Avoiding a fallOnly a spirit of compromise can avert an impending constitutional crisis
The new government has issued a laundry list of assurances—that it will reach an agreement with Madhesi parties on the new constitution, improve relations with India, hold local elections and expedite post-earthquake reconstruction.
But the easy part is now over, and it is time to start delivering. It is also clear now that the path ahead is more difficult than had earlier appeared.
The government’s first task will be registering an amendment to the constitution to address the grievances of the Madhesi parties. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has said that this will be done before September 15. But it is not yet clear what the outlines of such an amendment will be. When this newspaper asked him in an interview before he was sworn into office, he had said he had a ‘win-win formula’ but declined to offer details.
After all, the old differences on provincial boundaries continue to persist. If history is any indication, NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba, for example, is unlikely to accept the demand to incorporate Kanchanpur and Kailali districts into a southern province where Tharus are dominant. There are other Congress leaders who oppose the inclusion of any part of Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari in a Madhesi province. So far the government has only assured that it will dissociate the hill and Tarai sections of Province 5. But it is unclear if this will adequately satisfy the Madhesis.
Furthermore, it is now evident that there are serious obstacles in the path towards local elections. The Nepali Congress stands opposed to Local Body Restructuring Commission’s (LBRC) current recommendation to create 565 local bodies, and now insists that local elections should be held as soon as possible under the existing system as an interim measure.
The Maoists, meanwhile, are stating that local elections should be postponed and held along with general elections. For their part, the Madhesi parties are likely to reject the idea of holding local elections under the old system. Their rejection will be even more vehement if the parties fail to reach a deal on the new constitution. The Madhesi parties will see no reason to help legitimise the existing constitution by holding local elections if their demands are not met.
The failure to reach a deal with the Madhesi parties and to hold local elections will compromise the legitimacy of the new constitution. On one end of the political spectrum, right-wing forces that have opposed the constitution throughout will see the possible constitutional void as a good opportunity to gain strength. They will doubtless seek to reverse the political changes that have occurred since 2006.
The parties should not allow this to happen. It is thus crucial that the parties immediately reach a deal with the Madhesi parties and formulate plans to hold local elections. And Madhesi parties should also demonstrate a level of flexibility since the current NC-Maoist dispensation is just about the most favourable ruling coalition to accomodate Madhesi demands.
All parties, in government and in opposition, need to recognise this political dynamic. They would do well to adopt the maximum flexibility possible in all negotiations that they conduct in the near future.