POLITICS: BACK TO THE SHAME GAME

As the top three parties refuse to learn from the shameful past the making of new constitution faces a bleak future

Sept. 26, 2014, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 08 No. -8 September. 26- 2014 (Ashoj 10, 2071)

Even as the deadline for making the new constitution draws near the political wrangling appears set to push the date far.  The initial enthusiasm over the pace of the process of constitution-making has given way to pessimism.

After a top opposition leader and senior Maoist functionary Baburam Bhattarai was handed the job of a crucial Constituent Assembly committee  chair, the deliberations on the new statute  had expedited. The former prime minister also seemed quite serious in meeting the deadline set for his committee. But circumstances  have forced the mid-September deadline to be extended by two weeks. This extension has fuelled fears that the February 2015 deadline for the new constitution would follow the suit.

While the much touted consensus remains as elusive as ever the struggle and tussle for power among the top three parties has further dented the prospect of the new constitution on time.

The parliament has remained deadlocked over a high level political mechanism that the three had agreed on earlier. As soon as  the disagreement on whether it should be put in place ended a fresh row erupted on who should head it.

The governing Nepali Congress and the United Marxist Leninist (UML) are in favour of rotating the chair of the mechanism. But the main opposition Maoist party wants it to be their exclusive.  Spokesman Dinanath Sharma said as much the other day, "as long as our chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal is not made the permanent head of the high level political mechanism we will not let the parliamentary proceedings to run."

Behind the tussle for the chair of the high level mechanism is the political ambitions and gamesmanship of the respective parties. Dahal wants to make it sure that his bête noire Bhattarai does not walk away with the glory of having made the new constitution possible. He also wants a share in the pie of power currently exercised by the coalition partners, Nepali Congress and the UML.

The NC and the UML, having initially resisted the demand for such a mechanism despite tactically agreeing to it in the aftermath of the uncertainty over the convening of the 2nd CA session, had never been too enthusiastic about it.  They see handing its chairmanship to the opposition leader Dahal  as something fraught with danger of derailing the constitution-making process. Besides, they don't want to share the 'glory' of having given the country a new constitution.

Add to this, the never-ending infighting among the ruling parties themselves. Prime minister Sushil Koirala has not been able to get the full cooperation of the rival faction led by former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba in the running of the government. Koirala, on his part, has been accused of utter mismanaging the party. As the Nepali Congress which heads the coalition with a two-thirds majority struggles to keep its house in order, the government has not been able to live up to the expectations. This has reflected in the making of the constitution as well.

The junior coalition partner, UML, is no less ridden with internal problems. Lately, chairman KP Oli and the man he defeated for the party's top office, Madhav Kumar Nepal, have engaged in public duel. The sacking of two UML ministers and the installation of two new faces in their places has further deepened the division between them. Madhav Nepal publicly challenged the  way the ministers were changed. If what another senior leader and Oli's predecessor, Jhalnath Khanal, said is any indication the party is set for another change of faces in the cabinet.

Changing the ministers as the UML did and seeking a share of the power pie as the Maoists are doing are not unusual nor the kind of bickering seen in the Nepali Congress. But the problem is: they all have the potential to derail the constitution making process. Not surprisingly, few believe the CA-2 will be able to meet its constitution deadline. The long-running journey for a new constitution does not show credible indication yet of breasting the tape anytime soon.

Abijit Sharma

Abijit Sharma

SHARMA is Associate Editor of New Spotlight News Magazine.

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