The Constituent Assembly (CA) comes to an end today after 4 years of political roller coaster ride, and a task-half finished. After a series of frustrating delays, the elections for the CA were held on April 10, 2008, ushering in a new era in Nepal’s turbulent history. The CA was the key element in Nepal’s peace process intended to transform the warring Maoists into a civilian political force and the country into a federal democratic republic. Although the Maoists have refused, until now, to let go of their communist ideology and tactics, they committed themselves to peaceful politics and promised to lay down their arms and armies. Unfortunately, although original agreements required the peace process, primarily the management of arms and armies, to be completed in six months, the Maoist leadership took 47 months to complete the process of rehabilitation and hand over the remaining combatants to the Nepal Army for integration. This forced the political parties to extend the CA’s term four times for a total of four years although the contract with the voters was that they would take no more than two years.
Now, with the Supreme Court standing firmly against any further extension, the parties were forced to choose between letting the CA die without any concrete results or promulgating a constitution in time. The Supreme Court’s verdict was based on several logical principles, and violating the SC verdict would have meant overriding these foundational principles of democratic governance like popular consent, adherence to principal law, and accountability. In the last four years, we have seen many weaknesses among the political parties. First was the way in which the political parties sought to side-step the CA and turn it into a mere rubber stamp. The idea of CA emerged because it would allow the people to frame their own constitution, and it would constitute a democratic-decision making process in case there were differences in opinion among the different stakeholders. Unfortunately, political parties sought to sidestep the CA process altogether and depend on closed door meeting among top-leaders that were rarely transparent.
Because the political parties sidestepped this process, they are facing considerable difficulties in resolving crucial differences on the demarcation of federal units and the forms of governance. Already, there is a sense of resentment among many stakeholders outside the CA and emotions are running high. In the Terai, the Broader Madhesi Front continues to carry out protests, while there is growing discord between Hindu and non-Hindu groups in the hills. While the non-Hindu groups seek to establish their rights to the territory and resources through federal units with single ethnic identity, Hindu groups appear to be opposing that move. In the Terai, Madhesi political forces are claiming the whole stretch of territory on a geographical bases, with hill groups resisting such a move. As these differences continue to mount, posing threats to communal harmony and national solidarity, political parties must seek ways to address the issue in a way that will be acceptable to all the stakeholders. For that, it will not be enough to have a constitution, it will require adopting a decision-making process that will be acceptable to all.
No to bandhs
Bandhs are hitting the people hard. The protracted bandhs have, among other things, created a shortage of essential commodities and medicines. This has many ramifications, because their scarcity means people have to go hungry and even lose their life as they cannot be dispensed the needed medicines. Furthermore, the transport sector has been brought to a virtual halt in the bandh-affected areas. As a result, thousands of passengers are stranded. Many ill people are unable to reach hospitals and health centers to treat various ailments, including those of a serious nature requiring urgent treatment. The people have the right to protest, but they should do so in a peaceful manner without threats and coercion.
Many parts of the country have seen unprecedented prolonged bandhs . One can imagine the immense hardships the people there are undergoing.