POLITICS: As Uncertainty Plays

As leaders of major political parties, Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist, are still in dispute over several constitutional and political issues, it is likely to create more political troubles in the coming days as regards formation of the new

Dec. 27, 2013, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 07 No. -13 Dec. 27- 2013 (Poush 12, 2070)

“There is no question to submit our proportional representation candidates as long as Nepali Congress and CPN-UML give no consent to form the high level probe commission to look after the irregularities committed in the last CA elections,” said Post Bahadur Bogati, general secretary of UCPN-Maoist. “The whole responsibility of making the CA functional lies on the role of Nepali Congress and CPN-UML,” he added.

“We have already agreed to set up some form of parliamentary committee to address the Maoists’ concern. It is impossible to set up a high level commission from outside,” said Nepali Congress general secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula.

"There is no reason we consider the demands of forming a high level probe committee. The newly elected CA can take a decision on it,” said CPN-UML leader Ishwor Pokharel. “It is the Maoist’s childish behavior to seek a face saving through the commission.”

Rush to Negotiation

Although leaders of major political parties have been rushing for negotiations to pave the way for the first session of the Constituent Assembly, they are yet to agree on the political and legal processes. In the last elections, it took several months before summoning the regular session.  The current situation shows that there will be a delay like in the past.

At a time when nobody is sure to what steps political leaders will take the next day, the question of summoning the CA session is in limbo. Two days ago, Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist leaders agreed to nominate their candidates by December 25. However, UCPN-Maoist changed its tone the next day.

“We have never made any commitment to submit our proportional representatives. We have made it clear that our participation in the CA will depend on how quickly Nepali Congress and CPN-UML address our five-point demands,” said Bogati.

Despite growing disagreement, Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist leaders are still in a rush to hold the meetings. On December 22, they attended several rounds of bilateral meetings. CPN-UML leaders and UCPN-Maoist leaders sat about one and a half hour in Peace Fund Office in Babarmahal in the afternoon. CPN-UML leaders met Nepali Congress leader Sushil Koirala at his residence. Similarly, NC leader Koirala went to the residence of UCPN-Maoist leader Prachanda.

The whole day efforts went in vain as UCPN-Maoist still put the constitution of the high level probe commission as a prerequisite for its participation in the CA. “Given the present trend, it looks that political leaders are laboring hard to smash popular mandate of the Constituent Assembly,” said a former attorney general.

Political leaders spent their entire week holding meetings but nothing is coming out. “Parties and their leaders are diminishing their own credibility and pushing Nepal into further instability.  “How could those who are themselves source of problems and maladies solve the problems remain to be seen,” said a political analyst.  The actions by political leaders have raised questions about political and legal legitimacy of the CA elections.

Demand after demand

After the completion of the CA elections, CPN-UML leaders suddenly came out with a demand seeking fresh elections for President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav as per a fresh mandate. This demand came when UCPN-Maoist has been challenging the legitimacy of the CA elections. 

By demanding fresh elections for President, CPN-UML posed the first legitimacy question on the election process that was possible through the order of the President. As the present elections of CA were held through the ordinances issued by the President, he is the only authority at present to legitimatize all constitutional processes. However, UCPN-Maoist posed questions about the legitimacy and legality of the newly elected Constituent Assembly. The targets of both the parties are different but their basic thrust is to question the legitimacy of elections.

Worse still, Nepali Congress partially tarnished its own legitimacy by agreeing to form some kind of a commission to probe the last CA elections, which all international and national election observer groups termed free and fair in the history of Nepal.

CA Session in 2014

At a time political parties are indulging in several internal and bilateral political disputes, the possibility of summoning the first meeting of Constituent Assembly will be unlikely in 2013 and it will be delayed by a few more weeks.

In 2008, it took around six months to elect the CA chairman, finalize the regulations and form the CA thematic committees. The original calendar of events spanned a period of 18 months. The first CA poll was held on April 10, 2008. The CA’s first meeting was convened on May 27, 2008.

Instead of making political compromises on the government making process, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, two largest parties, are in a row over the issue of resignation of president. CPN-UML demanded the fresh elections for president and Nepali congress opposed it.

Similarly, major political parties are yet to nominate the members under the proportional representation. As the parties are still in discussions, they are likely to seek another extension of the deadline.

With the request from major political parties, Election Commission has already postponed the date for the submission of name under proportional representation for 18 December and December 25. Given the present political scenario, parties are likely to request another extension.

