With the failure of the political parties to forge consensus on state restructuring till midday of May 27, the last day of the Constituent Assembly’s term, this day has become a day of the biggest uncertainty. The general people as well as political activists are all in confusion as to whether the new constitution would be promulgated by the end of the day. Even if the parties succeeded in striking consensus and promulgate the constitution - let’s see how our hope works - this day will be remembered as the day of chilling dilemma.
This situation of indecision was unexpected as the peace process had ended in effect some two months ago when the Nepal Army took over the cantonments of the Maoist PLA, following a decision of the Special Committee. Hopes had then risen high because the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML had given word that they would make compromises on constitution writing once the Maoists agreed to complete the peace process. However, the situation did not develop as the NC and UML had committed as the parties got entangled on the issue of state restructuring.
Of course, the parties held dozens of rounds of negotiations on some vital but disputed issues that persisted. Out of the five outstanding issues, the parties found common ground on four - form of governance, electoral system, citizenship and the judiciary. However, when they entered the issue of state restructuring or federalism, their differences surfaced sharply, with the Maoists and the Madhesis standing on one side and the NC and UML on the other.
The Maoists and the Madhesis insist that some federal constituents should bear the names of dominants ethnic groups while the NC and UML have said common identity should be made the basis of naming and delineating the federal states.
Despite the fact that the interim constitution had envisioned a political practice of consensus until the new constitution was promulgated by the CA, the parties took a different route just after the CA elections were held. The victory of the UCPN-Maoist as the largest party with double the strength of the second largest party, the Nepali Congress, in the CA stunned both domestic and foreign political forces.
The amazing triumph amplified the suspicion of the non-Maoist parties that the Maoists would capture the state and impose a one-party dictatorship. The Maoists contributed sufficiently to this doubt as they threatened to seize power, albeit they never said publicly that they would impose a dictatorship.
On the other hand, the largest party also feared that all the other parties would band together against it. This apprehension augmented when the party lost the election in the parliament for the post of president and speaker. The party could not come to power until it agreed to amend the interim constitution to remove the provision of consensus government.
The removal of the provision of consensus politics from the interim constitution and the start of majority rule forced the parties to engage in power politics rather than for peace and constitution writing, which has now resulted in the failure to make a decision even by the last day of the CA’s term. What the parties at this critical hour should think is that the fate of the nation is in their hands and they must act responsibly.
The unexpected defeat in the CA elections rendered a great blow to parties like the Nepali Congress and UML. Although the UML remained supportive of the Maoists, the Nepali Congress posed itself at the other end of the polarising politics. The constitutional provision of a consensus government was removed due to the insistence of the NC. These parties never came up with any proposal on ways to conclude the peace process or army integration. Their role was limited to reacting to the Maoists’ proposals for three years since the CA election. This tendency to react also took unnecessary time of the peace process.
When the peace process seemed to reach an irreversible stage some two months back, only then did the non-Maoist parties started to think about the new constitution. In fact, the NC and the UML had publicly said that there was no meaning in talking about the new constitution until the Maoists agreed to conclude the peace process.
Now that only a few hours remain to promulgate the new constitution, the parties are still holding talks on the names, numbers and delineation of the federal units. Given the fact that major decisions have been taken only at the eleventh hour since the peace process started in our country, there is possibility that the parties will reach consensus on state restructuring and promulgate the constitution. However, there is high possibility that some vital issues will be left to be decided in the future by what the parties call a reformed parliament. Doing this will be safer than allowing the CA to dissolve without a new constitution.
Future course of politics
It would be better if the parties did not name the federal states along ethnic lines at present as this would also invite protests by the largest segment of Nepali society, i.e., the Brahmins and Chhettris. What the parties do by the end of this day will determine the course of politics in the country for some years to come.