Turning Point

Starting from the promulgation of the constitution, the political process is heading towards a new equation

Aug. 7, 2015, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 09 No. -4 August. 07- 2015 (Shrawan 22, 2072)

As the general convention of Nepali Congress is approaching, the political game is moving from the promulgation of the new constitution by August 18 to paving the way to prolong the life of the government led by Nepali Congress leader Sushil Koirala.

Nepali Congress leaders have already said that their priority is now to hold the convention by September. “If we cannot find a solution within a few days, our priority will be to hold the general convention by September, ” said Nepali Congress General Secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula. “We have to hold the convention as it is mandatory for us.”

At a time when Prime Minister Koirala is aspiring for a third tenure as the party president, his intention is to contest elections as a prime minister. Koirala holds the view that he will have an advantage over his rival former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba if he contests the election as a prime minister.

Prime Minister Koirala’s recent statement that the new constitution will be promulgated by carving the boundaries and naming the states, despite  his earlier commitment, places him close to UCPN-Maoist and Madheshi Janadhikar Forum Loktantrik.

CPN-UML leaders have already seen there is something fishy going on. “Prime Minister Sushil Koirala is betraying the agreement with us by deviating from his earlier stand,” said CPN-UML leader Ishwor Pokharel."If Koirala continues to take this stand, CPN-UML may pull out from the government.”

Serious disputes have surfaced between the two major ruling partners, Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML, as the constitution making process enters a crucial stage.

The NC has now stood for resolving the issues of delineating the provinces before finalizing the draft constitution while UML leaders have strongly opposed it, saying any move aimed at delaying the constitution is unacceptable to the party.

NC leaders have said the draft constitution should be improved based on public feedback while the UML is for completing the constitution making process primarily on the basis of 16-point agreement between major political forces in June.

NC leaders said not making any changes to the draft constitution would be tantamount to undermining the public feedback while UML leaders maintained that flouting the 16-point deal would mean "opening Pandora's Box" and derailing the constitution making process.

However, UML Standing Committee member Shankar Pokharel accused the NC of flouting the 16-point deal to prolong its stay in the government. Pokharel said his party is strongly against delaying the constitution.

With the new allies in his side, Koirala, who has to quit his position within a week of promulgation of the new constitution, knows that it is a political suicidal for him to promulgate the constitution by August 16 or just a month before the party’s general convention.

This is the reason Koirala nominated vice president Ram Chandra Poudel to take part in the high level meeting. Poudel knows the tactics to prolong  the meetings and indulge in disputes.

As Constituent Assembly has postponed its calendar of operations, Nepali Congress has also postponed its calendar several times. According to latest calendar of Nepali Congress, the party convention will start from September 3, with elections for village and municipality levels. Then NC will hold the regional elections on 8 September and district level elections will be held three days later. The general convention will be held in Kathmandu from September 19 to 22.

Although top leaders of four major political parties have expressed their commitment to promulgate the new constitution on August 16 by incorporating the people's feedback, nothing like that seems to be going to happen given the indefinite postponement of the meeting by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai.

The leaders have also agreed to amend the preliminary draft of 'Nepal's Constitution, 2072’ to incorporate the people's feedback given in an encouraging manner by fulfilling rules and processes formulated by the CA for constitution writing.

The preliminary draft of the new constitution was prepared on the basis of 16-point agreement signed among major political parties on June 8, 2015.

The parties have suggested ensuring religious freedom, determining educational qualifications of candidates in elections, directly-elected executive head, and guarantee of equal participation of women in decision-level bodies, among others.

Following the understanding, the CA meeting forwarded the report of the Committee on Citizen Relations and Public Opinion Collection to the Constitutional-Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee mandating the latter to find a common ground on the people’s feedback and submit its report within four days.

According to the present scenario, the CA will mandate the Constitution Drafting Committee to prepare the “Reviewed Bill” within four days after the CPDCC submits its report.

Although parties agreed to “Reviewed Bill” of the new constitution to be prepared in 8-10 days, beginning August 8, what happens to this debate is still uncertain by the time of writing this story on August 5.

According to the tacit understanding, CA members are to study the Bill for one day instead of three days, hold discussions on the Bill for three-four days, register the amendment proposal on the Bill within two days, instead of seven days, and every Article is to be passed by voice vote and the Bill is to be passed by split vote within two days.

Earlier, parties set July 16 as the day for promulgation of the new constitution as the CA was supposed to commence voting and promulgate constitution on July 16. According to the firs calendar of operation, CA had to promulgate the constitution on January 22.

Although leaders of political parties have been harping on the slogan that they will promulgate the new constitution by mid-August, Nepali Congress  leader Koirala, who is now shifting focus on general convention, will prefer going for party convention over the constitution in his capacity as the prime minister.

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