After dramatic and controlled violence inside the Constituent Assembly, Nepalese politics has ended up in the street again. The announcement of street protests by UCPN-Maoist-led opposition alliance, Federal Democratic Republican Alliance (FDRA), and the decision by ruling Nepali Congress and CPN-UML led alliance to follow procedures for voting in the constitution writing process have polarized Nepali politics into two extreme ends.
Whether UCPN-Maoist alliance acts in the name of consensus or ruling parties act in the name of constitutional process, both sides are pursuing the path of confrontation and clash, which will ultimately result in prolonging the political instability further.
As this political theatrics reaches a climax, the parties will need a face-saving formula to come down to the ground. Although chairman of the Constituent Assembly Subas Chandra Nembang gave five days, until January 29, to forge consensus, it is unlikely that any compromise, without a face saving formula, will be worked out.
Renowned American professor and Nepal expert late Leo Rose said that external factors have a decisive role in internal politics of a small country and that internal political factors have a greater influence on the foreign policy of bigger countries.
As a lot of literature is already published on the role of India to bring Maoists and other parties together through the 12-point agreement, India continues to be a major decisive factor even in the present context.
Just before the preparations for voting in the CA, Indian ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae met CPN-UML leader K.P. Sharma Oli. According to the reports published in various daily newspapers the CPN-UML leader rejected the suggestion made by Indian ambassador Rae to wait for a few more days to forge consensus.
At a time when even Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged Nepali political leaders to forge consensus to write the constitution, Indian ambassador Rae’s suggestion was understandable.
Even United Nations, United States of America and other western countries held similar views. They are urging Nepal’s political forces to go for consensus and compromise. As China always prefers political stability, it is reportedly suggesting compromise and consensus, too.
Given the decisive role and position of India, it is yet to see what exact position CPN-UML leader Oli and leaders of ruling parties have taken on India’s suggestions at this moment.
“It is a phenomenon for the foreign policy of any society to be strongly affected by domestic political and economic factors, and this certainly is the case in Nepal. But the reverse principle- namely, that of international factors have a strong and often decisive impact on Kathmandu’s domestic policies –is even more apparent. This is the painful fact of life for many Nepalis, and one that some of them would prefer to ignore,” writes late Rose in his book Nepal: Profile of a Himalayan Kingdom.
Alliance of Contradictions
The alliance building in favor of consensus and voting is also looking ideologically odd and unnatural, mainly on the question of sustainability and continuity of such partnerships. UCNP-Maoist led alliance has political parties which do not share their views with each other.
Limbuwan Mukti Morcha which wants Morang, Jhapa and Sunsari as part of Limbuwan, feels comfortable with Madheshis which want Madhesh as a single unit. Even UCPN-Maoist, which has been pushing for ethnic based 10 provinces, has close alliance with Madheshi front, which do not prefer the UCPN-Maoist stand.
There is a similar situation with the ruling party alliance. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML have different opinions on form of government and structure of judiciary. Even CPN-Mashal, which is against any form of federalism, is with two federalist ruling parties. Even RPP-Nepal, which professes for revival of monarchy and Hindu sate, is with republic, federal and secular parties.
The alliances on both sides are odd as well as unnatural. Nepal’s political history has shown that everything is possible in Nepal and everything impossible.
CA’s Legitimacy under Question
As both the factions are pursuing their own agenda, this political mirage chase is likely to reduce the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly, an elected legitimate body. UCPN-Maoist led alliance has already announced that it will not take part in any decision taken through voting.
Ruling Nepali Congress and CPN-UML,which hold a two-thirds majority in the CA, insist on pushing the constitution writing process through voting. The UCPN-Maoist led opposition Federal Democratic Republican Alliance stands for consensus. In between, the country is reeling on the verge of confrontation.
The decision of UCPN-Maoist-led opposition alliance, Federal Democratic Republican Alliance (FDRA), to go for street protests, blaming that the ruling parties strayed from the consensus process will question the utility of CA.
“We have decided to go for protests, concluding that the ruling parties gave up the principle of consensus made in the past and the Constituent Assembly (CA) chair also totally negated the voice of the opposition parties,” said Upendra Yadav, chairman of Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal.
The decision came after the CA on January 25 formed a Proposal Drafting Committee to prepare questionnaires on disputed issues of the constitution in order to put them to vote, amidst protests by the opposition lawmakers.
