With just a month left for the promulgation of the statute, the political parties are under tremendous pressure to reach consensus on several outstanding issues, which have so far been posing a hurdle even during these penultimate hours. Now, as the parties are constrained by the time factor, talks are also doing the rounds that they are gearing up for adding three more months to complete the constitution by imposing an emergency once the tenure of the Constituent Assembly expires in May. But only time and the behaviour of the parties will tell if there is any truth behind the rumours, which, however, refuse to die down.
The confusion and suspicion have deepened although the parties have gathered for several rounds of intense dialogue on the very important yet problematic matters which must be incorporated in the statute that is expected to herald a new political and socio-economic beginning for the nation. Even after striking an agreement in forming a Constitutional Court and nearing consensus on the citizenship issue, the parties are yet to reach a single voice on the two most problematic matters which have consumed considerable time of the Constituent Assembly: restructuring of the state and forms of governance.
On the federalism issue, the parties are still undecided over the number of provinces and model of federalism. The Maoists and the Nepali Congress and the CPN UML are sticking to their guns - the Maoists still want the division of the provinces on purely ethnic lines, while the Congress and the UML are refusing to budge from their demand that the provinces should be chalked out on the basis of ethnic identity as well as capability or economic viability.
At this crucial juncture, both sides have been fielding their versions only without considering the gravity of the situation. If the statements of the Maoist Supremo, Prachanda, are any indication, he seems clearly in two minds regarding how the provinces should be carved. Although the federalisation of the state on ethnic lines is one of the main agendas of the ex-rebels, Prachanda is gradually coming to terms that it is really very difficult for the party to stick to its earlier stance. Because there is a real danger that if the provinces are federated along ethnic lines, communal strife may take place among the 101 indigenous and different nationalities of the nation.
Disputes may also erupt while giving priority rights to the dominant ethnic groups and while demarcating the borders of the provinces. These are but a few of the real dangers that may well incite communal disharmony and ultimately initiate a kind of civil war in the nation.
Yet Prachanda seems to be reluctant to give up his stand for the sake of his party’s posture, while several indigenous groups, including the Nepal Federation of Indigenous and Nationalities (NEFIN), the Madhesi groups and Tharus have threatened to launch strong protests if the provinces are not carved out on ethnic lines and the ethnic groups are not given priority rights.
On the other hand, the Brahmin and Chhetri groups of hill origin, who have so far felt excluded from the historic task of federating the provinces, have too formed their fronts to put forth their demands. They have been demanding that the state also provide them provinces of their own. Should the political parties fail to assign them provinces where they too would have priority rights, these groups are demanding that there be no federalism.
Since the population of these two groups dominate all other ethnic groups, their demands seem well-placed in a system that boasts of respecting the majority voice. The political parties and supporters of the ethnic provinces will certainly have a hard time responding to their query: how can the makers of a democratic constitution fail to listen to the demands of the majority of the population?
Besides the problems and pressures being felt on the federalising front, the parties are also under pressure on the issue related to the system of governance. The Maoists are for a directly elected presidential system of governance while the Congress and the UML are holding the notion that if the president is directly elected and is left without any check and balance from the parliament, he would turn autocratic in the long run as he would wield enough clout for a period of five years.
Therefore the Congress-UML combo is demanding for a mixed system where Parliament will have a control mechanism over the directly elected president. They are also for giving some power to the prime minister elected by the parliament. The two parties are also supporting the idea that even in a directly elected presidential system, there should be a provision to have a strong opposition in the parliament.
Interestingly, the hardline faction of the Maoist party is now expressing concern over the power to be enjoyed by a directly elected president. The key members of this faction are now asking the parties to reach agreement on a mixed system where the power and authority are shared among the directly elected president, prime minister and Parliament.
The parties are still holding discussion on these two very important yet tricky issues. Both sides are pushing each other to accept the other side’s demand so that the task of writing the constitution can be completed in time. But both sides are not ready to give up their stances even at these crucial hours and are buying time to reach an all-accepted agreement, which would certainly change the political landscape of Nepal in the future.
The parties are certainly working to clear all kinds of hurdles. But the real problem is that they are still averse to giving up their stances and their respective party interests. They are sitting for dialogue with an eye to wresting spaces from the rival parties on these very sinuous matters. But then they do not have much time to engage in lengthy discussions or in tactical evasion of the processes. There is no time for the parties to resort to dilly-dallying tactics, because pressures are piling up on them from all sides. If the parties are serious enough, the period of one month is enough for them to complete all important tasks.