Monday, February 09, 2015

A Safe Landing Spot?

Even as the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) implore them to return to the negotiating table after the night of the broken chairs, the Maoists and their allies remain agitated.
United Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN)-Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal dismissed Prime Minister Sushil Koirala’s latest impassioned public appeal as disjointed. Dahal’s deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, accused the two major parties of trying to revive the old constitution.
Part of their bluster may be aimed at papering over their internal strife. The Baidya and Biplav factions share deep misgivings over the UCPN-Maoists’ motives. The Madhesi factions are still unable to figure out who should represent the region’s sentiments. Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal (RPPN) president Kamal Thapa’s frequent visits to Dahal’s residence at odd hours have only exacerbated the opposition alliance’s suspicions fueled by Bhattarai’s effort to justify a working alliance with the royalists.
But what if serious efforts were indeed going on behind the scenes to revive the 1990 Constitution. After all, its principal architects touted it as the world’s best until they didn’t like how then-king Gyanendra exercised its provisions, particularly Article 127.
If Dahal today can insist that he would never accept a ceremonial presidency and hold the country hostage to that, what was so bad about a constitutional monarch’s conviction that he had to act boldly to salvage the basic law already mangled by the parties.
At least Dahal – ever so anxious to exercise executive power – could set his eyes on the premiership and smooth the way for the constitution-making process. The monarch, who certainly could not quit being king, appointed himself head of government temporarily to set things right assertively – a distinction that hardly mattered.
To be sure, the odds against reviving the 1990 Constitution are great. For starters, it defined Nepal as a Hindu state, a characterization the post-2006 drivers scrambled to dump even before the monarchy. Yet the withdrawal of Hindu statehood brought issues of religious identity to the fore as never before. Secularism per se should not have posed such a threat to the self-identification of so many Nepalis. The principal reason it has is the hastiness – and, as it turns out, ostensible duplicity – with which Hinduism was discarded.
The erstwhile Constitution did not even have a provision on local governance. Through the requisite laws, local bodies were created and functioned remarkably well. In fact, local governance was touted as the most successful feature of the polity until the Maoists went on their rampage promising greater participation and inclusion.
As such, they should have led the post-2006 charge to define and deliver the marginalized. Instead, they felt they completed their job by signing the peace agreement. Marginalization fueled a grievance industry that has kept adding to the list of ills the new constitution is supposed to heal.
Given the impossibility of their task, the current members of the constituent assembly might even be searching for a safe landing spot. The Nepali Congress and the UML have ownership of the 1990 Constitution. The restoration of the monarchy, an unalterable feature of that statute, would pose the greatest challenge to the post-2006 order. But, then, the drivers of that change had their chance and blew it.
The issue then would revolve around the legality of restoration. Between the Supreme Court and the United Nations Security Council, the avenues are aplenty. Moreover, turning backward more candidly would provide an incentive to the current lawmakers to make that final serious attempt to draft a new constitution.
Still unimpressed? What sounds crazier? Deleting the ‘interim’ from the interim constitution or restoring the 1990 version.