CONSTITUTIONAL POLITICS On The Brink

The deep division among the three major political parties poses a threat to the survival of the present constitution

Issue Name : Vol.10, No.10, January 06,2017 Poush 22,2073

As no political party is prepared to change its stand, the current political deadlock is likely to continue or intensify, causing greater instability for the time to come. With the insistence of the Maoist and Nepali Congress leaders to table the constitution amendment bill at any cost and the CPN-UML’s stand to oppose the bill, legislative deadlock and new round of political clashes look inevitable.

After a series of discussion, Nepali Congress, Maoist Center and CPN-UML reached a compromise on December 29 to end the deadlock. Under the informal agreement, the ruling parties agreed to withhold the amendment bill for a certain period of time and announce the elections for local bodies. CPN-UML agreed to end the blockade of parliament.

The agreement of the three parties broke the next morning after the United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF) held discussions with the Maoist Center and Nepali Congress, agreeing to support the constitution amendment bill in the parliament and join the elections, which will be held after the amendment of constitution.

As soon as the two ruling parties received the assurance from the UDMF, they decided to go for amendment and announcement of elections thereafter. This ended the possibility of any agreement with the main opposition on ending the continued House deadlock.

UDMF, which waged three months of violent struggle demanding scrapping of the new constitution, cleverly manipulated the ruling parties, creating distrust among them for hiding their demand last year.

“We participate in the forthcoming elections if it will be held following the amendment of the constitution as per the bill tabled by the ruling parties,” said Mahantha Thakur, leader of the front. “Although the amendment bill is not adequate, we will accept the present bill with reservation.”

Frustrated by prolonged strike and rebellion in the western parts of Nepal and the deadlock of parliament for over a month, the assurance of Madheshi parties give a new life to the coalition government of Maoist-Center and Nepali Congress.

The ruling parties, Maoist-Center and Nepali Congress, hold the view that the amendment of the constitution is essential to bring the Madheshis on board, paving the way for the three consecutive elections, of the local bodies, provinces and the center by February 2018. The ruling alliance argues that there is the need to concede to boundaries of some provinces as demanded by the Madheshi Front.

“We are able to bring the Madheshis into the mainstream political process through the amendment proposal. If the amendment bill is passed, we can hold the three elections with the participation of the Madheshis,” said Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. "CPN-UML cannot make the parliament hostage forever.”

This new move of Maoist Center, Nepali Congress and Madhesh based parties pushed CPN-UML to the brink, as it holds the view that the new agreement is a betrayal against the nation and constitution.

“The agreement of the three parties on the amendment of the constitution is against the nation and national unity. We will not allow the amendment bill to be tabled in the parliament,” said K.P. Sharma Oli. “If the ruling parties use force against us, our alliance will retaliate in whatever way it can.”

The ruling coalition has reached an understanding to table the constitution amendment bill in parliament despite the obstruction by the main opposition CPN-UML and eight other fringe parties.

"We'll make an attempt to table the amendment bill. We'll try to convince the main opposition and develop a consensus with them. However, we cannot wait forever," said Chinkaji Shrestha, the chief-whip of the Nepali Congress.

CPN-UML chief whip Bhanubhakta Dhakal said that the claim of tabling the amendment bill despite the House obstruction from the main opposition is just ruling coalition's propaganda.

Dashed Hope

As the political process has arrived at a dead end, the Supreme Court’s decision not to issue any interim order has dashed the hope of CPN-UML to press the political parties to withdraw the constitution amendment bill. In its verdict, the court said it cannot intervene in the issue pending in the House. A division bench of Chief Justices Sushila Karki and Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada issued the order.

This decision came at a time when the position of the Supreme Court judges and other constitutional bodies is shaky following the suspension of CIAA chief Lokman Singh Karki on the ground of registration of impeachment motion in the Legislature Parliament. Any one serving in the constitutional bodies, including the judges, can be suspended now once the impeachment motion is registered in the Parliament by one thirds of MPs. Karki’s case establishes the precedent.

With the court order not to intervene in the process, CPN-UML’s stand was further weakened. The strong unity established during the constitution making process among Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Maoist-Center has come to an end. This unity is reason behind the promulgation of the new constitution withstanding the pressure of Madheshis and other forces.

The process of fragmentation of unity began following the decision of late Sushil Koirala to contest the election for the post of prime minister. With K.P. Sharma Oli government pulled down seven months ago, replaced by Pushpa Kamal Dahal in his place, the honeymoon of the three-party alliance has turned into a rivalry.

Following the tabling of the constitution amendment bill by Prachanda-led government and subsequent opposition by main opposition party CPN-UML, the hope for any unity in the future has ended for the time being

Former prime minister and Nepali Congress leader Sher Bahadur Deuba said that the constitution amendment bill registered at the Legislature-Parliament would be endorsed at any cost. "The amendment bill would be tabled at the parliament. It would be endorsed by all means. We are determined to get it done from the parliament," said Deuba.

The court declined to issue the order and the strong unity of Nepali Congress, Maoist Center and Madheshis has put CPN-UML in isolation. The deep division among the three parties and the court’s verdict on the amendment indicates that the constitution, claimed to be the document promulgated by 90 percent of MPs supporting it, has lost its utility.

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