NEWS COMMENTARY: deadline for a new constitution, so close yet so far

Manoj Karki, Kathmandu, Jan 24: Though the second Constituent Assembly was elected for a term of four years, every political party and their leaders had pledged in public to deliver the new constitution within a year's time. Some parties had even made it their 'bhisma pratigya' to do so within first twelve months of the new CA.

Actually the one-year deadline came into being even before the first meeting of the second CA as the parties pledged in their election manifestoes and during their election campaigning that they would deliver the new constitution in a year. Some political parties had even gone to the extent of codifying it in their manifesto that they would provide the first draft of the constitution in the first six months and then give the people a new constitution before a year.

Accordingly, after the first meeting of the second CA, January 22 became the deadline for the promulgation of the new constitution. Though the political parties had self-imposed the deadline, it was due to fear of backlash from the people against the parties for failing to do the same work in four years' time in the first Constituent Assembly.

It was the same political parties that had decided to constitute the first ever Constituent Assembly of the country for a term of two years. However, they kept on extending the term of the CA to push it to two more years. It was eventually dissolved, citing the Supreme Court's verdict on the same.

However, the failure of the parties to give them a constitution even after two added years did not deter the people from coming out to vote for them in the second CA elections in 2013. A record 78 per cent turnout was the highlight of the election held under an interim election government led by a sitting apex court chief justice.

The mistrust among the political parties had already started brewing even before the second CA elections could be held, which ultimately forced them to agree to an election government of former bureaucrats under the leadership of a sitting Chief Justice.

The results of the second CA elections however was just opposite of the first CA elections, with a drubbing of the UCPN (Maoist) and the Madhesh-based political parties that had recorded a landslide victory proving many calculations wrong in the first CA elections. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML came back to the helm of power, with a combined strength for a foundation of a two-thirds majority in the new CA.

It was the expectation of the people that they would not be let down again by their representatives which drew them in large numbers to the polling booths, despite a call of boycott by a split faction of the UCPN (Maoist) led by Mohan Baidhya.

The election results, welcomed by all including national as well as international election observers, however came as a shock to the UCPN (Maoist). Subsequently, it hesitated to accept the results blaming rigging especially in the collection and transportation of the ballot boxes to the counting centres. The matter however subsided by a decision was reached in the Constituent Assembly that doubled as a Legislature-Parliament to form a probe committee to investigate into the charges of alleged rigging in the elections.

After the matter was sorted out, another issue came across that took away a substantial amount of time as well trust away from the political parties, who were supposed to join hands in writing the new constitution within a year. The issue was about the post of the President and Vice-president. This was too resolved after an agreement was reached for both the posts to be put to a vote including the post of the prime minister after the promulgation of the new constitution.

n the meantime, another issue was also playing spoilsport in the constitution making process. The issue of whether or not to hold the local elections created a sharp division among the political parties, especially between the parties in power and those in the opposition. The matter however continued to hold stream for the most part of the first year of the CA, with no significant conclusions reached.

Amidst all the aforementioned issues that disturbed the momentum of the constitution making process, the Constituent Assembly managed to come up with a timetable that would lead it to promulgating a new constitution by January 22. The CA calendar also included the very important part of collecting people's opinion over the draft of the new constitution.

Another significant achievement of the new CA was the decision to own the agreements of the first CA, which led to a belief that it would now become easier for the new CA to complete the constitution making process before a year's time. The major political parties worked together in forming different committees including the Dr Baburam Bhattarai-led Constitutional-Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee and the Krishna Prasad Sitoula-led Constitution Drafting Committee.

As per the CA Rules of Procedure that led to the formation of these Committees, the CPDCC that represented high-level leaders of all the parties in the CA was supposed to come up with a consensus document and table it before the CA for approval. The CA would then pass it on to the Drafting Committee for coming up with the first draft of the new Constitution. A provision also included for the CPDCC to come up with a questionnaire in case any issue remains unresolved in the Committee.

However, all expectations turned futile after it came back to same contentious issues that eventually led to the dissolution of the first CA. The four major contentious issues—the forms of governance, electoral system, judicial system and restructuring of the state—did not receive any headway at the CPDCC that was supposed to deal with these issues. Neither could the Committee come up with its full report or the questionnaire as provided in the CA Rules of Procedure.

The new CA had spent almost a year without making any ground from where it had stopped at the first CA. Countless rounds of negotiations outside the CA and within the confines of boardrooms and with the presence of a handful of leaders failed to produce any result.

After a year gone and apologies made to the people, the political parties and their leaders continue to struggle yet to find the trigger that would ultimately break the impasse and take the nation's focus from the new constitution to the much-needed socio-economic transformation.

Widespread condemnation at home and abroad, negative publicity in the mass media and continuous mockery in the ever-growing social media have not deterred the political parties and their leaders to keep the CA hostage of indecision since midnight January 19.

As parties and leaders continue to indulge in blames and counter-blames illogically for failing to come up with a new constitution after spending billions and almost seven years in a row, one can only hope that common sense prevails sooner than later and that every party and leader concerned give up their rigid positions and interests for the greater interest of the country and people. RSS

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