Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pre-emptive Democracy

Now that the Constituent Assembly election results have been formally announced, public attention has focused on the precise moment that august body would convene. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala and the leaders of the other parties within the ruling alliance and outside have not been able to come up with a specific date or time.
Under the interim constitution, the assembly must convene by May 29. But, then, the document could always be amended. Before the body convenes, the government is expected to nominate 26 members to give it full shape. The sovereign people have a right to know the composition of the full body before the eldest member starts reciting the oath.
The assemblage of directly elected representatives and those who rode on the proportional representation lists is not that inspiring. For one thing, most of the Maoist reps are unknown quantities. Even if they are capable of overseeing the constitution-writing process, what’s to stop them from trying to ram their draft down the throats of the other members? Some Maoist members in the interim legislature actually brandished weapons in the chamber, didn’t they? Members from the other parties don’t quite have a collective reputation for resistance.
More than life and limb are at stake here. By sending distinguished personalities from various walks of life to the assembly, the government can inject a dynamic positively unencumbered by the popular mandate. Since their reputations would be on the line, these members have a vested interest in successful deliberation. (Of course, our experience with the interim constitution has left us little to be sanguine about. The most prominent drafters, after all, were among the first to dissociate themselves from the text the people finally got to see.)
The distinguished-personalities rule has always existed. Yet, in the past, those lucky to be nominated tended to be people who distinguished themselves in morning walks to palace secretaries and party satraps. Still, people who had just lost elections invariably were not picked.
This time, it looks like things are going to be a whole lot different. According to reports doing the rounds, there is a sustained campaign to induct prominent losers from all parties. Sujata Koirala, Shekhar Koirala, Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Khum Bahadur Khadka, Govinda Raj Joshi, Arjun Narsingh K.C., Binay Dhoj Chand and Bal Bahadur K.C are among those tipped to make the Nepali Congress quota.
From the UML, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Khadga Prasad Oli, Bharat Mohan Adhikary, Pradip Nepal, and Iswar Pokharel are said to be the frontrunners. Mahant Thakur of the Terai Madhesh Loktantrik Party is also favored. The surprise contenders are Surya Bahadur Thapa of the Rastriya Janashakti Party and Pashupati Shamsher Rana of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party.
Before you go ballistic over this subversion of the popular mandate, consider this. Keeping these highly motivated and organized people outside the assembly could represent a real threat to Nepal’s democratic future. For one thing, they would be capable of building all kind of alliances. For another, they could be susceptible to all kind of pressures – local and foreign – that are likely to grow in the new political climate.
This is actually what the big parties believe, and the Maoists are said to be the most ardent advocates of this preemptive democracy. How about tossing Jwala Singh and Jai Dev Goit in the lot in the true spirit of consensual politics?