Thursday, May 11, 2006

Eight-Party Dalliance

Rarely must have politics so brazenly outpaced constitutionalism as is being witnessed in Nepal. An elected legislature dissolved by an elected prime minister in keeping with his constitutional prerogatives has been revived through royal proclamation – that, too, two years after the expiration of its natural life. Technically, the upper house of parliament is still alive. No one seems interested in bicameralism.
The Supreme Court had validated Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s decision to dissolve the lower house of parliament in 2002. The justices had not considered the eventuality of fresh polls not being held within the stipulated six months. If anything, the apex court should have been allowed to revisit the case. Instead, the monarch whose absolutism the Seven Party Alliance (SPA) claimed it was fighting against ended up reviving the legislature by decree. With Article 127 always on his side, King Gyanendra’s 15-month rule was a model of constitutionalism compared to what is going on now.
It was assumed the House of Representatives would meet briefly to formalize the SPA roadmap to bring the Maoists into the political process. Now Madhav Kumar Nepal, the general secretary of the Unified Marxists and Leninists (UML) wants the legislature to continue functioning until the ambiguous goal of “total democracy” is achieved.
What’s more, the leader of the opposition in the dissolved house is now threatening to pull out the UML from Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s multiparty government unless the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) is immediately rechristened and brought under the control of parliament.
The RNA generals must be dying to say what they have to say on the matter. There must be different versions under consideration, conveying the same core message: Sorry, gentlemen, but we enjoy being under the king.
The Maoists, who have made noises about the irrelevance of the legislative proceedings, must be privately relishing the spectacle being enacted at the “butcher’s store palming off dog meat as mutton” they once derided. They must be biding their time for the total victory the heavily indoctrinated wing of the rebels has always desired.
The assumption, of course, is that the royalists are a spent force. But are they? Dr. Tulsi Giri, the much reviled senior deputy in King Gyanendra’s government, wants to give the Koirala government the customary honeymoon period before making any comment. That is a view shared by Shrish Shumsher Rana, King Gyanendra’s communications minister and the government spokesman.
Former home minister Kamal Thapa rejects the suggestion that the royal government responded with unwarranted harshness to the burgeoning protests. Thapa, moreover, has indicated he would come out with a detailed explanation on why he thought the royal roadmap failed.
And then there’s retired general Satchit Sumshere Rana, who as army chief in 1990 urged King Birendra to militarily suppress the foreign-inspired unrest masquerading as the People’s Movement. Satchit Rana, considered a close adviser to King Gyanendra, says he will open his mouth in about a month and a half’s time.
On the surface, the Koirala government has sought to assert its authority by recalling 12 ambassadors the king had appointed and by rehabilitating senior bureaucrats marginalized during palace rule. Several royal decrees have been annulled and more drastic decisions are expected. It’s intriguing why the government hasn’t sacked RNA chief Gen. Pyar Jung Thapa and the three heads of the security agencies under the Home Ministry?
The Maoists and certain sections within the SPA are disappointed in the government’s laxness. They want an interim constitution leading up to a constituent assembly. Strike while the iron is hot. Surely, the last four years must have been cathartic for SPA leaders. After all, they had been projecting the current constitution as one of the best in the world proclaiming that it didn’t need to be amended for at least 30 years.
True to its reputation, the “dependent” media has been hyping the imminence of an Indian “Marshall Plan.” With issues of economic security being addressed with such promptness, could political and strategic imperatives remain in New Delhi’s back burner?
Why not save much time and energy by building on UML general secretary Nepal’s proposal. Our honorable legislators should formally request the Maoists to nominate 205 representatives to the august body. The expanded institution should then be designated the constituent assembly.
Having resolved to draft a republican constitution, and cleared the monarchy out of the way, the legislators could then spend the rest of their lives working out the articles, clauses and schedules. At least, the next generation of Nepalese impatient for radical change would have precedent on their side.