The momentum gained by the peace process in the last few weeks of 2011 carried over into the new year. The Baburam Bhattarai government is making final preparations to finally decommission the Maoist camps, and has instructed the Nepal Army to make necessary arrangements to integrate regrouped ex-guerrillas.
So far so good on the peace process. It is on the constitution that the real debates have begun. The parties have locked horns over whether we should have a presidential or parliamentary system, and the kinds of federalism. The debate has spilled over into the op-ed pages of mainstream media.
The Maoists want a directly-elected executive president while the Nepali Congress is pushing to retain a Westminster-style parliamentary system. But, in what is a classic case of negation theory, leaders on both sides are furnishing arguments in their own support by pointing towards the loopholes in other models. This approach doesn't just make a compromise impossible, it glosses over the fact that no system is flawless. Rather, it is the viability of a system in a given political landscape and self-correcting mechanisms that determine success or failure of any model.
Some are convinced that the only reason we should not have a directly elected executive is because Pushpa Kamal Dahal has shown signs of megalomania before and may take over total power. Those in favour of an executive president, however, warn about the dangers of reverting back to 'failed' parliamentary democracy.
What both sides don't admit is that the models they propose have their own loopholes. In fact, a brief recap of history shows that there are examples of successes and failures of both models. An executive president in the United States may have provided stability and strong leadership, but in Russia, Cambodia and Sri Lanka it has undermined democracy. Similarly, parliamentary system may be successful in Australia, but has bred corruption and political instability in India.
The success or failure of a system depends on political culture, a strong role for an aware citizenry acting as watchdog, and a vibrant free press ensuring accountable political leadership.
The political parties are racing against time, trying to avoid a double jeopardy of constitutional void and judicial contempt in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict on non-extension after 31 May. So, it would not be surprising if they agree on a compromised 'French Model' which provides for both an elected executive and a parliament. But there is no assurance that the lowest common denominator will succeed either, because it will have two overlapping power centers that can lead to a disastrous and paralysing power struggle.
Those who see the threat of totalitarianism as the reason to reject an executive president should remember that it was a constitutional head who took over this nation not long ago. Just to be on safer side this time, maybe the parties should agree on downsizing the national army instead.
Here are some workable compromise plans:
• A parliamentary system which ensures a minimum tenure to the elected
government with provision of calling candidates back to their constituencies.
• An executive president with non legislative powers, effective impeachment provisions and well-defined emergency powers.
• Declaring fundamental laws of the constitution like freedom of expression and the right to peaceful political dissent as sacrosanct.
It does not matter what form of governance we adopt as long as it is accountable and promotes political stability. The Nepali people are past caring, they just want their lives to get better.
The power to change
Dear Leader, ASHUTOSH TIWARI
Our PhD prime minister is fond of symbols and signals