“The CA is a hostage of ruling Nepali Congress and CPN-UML. The meeting further showed that the ruling parties forgot aspirations of the past agreements including the Comprehensive Peace Accord, the 12-point agreement and the Interim Constitution,” said UCPN-Maoist chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda. "By deploying over 1000 security personnel in the name of Marshals, ruling parties and CA chair Subas Nembang have already ruined the essence of CA.”
Although the Constituent Assembly (CA) chairman Subas Chandra Nembang proposed to form a 73-member Proposal Committee to deal with contentious issues of the constitution, opposition parties opposed it and rejected the idea of submitting their names.
This is the first time even the step taken by chairman of Constituent Assembly has fallen under the question mark about legitimacy. The Committee is mandated to form questionnaire to put key statute issues to vote at the CA meeting.
“The CA will wait for names from opposition parties for five days before holding its first meeting,” said Nembang. After the event, prime minister Sushil Koirala took initiatives for talks with Maoist.“ I am optimistic that opposition parties will take part in the constitution making process."
Politically, CA has lost its strong sense of legitimacy when opposition lawmakers resorted to vandalism in the wee hours of January 15, when the UCPN-Maoist chairman accused CA chairman Nembang of being the 'spokesperson' of the ruling parties—Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML.
Although the opposition parties led by UCPN-Maoist said that they will not hold any kind of negotiations with the ruling parties until and unless a conducive environment for the enactment of the constitution is created, leaders are meeting informally to prevent confrontation.
President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav met leaders of ruling parties and of opposition alliance suggesting them not to go for confrontation. President Dr.Yadav reportedly told the ruling alliance to bridge the gap with the opposition.
“We have made it clear not to endorse the vote-based process to promulgate the constitution and hold any meeting with ruling parties and CA chair until consensus is forged," said UCPN-Maoist leader Prachanda.
However, leaders of ruling parties including NC general secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula, former Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa and CPN-UML leader K.P. Sharma Oli and Jhalnath Khanal are pressing the opposition parties to accept the vote.
The recent statements delivered by leaders from Madhesh have indicated that they may create certain problems in Madhesh and plains, even go alone with the demand to any extent such as even splitting Nepal. As CK Rawat has been roaming from east to west seeking separate homeland for Madheshis, the mainstream Madhesh based parties have to compete with Rawat on the demand.
One cannot rule out the possibility of broader alliances of Madheshis and other parties of south, including Rawat to create more noises. This means an unrest like that of 2008 is likely. If the current ruling parties avoid the suggestion of Indian ambassador Rae, they will have to face some sort of controlled upheavals in the plains.
When the new round of political battle opens, UCPN-Maoist will be nowhere as it is yet to establish itself as a party with solid ground level. As revolutionary communists have already joined Biplab led Maoist and remaining anarchists are with Baidya led Maoist, UCPN-Maoist will face bigger challenges. There will be some shift of the new political alliances.
Given Nepal’s own political, geographical and other compulsions, there is no alternative before the external and internal forces to accept the hard reality of Nepal and go for a broader compromise.
As it is said, politics is a game of possibility and Nepal’s political forces are likely to come to forge consensus, although it may take some time.
Future of Government
As the government led by Sushil Koirala is a non-starter, there is no immediate threat to the current government and it will be in power for some time to come. As K.P. Sharma Oli has emerged as the single leader in the ruling alliance, Prime Minister Koirala is completely sidelined and he is yet to find his role.
One of the interesting things about Prime Minister Koirala is that no one sees his role in this entire process. Even other NC leaders are nowhere in the greater picture of current political battles. The agenda is with Oli.
Prime Minister Koirala’s government will face the threat once the parties come out for some sort of negotiations and compromise for face saving. As the ruling and opposition parties are divided so widely, it will take a certain time to see such an alliance happening.
Sooner or later, Nepal’s political forces will have to come together, but it will have damaged the whole economic development pace. Thanks to political instability, Nepal is unable to bring major economic changes. The instability has already incurred huge economic losses.
Nepal needs a political order for prosperity and development. Given the current political scenario and Nepal’s own nature of society, geo-strategic compulsion and reality, it will take a long time to bring about lasting or absolute stability.
Nepal may have to go through the course of controlled instability for more time to come. Whether there is consensus, new constitution or no constitution, Nepal’s current fate of controlled instability will remain there.