Thursday, July 15, 2010

Things don’t look good

The failure of the leaders to provide the CA a positive work environment is a real letdown.


JUL 14, 2010 - President Ram Baran Yadav has called upon the political parties to form a majority government after they failed to form a national government within the extended deadline given by him.

While his move was unavoidable in the given situation, there is little doubt that the state of affairs will change materially with a change in the present government, if it is not a government with a two-thirds majority in the legislature. The ultimate objective behind instituting a new government is to make it possible for the Constituent Assembly (CA) to finalise the draft constitution and pass it with the required two-thirds majority. Obviously, a simple majority government cannot fulfil that objective.

The UCPN (Maoist) has been very vocal about having a national government. But when they talk about a national government, they mean a government led by themselves. A major bottleneck towards this move. Also, contrary to this perception, they could do pretty little over the last two weeks to solicit the necessary support from the others by recommitting themselves to universal democratic standards, which have always been questionable. In fact, it is enough for the Maoists to have either the CPN-UML or the Nepali Congress to form a strong government with the support of other fringe parties and put together a two-thirds strength in the house. But they did not try out this option. They think the UML and the Congress are unnaturally tied to each other “under pressure”, and only a national government can weaken the case against them.

Whatever the Maoist weaknesses, many aspects of the ongoing negotiations are still not transparent. It is said that efforts to reach a consensus failed as the three major parties—the UCPN (Maoist), the CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress—refused to give up their respective stances. However, it is not yet adequately clear what were the stances of each of these parties. There were certainly movements of leaders from this corner of the parliamentary premises to that corner, but even knowledgeable people were not clear about who wanted what, and what were the issues that prevented a consensus. To this day, the positions and counter-positions have not been put across plainly. What has been observed is that the tenacious “Tom” is forever on the tail of his elusive nemesis “Jerry”, fully disregarding the mayhem and destruction that has been ensuing.

There has been no talk between the major parties, absolutely none in fact, on sorting out the contentious issues before the CA and its Constitutional Committee. Similarly, the parties were not ready to sit down with the Maoists with some homework on their action plan on the integration of the combatants and discuss what further concessions could be necessary. The Maoists kept up their sleeves additional options to address the concerns of the NC and the UML regarding dismantling the Maoist youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL), and returning properties seized by the party during the insurgency. There was simply no effort to move ahead with a genuine desire to complete the peace process, and it will remain incomplete without Maoist participation.

At present, the prime minister is from the CPN-UML and the chairperson of the CA is also from the same party. The major coalition partners, especially the Nepali Congress, have led important ministries. The president also comes from this party, and the chairperson of the CA Constitutional Committee, the principal constitution drafting body in the CA, is also a Nepali Congress nominee. In the perspective of the Maoists, they do not show up anywhere as the largest party in the CA and, therefore, in the scheme of constitution writing. Politically, they think it will be a disaster for them to sign off their power and clout to agree on a constitution finalised by the UML or the Congress.

Instead, the Congress and the UML smelt a rat in the 60-week time plan of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) for the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants. Prime Minister Nepal went so far as to criticise the UN agency in public disregarding diplomatic norms. He also completely ignored the fact that UNMIN’s plan had already been discussed with the relevant authorities of the government and the political parties had already been consulted for their feedback. The UNMIN time plan might have been a little uninformed by the politics after the resignation of the prime minister; it definitely deserved an informed response.

The days ahead are not propitious. The situation reminds one of what happened in the Middle East 60 years ago. Elections to the Constituent Assembly were held in newly independent Israel on Jan. 25, 1949 with 85 percent of the people casting their votes. A noble thing had been done. However, the assembly was able to hold only four meetings. The political leadership was faced with the challenge of establishing a democracy within physically vulnerable borders surrounded by active aggressive elements. There were chronic political and ideological differences. There were good leaders as well. But the situation was not so good. They tried, but quickly gave up.

On Feb. 16, 1949, the assembly adopted the Transition Law by which it renamed itself the First Knesset (i.e., first assembly). Because the assembly could not prepare a constitution for Israel, the Knesset became the heir to the assembly for the purpose of fulfilling this function. It was intended as a constitutional stopgap for Israel. But once the constitutional development process stalled, the law took on a pseudo-constitutional character. The situation has not changed even after 60 years. There are important constitutional laws in the country. But the country’s lack of a constitution still translates into a paucity of clearly articulated values what the state represents and defends.

Notwithstanding this fact, Israel is still hoping for the best. Its institutions are still working. Its economy is still prospering. The country is defending itself against all odds. Its people have not lost faith in the political state. Nepal’s scores are generally at an all-time low against its own standards. The failure of the leaders to provide the CA a positive work environment is a real letdown. It must not be minimised.

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