The two-year term of the Constituent Assembly (CA) is coming to an end on May 28. If not extended, which is highly unlikely, the CA’s 601 members will become jobless. Those that want to see these 601 bench warmers get jobless after May 28, hold your breath, do not hedge your bets, yet. A last minute deal on extension is very likely. The extension also extends flow of pay and perks. And when it comes to enriching oneself, Nepali politicians are shamelessly forthcoming. Consensus evade our politicians only when it comes to agreeing on matters that affect common men whose lives are severely blighted by the effects of poverty, unemployment, and lawlessness.
So far, the Nepali Congress (NC), CPN-UML and few smaller parties are the ones that have come forward vouching for the extension of the CA. I, for one, am totally against such a move. Extending the tenure of the CA is wrong on many levels. To begin with, there is no provision in the interim constitution that permits the extension of the CA. Also, it is against the spirit of electoral democracy. The major political parties that are vouching for the extension of the CA are, in reality, undermining the fact that in democracy, office holders are supposed to be responsive to the needs and desires of voters. In the case of failure to do so, which is the case, voters have the right to “throw the rascals out.” Basically, by extending the CA, the politicians are trying to devoid the voters their right and subvert the process of accountability.
As clever as they are, the Maoists do not want to lend their support for extension of the CA until Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal steps down. After suffering major setbacks in recent months, they now have realized that their chances of getting back to power through majority rule are slim. Hence, they want to revert back to the consensus system, which they milked to the fullest extent. They were the ones that undermined the consensus system in an attempt to get Ram Raja Prasad Singh elected as the president. Despite their firm posture, there is very little room to believe that the Maoists will actually stick to not lending their support for extension. More than anything else, it is a bargaining ploy. For the Maoists, it is the CA that provides them the status of the largest party. With its expiration, all bargains that stems out of their status as the largest party is off the table.
In this debate on whether or not the CA should be extended, the real issues that dwarfed the chances of having the new constitution in the first place is still not being discussed. Pundits bemoan the absence of bipartisanship. Implicitly, they believe that bipartisanship is necessary and sufficient to solve the existing political crisis. In their short-sightedness, they fail to acknowledge the fact that Nepali politics today actually is beset with irreconcilable differences. What the Maoists want at the end of the day is drastically different from that of the NC, UML, and other pro-parliamentary forces in Nepal. The nation is bitterly divided over ideology. Most people who care about politics are on one side or the other.
It is time to acknowledge the fact that it is not the lack of time but differences over the issues that derailed the prospects of timely constitution. Without consensus on contentious issues such as integration of members of the People’s Liberation Army, dissolution of the Young Communist League, return of property seized by Maoists, guarantee of return of the internally-displaced people, and agreement on federal structure, the extension of the CA really does not make any sense. We can extend the CA by another five years and will still not have a constitution. And even if we ended up having one, the question of legitimacy will simply not go away. So what’s the point?
Doing something that is beyond the spirit of interim constitution is not the right thing to do. It is high time that we do the right thing rather than things that are easy or appear right. There is a huge difference between doing the right thing and doing things right. Doing things right is a moving target that is based upon influence, power and control. In other words, it is another way of conforming to a politically-correct agenda or taking the easy way out. And, we all know where embarking on politically-correct agenda or taking the easy way out has gotten us. Many of those that took the credit for bringing the Maoists over ground are in the relentless process of reinventing themselves. They are now showcasing themselves as the wall of resistance against Maoist takeover. It is amazing to witness how easy it is to re-brand oneself in Nepal. By now, educated Nepalis, to whom country comes before political masters, must have gotten a good long look at the audacity of shamelessness, and seen how well it works out for those who dared try it.
The political parties should let the CA expire and brace for fresh election. At this juncture, facing the electorate is the right thing to do. It takes great character, conviction, and confidence to do the right thing, which is why it has become a rarity in Nepali politics. It would involve personal sacrifices, political risk, and standing against the incompetent bench warmers in the CA that are constantly looking out for short-cuts to save their job, but also provides an opportunity to come clean and separate oneself from those that are masquerading as democrats.