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Nepal: Koirala Government Moving Slowly and not Steadily! - Update No. 295

Note No. 714                                         Dated 18-Apr-2014
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
It is generally agreed that the main task of the present Koirala government should be to get on with constitution making within one year. This urgency has been reflected in almost all the manifestos of the parties during the November elections and continued to be mouthed now and then.  But the ground realities appear to be different!
One Analyst Sanjeev Pokharel had rightly said (Republika of 31st May) that the biggest obstacle to constitution making is not lack of a consensus but lack of intention.  He added that the political parties should stop wasting their time on building consensuses but set right their own “ambivalent intentions.” 
Consider the following:
* It took the two major parties Nepali Congress and the UML, 77 days to declare a common minimum programme (March 24) for running the government and to finish the task of constitution making.  This bulky document has 145 points running into 13 pages and starts with the pious declaration of promulgation of a new constitution within one year.  There are very many generalities like “zero tolerance in corruption.” “Forging consensus in statement making inside and outside,” “scientific crime investigation,” “smooth supply of essential commodities” etc. There is also a provision for construction of an international cricket stadium! In one of the earlier pronouncements, the Nepali Congress had said that the twin tasks of the government would be- constitution making and economic development.  They should restrict themselves to this and nothing else!
* It took another month after the last one mentioned above for both the parties to have a Joint Coordination Committee with a mandate to facilitate the smooth functioning of the government.  It has five members of each party, all heavy weights and with these busy leaders it is not clear what benefit this Committee will bring about to get the main task done! 
* Adding a further complication to this mechanism is the demand of the UCPN (M) of Dahal to have a High Level Political Mechanism  to resolve the complications experienced in the peace process and in transitional policies.  It is a kind of a “Politburo” in the style of the communist governments to keep a tight leash on the government which was irrelevant in the earlier regime and not relevant even now when the issues can be sorted out in the Constituent Assembly itself.  Yet it transpires that Sushil Koirala agreed to have this mechanism (four point agreement) when he wanted to get the Maoists on board for convening the assembly. Having succumbed to the blackmail, he has no choice now but to have another high level mechanism! He has also to contend with another demand that it should be permanently headed by a representative of the Maoists.
* Only now, five constitutional panels have been formed by the Assembly for constitution making.  The panels have just begun their preliminary tasks such as their jurisdiction, plan of action and most important for them! - election of chairmen.  Of the five, two have already had their first meeting and the rest have followed on the 13th of this month. They are yet to examine first  what decisions have been taken by the previous assembly committees and after approval will have to consider new ones!
* After much wrangling and internal discussions, the parties have agreed to division of the 26 seats in the parliament that are still vacant.  The big three have divided among themselves with 9 for NC, 7 for UML, 5 for the Maoists and the rest for other parties.  One has since been given to Surya Bahadur Thapa’s group of RPP that has joined the government. The Assembly is incomplete without the nomination of the 26 members and one could question the legality of the decisions taken by the assembly until the new members are inducted.
* At last, the government has come out with a time line for completing their primary task of producing the new constitution.  The CA has given a specific date of January 22, 2015 for promulgating the new constitution.  The date was chosen as the CA would complete one year since its first meeting after the elections.  The CA panels are to complete examination of past records by June 1st and the contentious issues will be brought to the parliament before that date.  The constitutional-political dialogue committee is supposed to forge a consensus on the contentious issues by the first week of October.  The first draft will be ready by mid October and then would follow ‘intensive interactions’, public hearings etc. and the President will finally promulgate the new Constitution on Jan. 22.  The time line looks good on paper and perhaps doable- but knowing the track record of the political parties and the Assembly members, it will be nothing short of a miracle if the promulgation is done on time! Some of the top leaders of political parties did not even turn up for this important event of endorsing the ‘time line’ by the Assembly.   This is what the analyst Pokharel said - lack of intention.
Another complication has arisen over the two bills on Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Inquiry into Disappearances commission(CID).  In line with the Supreme Courts’s directive to follow international standards, the government has placed the two bills in the Assembly on 9 April 2014.  The Minister for Law Narahari Acharya claimed that the two bills are directed at discouraging impunity in society and to find the truth! The bill has become controversial and has been rightly termed as “perpetrator centric.”  In a decade long conflict, the nation has suffered with 25000 children orphaned, 9000 women widowed and disappearance of over 14852 persons.  The attempt appears to be to “reconcile”- Reconcile with what?  The common minimum programme talks of providing relief to kin of martyrs and conflict victims.  There appears to be some kind of understanding between the Maoists and the Army authorities over the whole issue.  The bills will have to be reviewed once again (the human rights groups have threatened to go to the court again) without disturbing the current calendar of events to promulgate the new constitution before Jan 22, 2015.