The satellite cantonments and make-shift camps are being vacated. Those who have opted to move on have left, and those who remain are packing their bags. The political climate in Kathmandu may look gloomy, but frayed nerves have been soothed and both the Maoists and the opposition parties at least agree on one thing: there will be no more extension, because constitution is possible by May 27.
In private conversations, opposition leaders and members of the coalition have been seen laughing and cracking jokes, which is annoying to a bemused public, but it means that there is still civility and the leaders appear to sense that a compromise on the constitution is possible.
The cynics, of course, are used to lumping politicians together as good-for-nothing louts and wisecracking about lazy CA members. Sure there have been delays, but this is what you get when an elected body is both a functioning parliament and a constitution-writing body.
The Prime Minister bluntly, and unwisely, warned recently that disaster awaits us all if the constitution is not written by 27 May. As the head of government he is supposed to assure us, not threaten us. But even there, the only thing the prime minister is really guilty of is indiscretion. He has delivered on emptying the camps, is trying to strike a compromise on integration and getting at least a skeletal constitution signed off in May.
Constitution drafting has its ups and downs, and it had another down at Tuesday's meeting of the Special Committee which ended indecisively. But sensing resentment the leaders are now calling on the public to keep their spirits up. NC leader Minendra Rijal told me: "We disagree with the proposal tabled on Tuesday but we are still positive about the Prime Minister's request to discuss it further." Ah, so all is not lost.
Rijal thinks the Maoists have sufficient incentive to cooperate, and his party's effort will be to engage with them until they finally do. Rijal may be right in his assessment of the mood in the Maoist camp. The cantonments have become a political liability for the party and there is no doubt even those living there are anxious to leave. The leadership seems ready to take a step back but are nervous they may find themselves against the wall. To complicate things, the hardliners are once more on a warpath. While the UML leaders offered nothing besides criticism, even the NC's fiery Ram Sharan Mahat indicated the possibility of consensus through further debate.
Mohan Baidya admitted in an interview last week that there is no alternative to peace and constitution, but has since taken another one of his numerous U-turns and threatened the nation (yet again) with another revolt. This gives the NC and UML a valid reason to question Maoist intentions. But on the constitution making front, their unwillingness to give up the Westminster system also stems from anxiety over having to leave a turf which they have learned to maneuver over the decades, and step into the unknown.
To cut a long story short, there is no real point of contention except for the lack of trust and self-confidence among the bargaining parties. It isn't about the ranks of combatants, names of the federal state, or which system is better anymore. The opposition just isn't convinced that the Maoists will behave as a mainstream party even in the changed context, and suspect Pushpa Kamal Dahal is out to write a constitution that will install him as an executive president for life. Likewise, the Maoists are annoyed that the opposition is out to demonise them and reluctant to accept them as a mainstream party.
The fears on both sides are well grounded, but flogging one another will not help. The time for blame games and finger-pointing has long gone. Conflict mediation always tries to bridge the trust deficit and remove mutual fears. The Maoist leadership can begin by asking its unruly comrades to stop shooting their mouths off and the opposition must end the constant hate-mongering, and keep the Maoists engaged.
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