the wounds of the conflict. Similarly, the party is closer to finding the form of government acceptable to all.
Rights groups have been saying that there are provisions of blanket amnesty in the TRC Bill. What do you comment on that?
I don’t think there will be anything which will be against the international human rights standards. After formulation of the act, the transitional justice system will come to an end. The law will not leave anybody involved in humanitarian crimes. We fought against oppressive regime and we know the importance of human rights more than anybody else in Nepal.
How is it possible to hold the local elections?
So far as holding the local elections are concerned, all political parties want to hold them as soon as possible. Even the Election Commission said it can hold the elections within three months. Now we are considering holding the elections in November 2012 and we will constitute an all-party mechanism to carry out the development activities.
How can you think of that at a time when major political parties are obstructing the parliament and your party leaders are also calling for rebellion from the streets?
These are just political gimmicks for political pressure. In other words, these are rhetoric. In reality, all of them are sincere to bring the constitution and complete the peace process. It is natural for them to put pressure to have constitution with their own ideological orientation.
This means you are still confident that the Constituent Assembly will promulgate the new constitution?
We don’t have any option other than to promulgate the new constitution through the Constituent Assembly. I think it is the CA which will write the new constitution with the consent of the political parties.
There is also news that your government will fall soon?
It is just a rumor and it has no truth. I will continue as the prime minister till the completion of peace process and promulgation of new constitution.
What about the recent controversy to regularize the decision taken by People’s Court?
We are ready to withdraw the decision. This is not a major issue. We have not made any efforts to regularize People’s Court.
What about the formation of the national unity government?
I have been demanding this for a long time. Following completion of the constitution writing and peace process, the process to form a national unity government will begin. After all, politics is all about power sharing and this is the most important part of any post conflict situation. I held the view that there is the need to have a national unity government till the completion of peace process and constitution writing. I think the time has come to constitute such a government.
The rumors have it that your government will be replaced by such a government?
This government will turn into a national government. Some wish that I should resign but I believe all these issues will be settled within a couple of days in a package.
How do you assess the law and order situation in Terai?
The process of restoring the peace and law and order in Madhesh has already started. Compared to past few years, the law and order situation has been normal now. The government has already negotiated with major underground armed outfits of Terai. We have already signed peace agreements with several such outfits. The armed struggle in terai will settle soon. I don’t think there is anything to worry about.
Media is widely covering your recently reported remarks that you suggested for merger of Nepal? How do you react?
I have never used the word merger. What I said is that if Nepal cannot make economic progress, the country will submerge between them. My interpretation was misunderstood. I still believe that Nepal needs to make a high economic progress to remain an independent, strong, nation. Otherwise, we will be submerging in the development and prosperity of our two neighbors.
How do you see Nepal’s geostrategic location as defined by King Prithivi Narayan Shah?
There is no doubt that Nepal’s geostrategic location is very delicate and sensitive. Although King Prithivi Narayan Shah was a feudal representing the reactionary forces in Marxist terms, he was a visionary legend of Nepalese history. His Dibya Upadaesh was a master piece and only a statesman and thinker can deliver such statement. He was a legend, philosopher and great statesman of that era.
How about his statement Nepal is a yam between two boulders?
His argument that Nepal is a yam between two boulders is no more valid in the changing context. He was absolutely correct during the period. Nepal remained independent at that time due to his policy. The relations between India and China have improved a lot and they are no more strategically competitive powers in Nepal. Thus, Nepal needs to play a role of bridge between them. I am saying that this is no more yam but a bridge between two economic powers.
Despite their improved economic relations, don’t you see any strategic competitiveness?
Now the situation has changed and Nepal is now between two economic powerhouses of the world. Nepal needs to work as a dynamic bridge between them.
Is the government ready to provide subsidy to petroleum products?
There is no question to give such a huge subsidy in the petroleum products. If we want smooth supply of petrol, we have to pay the actual market prices. The government is in no position to give subsidy of over Rs. 1 billion by just cutting the expenditure allocated in health, education, sanitation and drinking water. It is unjust to cut the development budget.
How will your government maintain the supply?
The government will introduce packages to the students and low income people. However, there will be no subsidy to the other commercial users. They have to pay as per the international rate. This will also help to reduce the loss in petroleum products. I mean there will be dual rates in LPG: for household use and commercial use.
If there are such provisions, why is nobody supporting the government on this?
I agreed to increase the prices of petroleum products with the consent from major political parties. NC and UML were frequently raising the prices of petroleum products and opposing subsidy. They now seem opposed to the idea to withdraw the subsidy. Of course, there is certain leakage in the distribution system. There is also the need to provide subsidy to poor and vulnerable population. Even our student wings joined the demonstration against the decision. This is a tragic situation.
How do you take the report of the State Restructuring Commission?
The State Restructuring Commission has submitted only one report. Although there is also a minority opinion on certain issues, this document is by and large a document of consensus of all nine members. I am hopeful that there will be consensus in the future in writing the new constitution. They have done what they could in accordance to the mandate given by the government.
Who do you blame for failing to provide relief to earthquake victims?
It is a gross negligence of the local administration which did not tell us the reality in early days. After realizing the devastation, the government has already decided to provide big compensation packages in the eastern part of Nepal affected by earthquake. Each household will receive Rs. 100,000 for renovation and construction works.