Political parties are the key players in a robust democratic system. They serve as a bridge between the people and the government, and convert the public aspirations into tangible outcomes to attain broader legitimacy in the society of diverse interests. So, the parties are vital to ensure a popular system marked by wider people’s participation, mutual cooperation, inclusiveness, accountability and peaceful mechanisms to settle societal conflicts. In the Nepalese context too, parties played their crucial role to bring about democratic changes. Despite their ingrained democratic deficits, their contribution to big political movements is hardly denied. However, because of their own faulty working style and weak position of inner-party democracy, they are now on the defensive ahead of the promulgation of a historic constitution. Apolitical groups have become dominant and forced the parties to their knees to meet their fair or unfair demands. The parties are compelled to change their stances frequently over the prominent issues of the statute.
Minor parties and subversive groups have come to the front to breach the hard-gained compromises struck among the key forces. Just the other day, Prime Minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai downplayed the important three-party agreement on state restructuring. After a series of haggling sessions, the major three parties agreed on 11 provinces and mixed governance system. But, this only enraged Madhesi forces, which are harping on a single autonomous Madhes province. One alliance of Madhesi lawmakers jumped to halt the House proceedings, forcing the PM to appear before it to satisfy the troubled lawmakers. Dr. Bhattarai termed the agreement simply as an outline, not the final conclusion of the most controversial topic of the constitution. On the other hand, CPN-UML and Nepali Congress argued that the deal on 11 provinces is in effect; it has not been reversed. The UML went on to say that the party would stick to its earlier stance for 7 to 8 provinces if the three-party accord is nullified. This paradox is an outcome of weakening position of the parties in the transition.
There is enough room to criticize the agreement. It has been censured from different angles. Different groups and people are rejecting it in line with their vested interests. Only a few of them are analyzing it from a broad perspective. Ethnic groups flay it because it does not mention their names. They want the provinces to be named after their ethnic identities. The Madhesi groups protest it because it breaks Madhes into several provinces, defying their call for One Madhes One Province. Their objections are guided by narrow interests. They are not concerned over the swelling number of provinces. The fact is that the country is unlikely to bear the load of such a large number of provinces. Experts are arguing that the parties did not take the factors such as economic viability and natural resources into account while restructuring the country into federal units. Six to seven provinces are feasible in Nepal. And, for peaceful and cooperative federation, the would-be states must not bear the divisive and particular names of certain ethnicities.
One of the major failures of the parties is their inability to fully engage the Constituent Assembly (CA) in the statute making process. The CA, whose composition is hailed as the most inclusive and democratic in the history of Nepal’s legislature, is rendered powerless and irrelevant and reduced to the role of upholding the decisions of some major political forces. The country’s complex peace process, which was to be tackled along with the writing of the constitution, can be blamed for CA’s minimized role. The tricky peace process consumed much time and the parties wasted most of their energy for this. Similarly, the agenda of government formation preoccupied the parties in the meaningless power politics. Despite all these hiccups, there was sufficient time and opportunity for the CA to intensely brainstorm the contents of the constitution and reach a conclusion. The parties simply failed to maximize the role of the CA that is going to expire next week.
The positive gain of parties is the formation of a national consensus government at the crucial hour. The major four forces – UCPN-Maoist, NC, UML and United Democratic Madhesi Front - and a host of other fringe parties have joined it. Although it can’t be termed an all-consensus government in the true sense, it has taken many parties on board. This is also a remarkable achievement for Dr. Baburam Bhattarai. Formation of such a government has been a high priority on the national agenda following the CA election. Dr. Bhattarai’s predecessors had also put it in top priority but failed to realize it. He succeeded to lead such a government though for a brief period as he has promised to pave the way for NC to lead the next government following the promulgation of the new constitution. The NC did not bargain for plum ministerial portfolios as it is elated to be back on the helm of power after several years.
The formation of national government has revived consensual politics and sent a positive message to the people ahead of the promulgation of the new constitution. This will likely broaden the ownership of the main law of land. With the boom of non-political groups and street protests, the parties really felt threats to their long-held ideologies. The roaring voices of disapproval triggered fears whether a large section of people will refuse to own up the constitution. So, the rationale behind the formation of a unity government is not to let the situation slip beyond the control of the parties. Marred by fractured and partisan politics, the people are losing their faith in the parties. The formation of consensus government seems to be a significant step in the direction of regaining public confidence. The consensus politics should be given momentum and emulated in solving the contentions of the statute by bringing the divergent forces in and outside the CA together. This should finally enable the parties to frame a constitution as a document of judicious compromise acceptable to all.