On the midnight of May 27, two major events took place in the nation that have indeed rocked the political boat. First, the historic Constituent Assembly was laid to rest after four years in operation and, second, the government took the decision to go for new elections for the CA in six months’ time on November 22. The opposition parties have rolled up their sleeves against the decision and openly said that they would not to allow the present government to oversee the polls.
After the Supreme Court prohibited the parties and the government to extend the CA’s tenure any further after the May 27 deadline, the political parties were thinking about what to do: clamp an emergency or authorise the transformed parliament to work for promulgating the constitution.
However, owing to the polarisation of the political parties on state restructuring, the inability to agree on the number of federal provinces and on awarding single ethnic identity to the provinces forced the ruling parties to dissolve the CA, without completing the historic task. The polarisation among the parties also blocked the ruling coalition of the UCPN-UML and Joint Madhesi Front to put the state restructuring issue to a vote at the CA.
The parties were quick to pass the blame on the rival parties for the CA’s failure to give a new statute. The prime minister and Maoist Chairman Prachanda shifted the blame on the Congress and UML, stating that these parties were in favour of the status quo and did not like to introduce new changes through state restructuring and single identity-based provinces.
But the two old parties of the nation have hit back at the ruling coalition. They have said that the step to dissolve the CA and the "unconstitutional move" to go for new polls were orchestrated by the Maoists to remain in power. The coalition, if allowed to hold the elections while they are still in power, would try to garner a two-third majority through any means to have their sway in the next CA, the parties allege.
The parties are now at the receiving end following the CA dissolution. They are bearing the brunt of the public outcry and wrath for failing to promulgate the constitution through the historic CA even after giving it a two-year extension. The political parties, their leaders and the 601 CA members are now drawing flak for wasting billions of rupees in taxpayers’ money and precious four years. At the end, when the CA was lying on its death bed, several CA members were seen chanting slogans against the top party leaders and asking them to promulgate the new statute anyhow. Many were seen very upset because they were losing their jobs.
The demise of the CA reminds us that the nation is jinxed when it comes to finding a statute through the representatives of the people. Soon after the nation tasted democracy after the fall of the Rana regime in 1951, a Constituent Assembly had been promised by the then king Tribhuvan, but it never happened.
With the sad demise of the CA, the government’s unilateral decision to call for fresh CA polls in six months’ time has unleashed another political tremor in the nation. The prime minister and Maoist chairman have drawn flak, and this is expected to further polarise the country’s politics.
Going by the widespread criticisms from different quarters, it now appears that the cabinet decision taken on the night of May 27 just before the clock struck midnight would meet more obstacles in the days ahead. The premiere and his party chairman have said that the move was not unconstitutional and was taken to respect the Supreme Court’s verdict, but it is likely to face several writ petitions at the apex court seeking the scrapping of the "unconstitutional" government move.
Meanwhile, against the decision, the two opposition parties - the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML - along with several fringe parties have now come up with a joint front, which is expected to exert whatever pressure it can on the premiere to quit and facilitate the formation of a national unity government which will have all authority to oversee the new elections in due time.
Even the Maoist hardliners have said that the Bhattarai government should resign and a new all-party government should be formed after the dissolution of the CA. The hardliners have stated that they would soon break the party to form their own so that they can remain close to the Maoist core ideology.
The opposition parties, which were busy in several rounds of parleys to find a solution over state restructuring throughout May 27, the final day of the CA’s tenure, felt betrayed by the prime minister and Maoist Chairman Prachanda, who according to the opposition members, were actually in the mood to let the CA suffer its demise without making any headway on federalism. The promulgation of the constitution would have meant Dr. Bhattarai would have to resign to form a new unity government under the leadership of the Nepali Congress.
Though the government and the ruling UCPN-Maoist have stated that the decision was taken in consonance with the spirit of the Supreme Court verdict, the call for new elections is yet to be endorsed by the president. Many experts say the ball regarding the government decision is now in the president’s court. The head of state is said to have started his own consultations with constitutional experts, lawyers and political science specialists and several concerned personalities regarding the government decision, "which was taken without taking the major political parties into confidence."
The parties have even asked the president not to endorse the government decision and have categorically said that they would fail the government’s motive to hold the elections as the government’s decision was unconstitutional. The parties allege that after the dissolution of the CA and parliament, the government was rendered a caretaker government with no rights to take any decision on the elections unilaterally.
Those opposing the new elections contend that the decision to hold election on November 22 would not be viable because the Elections Commission is yet to update the voters’ list.
It is testing time for the government and the Maoist chairman as ill feeling among the other parties has sharply gone up. Many say that the government and the Maoists would have a tough time holding the new polls as the parties are yet to support their move. The new polls, it seems, would be easier to hold if a new all-party government is formed with the right to conduct the polls. Given the outcry against the government decision, it appears that the political odds are heavily stacked against the government and the Maoist supremo.