Even after nearly two weeks since the handing over of the Maoist combatants, their arms and cantonments to the Nepal Army, the dialogue among the three major political parties and the Madhesi Front over the contentious issues of the constitution has repeatedly ended inconclusively.
Although the parties are under tremendous pressure due to the fast approaching deadline of the Constituent Assembly and demands from different groups like the Nepal Federation of Indigenous and Nationalities (NEFIN) and the caucus of Madhesi lawmakers, their talks have not yielded any substantial fruits. The leaders had nothing much to say even after the two-day-long meeting at Hattiban except that their confidence of the possibility of consensus had increased.
Smelling a rat in the formation of the federations on the basis of previously agreed upon identity and capacity, NEFIN has been carrying out its first phase of the agitation while the caucus of Madhesi lawmakers formed recently under the leadership of Upendra Yadav, chairman of the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum, has threatened to follow the path of NEFIN unless the parties make sure that the aspirations of the Madhesi people are guaranteed in the new constitution.
While NEFIN has been exerting pressure to carve out federal states as proposed by the CA thematic committee on State Restructuring, the Madhesi lawmakers seem to have come together for making the entire southern plains one province. In this sense, these two groups have forwarded mutually exclusive demands, which must be posing greater challenges before the party heads to adjust their positions and addresses the demands of these two vital groups.
The formation of the Madhesi lawmakers’ caucus and the start of NEFIN’s agitation are the two new developments since the Hattiban meeting. If there is any commonality in the demands of these two groups, it is that the provinces should not be bordering both India and China, i.e., north-south. Additionally, the caucus of Dalit lawmakers has also started to exert pressure on the parties as it handed over a memorandum to Maoist Chairman Prachanda on Saturday.
It is surprising that even the lawmakers of the main ruling UCPN-Maoist have joined the new Madhesi caucus. However, this may not seem surprising as almost all key positions in the major three parties are held by leaders of the hilly origin, and as a result, the Madhesi leaders in these parties want to bargain for power within their party.
What should be noted is that when the Madhesi movement seemed to be winning, many senior Madhesi leaders in the parties like the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML deserted the parties and either joined the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum or formed new parties like the Terai Madhes Democratic Party. Sensing that there was a better political career if they formed or joined a regional or ethnicity-based party, as the country was heading for a federal system, even those leaders who are remaining in the mainstream national or ideology-based parties seem to waiting for a time to desert them.
Instead of making compromises on the remaining issues, it seems that the parties have started to backtrack from the previously made agreement. It is not pleasant to read reports that the NC and UML are weaning away from their consent to form a constitutional court. Except for the financial burden, there is no harm in the formation of such a court. If that can satisfy the ruling Maoists and the Madhesi parties, why are the NC and UML insisting that a Supreme Court bench would be sufficient to decide constitutional issues?
The opposition parties must remember that they had vowed to soften their stances once they felt that the peace process was concluded. Now, with the handing over of the PLA to the Nepal Army, they have said the peace process has concluded in effect. They should thus live up to their words, not backtrack from the earlier agreement. This will only erode their political ethics.
While there are only 36 days as of Sunday to promulgate the constitution, the way the parties are failing to resolve even a single long standing disputed issue indicates that all the issues will eventually be presented in the CA for a decision. As decided earlier, if the parties fail to forge agreement by today (Sunday), the different aspects related to the five major issues such as state restructuring, judicial system, citizenship, forms of governance and electoral system would be put in the CA for a vote from Monday.
Although the parties will also have time for agreement even when the voting starts, doing this will be a Herculean job as they might fail to have control over their lawmakers who have joined different caucuses. In this respect, it would be better for the parties if they reached an agreement by Sunday evening so that no issue is presented in the CA for initial voting that would pave the way for the Constitutional Committee to prepare a new constitution.
If the Constitutional Court is made to prepare the draft of the statute, inserting those issues which have won only a majority vote in the CA, this will invite greater difficulty for the parties which have already agreed to endorse the constitution at one go in the CA voting.
Recently, the parties agreed to amend Article 70 of the interim constitution, which provisions that all the articles of the new constitution should be either endorsed by a consensus or two-thirds majority. As per the agreement, the government will table a bill to replace this provision with the provision that the whole of the new constitution will be promulgated either by endorsing it through consensus or two-thirds majority of the CA.
Finally, given the all-round pressure for addressing the different demands, some of which are mutually exclusive, it seems that the parties will not make or disclose agreement on issues like federalism. This can be understood as doing so might invite demonstration from the disgruntled groups before the constitution is promulgated. For this reason, the parties will also keep some of their agreement secret until the last hour for voting on the constitution. If that is the strategy of the parties, it is ok, as we will have a new constitution no matter what CA procedures are applied for promulgating the new statute.