Positive Turning Point
Dr. Narad Bharadwaj
The decision of the Prachanda-led government to withdraw the Constitution Amendment Bill tabled at the Legislative Parliament on January 8, 2017 for discussion and endorsement must be hailed as a significant step towards giving momentum to Nepal’s stalled political transition. Belatedly though, the coalition government of the CPN (MC) and the Nepali Congress has taken a substantial initiative towards reconciliation and restoration of collaborative spirit between the ruling and the opposition parties.
From the very first day when the bill concerning the restructuring of provincial borders was registered at the Parliament Secretariat on November 29 last year, it was rejected by the CPN (UML) and other opposition parties as a divisive political move and an act against common sense. It was dubbed divisive in the sense that it tended to categorise the political forces opposing the bill as the enemies of the Madhes movement and the ruling parties which supported the bill as the allies of the Madhesi people. It was considered against common sense because the government had rushed the bill into the parliament turning blind eyes to the absence of required number of votes for endorsing the bill by two -thirds majority.
The CPN (UML) had maintained all along that the question of constitution amendment which the CPN (MC) and Nepali Congress wanted to bring up for endorsement was an agenda introduced at the incitement of external forces to divide Nepalese people and weaken Nepal’s territorial integrity. UML believed that it would pit the hill against the Terai and would deflect the national politics from the path of implementation of the constitution, the first step of which would be to successfully organise the three tiers of election at the local, provincial and national levels.
From the very outset, the CPN (UML) was consistently demanding for the withdrawal of the bill and concentrate on holding the election. But the coalition government continued to walk the rugged path of confrontation which provoked the main opposition to obstruct the parliament for 42 days. It was the precious time spent in pointless bickering which widened the rift among national political parties and pushed important national agendas to limbo.
The political drift that started with the registration of the constitution amendment caused an incalculable loss to the country both in terms of prolonging Nepal’s political transition and hampering efforts to muster international support for the creation of infrastructural base for the country.
The Nepali Congress-Maoist coalition had taken over the helm of the state when the previous government was implementing policies designed to create trans-Himalayan transit and transportation infrastructures to enable Nepal achieve self-sustainability against possible blockades in the future. But the present government showed apathy towards implementing agreements signed with China by previous government appearing to strain hard not to displease India by deepening engagements with China.
That generated misunderstanding in China about Nepal’s foreign policy standing requiring the latter to clarify that its position on one China remained unchanged and that it was committed to implement the agreements signed with China by the previous government.
The forcible change of KP Oli led government on the eve of proposed visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping signaled instability in Nepal leading to cancellation of his visit which was likely to yield many unforeseen benefits to Nepal. The scale of opportunity we missed can be inferred from the fact that President Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh instead and offered a credit line worth 24 billion dollars for the infrastructure building in that country.
The bill of constitution amendment was brought ignoring the protest of the main opposition party and without building consensus with the Madhesi Front which was supposed to be the main beneficiary of the amendment.
The constitution was not given a chance to face the test of implementation and the readiness to amend its clauses without any rationale was equivalent to accepting the unfounded accusation of external powers that Nepal’s constitution was non-inclusive, it had disenfranchised the Madhesis and that it had tried to establish the prerogative of the hill elites.
In fact, the motion of second amendment to the constitution was an act of self-infliction made for a demonstration effect. It was an act of sneering at our own sovereign parliament which had drafted and promulgated the constitution with an unprecedented consensus of more than 92 percent of the constituent assembly members.
The constitutional history of the world shows that constitutions are not static documents. They need to be updated with constantly changing social political contexts. But the requirement for the amendment of the constitution are seldom reflected through the interest of external forces and their proxies inside the countries but is manifested in the general will of the people.
Needs for amendment of a constitution drafted by a near absolute majority of the elected representatives must reverberate in the nooks and crannies of the national territory. But there were no such demands for the amendment warranting the rush with which it was registered in the parliament. The withdrawal of the amendment motion was, therefore, long overdue. The government has done an appreciable job by showing courage to correct its course which could have pushed the country deeper into an exit-less tunnel if it were left uncorrected .
The need of the present time is for all the political parties to focus on the election which is just round the bend. However, the government has introduced another set of amendment motion in the parliament for endorsement. The new amendment concerns with the exercise of legislative and other power of provincial assemblies by the legislative parliament until provincial assemblies come into existence, procedure about the formation of a commission to recommend the restructuring of provincial borders and the exclusion the head of municipalities and village councils from the Electoral College that elects the National Assembly.
If the comments of former speaker of the parliament Subas Nemwang are to be believed, the government has prepared new amendment proposal without consulting with the main opposition. It is true, the UML will again refuse to support the bill making it difficult to get endorsed.
Similarly, the government says the new set of amendment has been brought to address the concerns of the Madhes-centric forces and in response to the UML’s opposition. However, the Madhes-based parties ,too, appear unhappy as they have already registered their opposition against the withdrawal of the previous bill and the registration of the new one. In this situation, the attempt of the government to resolve the constitutional controversy might turn out to be only a flash in the pan.
The obsessive attention of the ruling coalition to the issue of constitutional amendment has prevented them from focusing on holding elections as a logical step towards a successful implementation of the constitution. No amount of the amendment of the constitutional clauses can accomplish the implementation of the constitution. It will only question our ability to make independent national decisions. For the constitution to win legitimacy, it has to be able to put the legislative, judicial and executive bodies in place within the designated period of time.
It is therefore expected that the government does not make the constitution amendment a prestige issue for itself and takes strides towards fulfilling the historical mission of defending the legitimacy of the constitution prepared by the sovereign Constituent Assembly elected by the people. That is the only way to avert the political catastrophe that awaits us at the end of the road.