MAY 27 DEADLINE Eleventh Hour Deal

As the May 27 deadline for promulgating the constitution draws closer, major political parties are making the last-minute moves to guide what should follow. Desperate to avoid any major political and constitutional crisis and hold on to the power wit

May 22, 2012, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.: 05 No.-21 May .18-2012 (Jestha 05,2069)<BR>

While listening to more than two hours of speech and argument from Maoist leaders Prachanda and prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel lost his patience. Poudel finally opened his mouth accusing Maoist leaders of their insensitivity towards constitution writing. Unlike other meetings of the past, the bilateral meeting between Nepali Congress and UCPN-Maoist held on Tuesday (May 15) at Prachanda’s residence  turned tense.

“Baburamji and Prachandaji do not want to see the promulgation of the new constitution,” blamed NC leader Poudel. Maoist leader Prachanda and prime minister Baburam reacted  by blaming Nepali Congress and CPN-UML leaders for the current political stalemate.

“You and your party are responsible for the crisis. You are conspiring against promulgation of new constitution,” thundered prime minister Bhattarai. “Don’t play with the regressive slogan. People will uproot your party.”

The meeting virtually turned into a war of words. Deputy prime minister and general secretary of Nepali Congress Krishna Prasad Sitaula intervened and pacified both the leaders.  “Let’s go for business, this is not the time to resort to blame game,” Sitaula said.

Many see the frustration is natural as leaders of political parties have spent almost the whole of their time in bilateral and multilateral negotiations. However, they failed to come up with any compromise on the 117 disputed issues. From Constitutional Committee to Constituent Assembly, the differences continue to persist, particularly on the agenda of state restructuring, and the form of government and judiciary.

As differences continue to widen, Indian ambassador to Nepal Jayanta Prasad met the leaders of major political parties and reportedly urged them to abide by the five-point agreement signed two weeks ago.

Deal at last minute

One after another, leaders of Nepal’s four major political parties held a series of meetings over the last week to find a consensus on constitution drafting and finally they agreed on Tuesday to settle disputes in many issues.

The Constituent Assembly has resolved all issues except five in the past four years. “We have already almost resolved the issues related to judiciary, citizenship and electoral system, state restructuring and system of governance “, said General Secretary of the Nepali Congress Krishna Prasad Sitaula.

Leader of the Front Bijaya Kumar Gachchhadar also said, “First we will ask the three parties to agree on the federal model. Then we will register our reservations. But we will not be an obstacle in promulgating the constitution by May 27.”

A meeting of Dispute Resolution Sub-Committee entrusted the taskforce to put into writing the agreement. The taskforce comprises Radhe Shyam Adhikari and Ramesh Lekhak from the Nepali Congress, Barshaman Pun and Khim Lal Devkota from the UCPN(Maoist), Bhim Rawal and Agni Kharel from the CPN-UML and Kalpana Rana of Rastriya Prajatantra Party on behalf of various small parties represented in the Constituent Assembly (CA).

However, United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) refused representation in the taskforce, expressing reservation over the Tuesday´s agreement. The taskforce has been entrusted to put into writing the agreement between the parties and questionnaire on 117 issues to be put to vote in the Constituent Assembly by 2 pm, Wednesday.

According to Article 70 of the Interim Constitution, the Constituent Assembly shall, in order to pass a bill relating to the constitution, vote on the preamble and each article of such bill introduced before it. Under this article, it will take at least a couple of weeks to pass a single article.

With a consensus decision, the government has already registered a bill for the amendment of article 70. However, the delay in  summoning of the Legislature Parliament has made even the future of the bill uncertain.

Now the situation is that the constitution can be promulgated under a political announcement from the Legislature Parliament. Nepal’s restored parliament has made a similar political announcement in 2006 making many articles of the Constitution of Kingdom of Nepal 1990 redundant. 

Power Game

Along with constitution writing, political leaders are also making a secret deal on power sharing. From UCPN-Maoist leader  Prachanda is said to be in a power race. In all the meetings, Prachanda not only found fault with the man he made prime minister, he privately admitted of making a mistake by propelling Bhattarai to the top executive office.

He complained that Bhattarai embarrassed him by taking a number of actions without consulting him. Bhattarai, according to him, ignored his suggestion to not dismantle the house of landless people in Bagmati  at a critical time ahead of the constitution deadline.

Prachanda’s confessions of ‘mistakes’ with the men he once labeled ‘foreign stooges’ and ‘puppets’  were not merely meant to criticize Bhattarai. What he was aiming at was a further extension of the constituent assembly that was to die its natural death two weeks later.

Having forced his views through the party’s central committee for “the peace process and the constitution making” in place of the popular revolt, Prachanda has now sought to assure the UML and the Congress leaders that he was committed to “a democratic constitution”. For this, however, he maintains that the CA should not let die without completing the task.

His trusted vice-chairman Narayan Kaji Shrestha ‘Prakash” said, “The meetings were aimed at looking for a basis to forge a consensus among the three big parties  and SLMM and give a message to the people that the constitution was possible.”

But the uncertainty remains. Even now. With just a few days away from the constitution deadline, said a Nepali Congress leader, “the basis for a consensus with the Maoists can come about only after the Maoists put into practice what they pledged –on  constitution and particularly on federal structure”

It is not that nothing has moved forward. The Nepali Congress and the UML have been somewhat positive after Prachanda expressed the commitment to a democratic constitution.

A reliable source told NEW SPOTLIGHT that Prachanda is hell bent on reaching an agreement on extending the CA because of the pressure from within to let the CA dissolve and prepare for a popular revolt. Prachanda realizes that such a move will be suicidal for the largest party in the CA. “He is closer to an agreement with the other parties.”

But the other parties will find it difficult to trust the Maoists.  They will continue to suspect the Maoists’ commitment to democratic constitution merely as a lip service. Critics point out that such a policy does directly contradict with the communist ideology of the former rebels.To take these parties and the international community into confidence, Prachanda will have to risk a vertical split in the party to keep the dissenters away as a splinter faction, otherwise he runs the risk of indulging in manipulative politics with the other parties. The last minute moves ahead of the constitution deadline, however, around what it does and what it does not.

There are, however, some apprehensions. The Nepali Congress and the Madhav Nepal-Oli faction of the UML suspects that the Maoists may go for fresh polls if they failed to promulgate the new constitution as par their wish. Their suspicion is based on ambiguity about the status of the incumbent government in the constitutional vacuum from May 27.

Although nothing can be predicted at this point of time, the continuation of Bhattarai as prime minister is increasingly looking unlikely. It is not for nothing that senior Maoist leader Mohan Baidhya has been calling, and holding secret talks, for a national government comprising all the parties.

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