With the integration of the Maoist combatants almost over, the hope that the new constitution will be promulgated by the May 27 deadline has been rekindled. The fact that those combatants who had earlier opted for integration into the Nepal Army have now opted for voluntary retirement has, however, shown that the regrouping of the combatants had not taken place on ground realities.
The maximum number of combatants to be integrated into the Nepal Army was earlier pegged at 6,500, which has now drastically come down from over 9,000 for various reasons. However, such a reversal of the situation should not affect the peace process. The integration of the combatants into the Nepal Army will be complete in no time.
It is the stand of the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML that the peace process should be completed before the promulgation of the constitution, to which the Maoist party was averse in the past. This difference has now been solved, paving the way for the promulgation of the constitution in time.
There are some pressing issues to be incorporated in the constitution that need to be resolved. The form of governance, state restructuring and the judiciary system are irons in the fire. Recently, the major political parties have struck consensus on the judiciary system and citizenship, reducing the number of pending issues.
They are claiming that they are working eagerly to sort out the remaining issues. They are now intensifying negotiations, both bilateral and multilateral, in order to come to a rallying point. It is but natural for the political parties to carry on deliberations like hell given the constraint of the time for the promulgation of the constitution, which is just a month away.
Now is the critical hour for the Constituent Assembly to sort out all kinds of differences regarding the pending issues of the constitution. The political parties are holding one negotiation after the other. What are, then, the other members of the Constituent Assembly doing? Are they also taking part in the ongoing deliberations aimed at resolving the outstanding issues related to the constitution? The answer is a big nope. Only the major political parties are involved in such deliberations, with the other members of the Constituent Assembly being on the sidelines.
The primary duty of the constitution-drafting process falls on the shoulders of the Constituent Assembly. The role of the government and political parties is to facilitate the constitution-drafting process. This fact has never been recognised, though.
The Constituent Assembly, which also doubles as the Legislature-Parliament, is much more engrossed in the parliamentary business than in the constitution-making business. This has trivialized the role of those members of the Constituent Assembly who are not associated with the government or major political parties. This has certainly raised a pertinent question: If the government and major political parties are to make the constitution, what is the raison díetre behind the formation of the Constituent Assembly that boasts 601 members and that has drained the state coffers to a gargantuan extent?
Four years have already elapsed since the elections to the Constituent Assembly. Over these years, a large number of the members of the Constituent Assembly have pocketed allowances and other benefits without contributing to making the constitution. Most of such members have no basic knowledge of the constitution. Some are illiterate, while others are under-SLC. There should have been requirements for minimum qualifications and knowledge to get elected to the Constituent Assembly. At the time of the elections, this important aspect was bypassed and every Tom, Dick and Harry was allowed to be a member of the Constituent Assembly either under the direct electoral system or under the proportionate system. This is the main reason for the multiplicity of knowledge-deficient members in the Constituent Assembly.
Further, the behaviour of some of the members of the Constituent Assembly has tarnished the image of the Constituent Assembly. The diplomatic passport scandal, criminal activities, unruly behaviour and the like on the part of some members of the Constituent Assembly are a blot on the escutcheon of the Constituent Assembly and the government.
Now is the time for all the members of the Constituent Assembly to concentrate their attention on resolving disputed issues and bringing out the constitution by May 27. Some political leaders are rumbling forth that the constitution will be out by May 27. It is not necessary that they keep on giving such expressions whenever they attend a programme. Some leaders have even gone to the extent that a draft of the constitution has been ready and what is left is only its promulgation. As some disputed issues are yet to be resolved, it is not possible to have a draft of the constitution. Such irresponsible expressions on the part of the leaders are nothing more than eyewash. Such expressions are not desirable at such a crucial juncture.
The term of the Constituent Assembly is not going to be extended as decreed by the Supreme Court. The constitution has to be promulgated by the deadline. It will be arduous for the country to handle the post-May 27 situation in case the constitution cannot be brought out. With this grave situation, the political parties are showing intense activism.
As a matter of fact, the progress being made in the peace process and on the constitution-drafting front during the premiership of Dr. Baburam Bhattarai is satisfactory and strongly points to the possibility that the constitution will be promulgated in time.
Amid this progress, the political parties are also talking about changing the government. They are talking about either changing the present government into an all-party government or forming a new all-party government. Such a fruitless exercise is likely to distract the attention of the political parties towards forming a new government, keeping the efforts at promulgating the constitution in limbo. The momentum of constitution-making efforts should not be scaled down under any pretence.
Keep on the spadework
Some political parties may fear that the credit for promulgating the constitution will go to the political parties representing the present government. It is a misconception. The credit should go to the Constituent Assembly and all the Nepalese, and no mistake. Letís hope that all the political parties cherish this and keep on carrying on the spadework so that the constitution can be promulgated in time.