Then Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai ‘unilaterally’ decided to go for Constituent Assembly (CA) election, he had hardly imagined that his announcement would meet with stiff resistance from the opposition parties and diverse sections of the populace. Now he finds it a Herculean task to get the nod from the major political forces for another CA election that he calls the only path left for them to give an outlet to the country. In fact, there lie political, constitutional and moral deficiencies in announcing the CA poll despite it being a vital democratic tool to write the constitution. The popular sentiment is barely ready to endorse it at the moment. After the waste of crucial four years with siphoning off billions of rupees for the management of the first CA, the people have no mood to line up for another election to be held for the same purpose. It poses a moral question: Is it rational to hold another CA election after the first CA miserably failed to deliver the new statute? Is there ethical ground for the parties to ask the people to vote them for writing constitution for the second time?
The parties must explain to the people as to why they failed to draft the new constitution from the previous repeatedly extended CA before they are called to cast their ballots for the second CA. The parties are not in a position to furnish a convincing reply to this query as they are heading towards inimical polarization, blaming each other for the collapse of the historic statute making body. So, it is up to the people to read between the lines of the parties’ arguments and decide on it. The country is faced with a dilemma: the government is determined to hold the CA poll while the opposition forces are vehemently protesting it, terming it unconstitutional and a mere ploy of the government to stick to power for an indefinite period
The announcement of new CA polls for the second time falls short of constitutional requirements. The Interim Constitution has not envisaged it. The Maoist-Madhesi coalition hurriedly moved to declare the polls by dodging the CA that was to expire after a few minutes. The new CA election declaration was based on the Supreme Court verdict that put limit on CA extension once again. In its landmark decision, the Apex Court offered three alternatives to the extension of the CA – fresh CA poll, referendum and other constitutional arrangements. However, the SC did not mean that the government should announce another CA poll without meeting the necessary constitutional conditions. The government did not bother to amend the Interim Constitution for the new CA poll through the House when it was active. Now the government is mulling to solve the constitutional glitches through an ordinance that will be approved by the President. But the bigger question is: How much will it be legitimate to change constitutional provisions through an ordinance? Such a move will surely make the mockery of constitutionalism and democratic politics.
Prime Minister Dr. Bhattarai argues that by declaring a new CA poll, he hasn’t let the CA die. The people will get the new CA in the next six months and no one should grudge about its dissolution, he seems to say. But, the way he announced the CA election has raised the eyebrows of many. His coalition kept the opposition parties in dark and all were stunned upon hearing his unexpected decision. It apparently broke down the tradition of consensus politics started with the 12-point understanding that brought the Maoist and non-Maoist forces together ahead of the April Uprising. Now the PM has earned more foes than friends by declaring the new CA election. It has soured the political climate and the PM will be unable to untie the constitutional knot in the absence of cooperation from Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and other political parties. So, the announcement of fresh CA election has widened the distance among the parties instead of bringing them closer.
The NC, UML and their allies smell of conspiracy behind the dissolution of the CA as the ruling parties pushed them to the edge. They are particularly startled after Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda ‘instigated’ indigenous groups against ‘anti-federal forces’ immediately after the signing of the five-point deal with among major four forces. It agreed on an 11-state model. But, the revolt of Janajatis in the streets offered an excuse to the Maoists to disown the accord. The Janajati politics brought a jinx in the organizational life of UML and NC. They now suffer from smoldering ethnic tension within the ranks and files. The UML leadership is in a more miserable situation than the NC. The UML had never faced such an existential crisis before this.
Prachanda might be happy as his decade old ethnic politics is finally coming to fruition. He does not want to let this moment to slip from his hand at any cost. Hence the declaration of the new CA election. He seems to sweep in the election after pitting Janajatis, Madhesis and Newars against the UML leadership. In Kathmandu Valley, he invoked Newa politics and the local Newars are now fussing over the UML’s stand against the singular ethnic identity to the federal states. In the hills and Terai, the Janajati and Madhesi stalwarts are raging against the UML for the same reason. Sensing that the NC and UML’s constituencies have been severely dented, the Maoist establishment side calculated that it could reap well in the coming election. However, the Maoist ethno-politics has also boomeranged with a large section of non-janajati population becoming disenchanted with the Maoists. Moreover, the Baidhya faction is there to cut the ground from under the establishment faction as it thinks Janajatis are their virgin constituency and will serve as its solid basis to carry out ‘people’s revolt.’
The declaration of CA poll has fallen into controversy. The opposition forces have stepped into the streets to topple down the government. The ruling Maoist party is also bracing for counter showdown. They are forcing the nation towards confrontation. The need of the hour is to restore consensus politics. The dissolved CA has sorted out all contents of constitution except federalism. Therefore, the parties must forge consensus on the federal issues. And it is not the profligate CA but parliamentary election should to be announced in the broader consensus of parties. An all-party government must be formed to hold election in a fair and impartial manner. The new legislature should endorse the new constitution. This will perhaps be the most practical roadmap for the nation at this point of time.