In the words of Aristotle, “Well begun is half done.” However, the second Constituent Assembly (CA) of Nepal is getting hiccups right from the beginning. The political parties do not seem to have learned much from the past. Though almost all the political parties agree on readying the first draft of the constitution within a year, the hardening fact remains that the debate on the constitution is not likely to be deliberated for six months as it has taken almost a month to decide who can legitimately call the Assembly. Therefore, it is likely that another month will be taken for the formation of the Council of Ministers and nomination of twenty six members that will provide a fuller shape to the CA. Inter and intra-party differences are the major reasons that have handicapped constitution-writing.
Inter and Intra-Party Differences
In Nepali Congress, Sushil Koirala became the parliamentary party (PP) leader, defeating Sher Bahadur Deuba, as the party failed to forge an agreement even after several rounds of talks. Deuba had asked for the post of acting president of the party in order to support Koirala. Ram Chandra Paudel made the same claims. This unfolded the three-sided rift in the NC.
The CPN-UML is in a similar crisis where all four senior leaders are eying the post of party chairman in the next general convention, scheduled for April 2014. The standing committee meeting decided to elect its PP leader through vote as the party could not nominate one through consensus. Most likely, KP Oli will make the way for the PP leader by defeating Jhalanath Khanal as he is trying to get the support of Bamdev Gautam. Although Gautam has been a trusted partner of Khanal for the last five years, he will be a game-changer in this election.
After being dissatisfied with the proportionate candidate selection row, two senior leaders of UCPN-Maoists, Baburam Bhattarai and Narayankaji Shrestha, accused Prachanda for the election setback. Bhattarai even asked Prachanda to handover leadership to the younger generation. Ruling out the chances of power handover during a ‘crisis’, Prachanda announced the holding of conventions to restructure and shape the political ideology of the party.
However, the breakaway faction led by Mohan Baidya has threatened to launch protest programmes if the major political parties keep turning a deaf ear to his demand for the dissolution of the CA. There are some speculations that both the factions might merge.
After the humiliating defeat of Madhesi parties, the prime reason being multiple splits, three major parties are working for unification. Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Nepal led by Upendra Yadav, Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party led by Mahanta Thakur and Sadhbhawana Party led by Rajendra Mahato are close to the unification process. The united alliance will be the fourth largest party in the new CA. Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik led by Bijaya Gachhadar is also inviting other Madhesi parties to join him to further polarise the political alliances.
Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N) barely escaped the sword of split. Tanka Dhakal and other dissenters accused the party chairman of putting the agenda of ‘monarchy’ on the back burner, neglecting the issues of nationalism, being pro-India, and promoting nepotism and favoritism during appointment of PR seats.
Differences on Constitution Issues
The three major political parties have agreed to have a draft of the constitution within a year. The previous CA had agreement on almost 85 per cent of the issues except the two major contentious ones - federalism and forms of government. However, these issues could not find a space in parliament in January 2014 due to the opposition by minor parties like RPP-Nepal.
The major parties should expand to include members from Madhesi and other smaller parties so that there can be broader support for the eventual agreements and at the same time face down the opposition. Effort should be made to have consensus on all the issues, but it would be a dream to expect actual consensus will be reached. It would also be futile to hope for the voices of resistance to die down if the motion is delayed. Not much progress has been made since December 2013 so the political parties should not waste much time if they are serious about a timely constitution. They should also try to avoid new fronts for confrontations such as elections of the president and vice-president. Even if it occurs, they should come up with appropriate solutions. Meanwhile, they should form the government urgently, preferably within the deadline given by the president. It is the need of the hour for all political parties to come together and forge consensus, failing which they must chose voting in order to ensure a timely constitution.