Although major political parties have agreed in some ways to constitute a probe commission to investigate the irregularities in the elections, they are yet to budge on their demands. As UCPN-Maoist and Madheshi Front continue to press for a high level commission to investigate irregularities in the elections, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML are proposing a parliamentary committee of the newly elected Constituent Assembly.

Making things more complex, UCPN-Maoist has forwarded five points as their demand to join CA. The demands include Constitution of High Level Probe Commission, Amendment of Constitution for Consensus System, Consensus for new Constitution, Continuity to High-level Political Mechanism and bringing outside forces in constitution drafting. 

As the parties are still in the process of negotiations, any agreement among the political parties is unlikely soon. This will delay summoning of the newly elected Constituent Assembly.

As there is no political breakthrough possible in sight, the current political crisis is likely to prolong for a few more weeks. This will delay the summoning of the first meeting of CA. Although major political parties revived the High Level Political Committee to clinch a political deal, it is unlikely to make any breakthrough. There is an understanding among all the parties in the HLPC to extend the term of the HLPC until the first meeting of the new CA takes place and a new political government replaces the current Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi-led government.

Political Course

Nepal's politics is now in a more uncertain course. As the disputes among the major parties are yet to be settled, the process of commencement of newly elected Constituent Assembly is getting delayed.

There is sign of hope as well. Nepali Congress and UCPN-Maoist have already held several rounds of negotiations regarding formation of government and leading the constitutional writing process. As CPN-UML and Nepali Congress are on loggerheads on the agenda of fresh election for President, the initiative for making new alliance between Nepali Congress and UCPN-Maoist will create a new political scenario. Having secured two thirds majority in the CA, Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and UCPN-Maoist should agree to write the new constitution.

What Next

Given the present scenario, it looks unlikely UCPN-Maoist will send its PR names to Election Commission by December 25. This will create a political stalemate and delay the formation of the government and commencement of work of the Constituent Assembly.

Nothing is likely to materialize until major parties come out with an agreement in package including on power sharing and constitution writing. Going through the political developments of the last weeks, any major change in the political scenario is unlikely.

Although political leaders settled some thorny issues at the top, they are facing tough internal challenges within the party. Nepali Congress young leaders are threatening their leaders not to sign any agreement undermining the central committee. Similarly, CPN-UML leaders are also putting similar pressures on the top leadership. In UCPN-Maoist, former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai even raised the issue of president’s hegemony in decision making. This is likely to shift the situation.

Power Sharing

As the country’s major political parties are busy in power sharing, nothing will come out clearly until they forge a new understanding.  While Nepali Congress (NC) leaders opposed any move for the fresh election of the president, CPN-UML leaders are insisting that a ´power-sharing´ deal with the mandate of recently held Constituent Assembly (CA) election is necessary.

“We want to be in opposition if Nepali Congress does not agree on proper power sharing,” said CPN-UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal.

However, Nepali Congress leaders downplay this. “We have not yet sat on the issue of power sharing with CPN-UML,” said Nepali Congress leader Dr. Ram Sharan Mahat. “Once the agreement with UCPN-Maoist and other parties is forged, only then we will move to the power sharing question with any political party,” he added.

“Our entire efforts now are concentrated on bringing the dissenting parties, including the UCPN (Maoist), on board the CA process and holding the first meeting of the new CA at the earliest,” said Dr. Mahat.

Although Nepali Congress and CPN-UML are bargaining for the post of prime minster, they are yet to elect their parliamentary party leader. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML are yet to publicise the name of their prime ministerial candidate. In Nepali Congress, Sushil Koirala and Sher Bahadur Deuba are the front runners and in CPN-UML, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalnath Khanal are the front runners.

The announcement made by major political parties to prepare the draft of the new constitution within six months and promulgating the statute within a year already appears shattered.

As a month has already passed since the second election to the Constituent Assembly (CA), major political parties, which had committed to preparing the draft constitution within six months, have not even finalized candidates for seats under Proportional Representation (PR) electoral system.

Apart from the parties´ nomination of the 335 PR members, the government has to nominate additional 26 members to give the 601-member CA a full shape. Altogether, 240 members have already been elected directly from constituencies under the first-past-the-post electoral system.

Likely Scenario

Political instability is likely to continue in coming days. There will be more uncertainty over the first meeting of newly elected Constituent Assembly, formation of government and writing the new constitution. The internal political disputes will shake the government. Prolonged instability and continuation of present lame duck government will definitely hamper new development programs and investment. As the weather of Kathmandu is getting cold, it will take a few more weeks for the politics to warm up again. Given the wider differences among major political parties, Nepalese are unlikely to see political stability anytime soon.

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