TIME’S UP: Leaders of the major parties during the High Level Political Committee meeting at the Peace Secretariat office in Babarmahal on Wednesday. Since they could not reach an agreement, there will be another round of discussions on Saturday morning.
As the world mourned the death of former South African President and anti-apartheid crusader Nelson Mandela, many Nepalis silently wondered when we are going to have a leader like him. If the events of the past month are anything to go by, then the wait for our own Madiba is going to be a long and grueling one.
There was a nagging sense of déjà vu this week as the Election Commission was forced to postpone the dates for parties to submit their final proportional representation list at the behest of the Nepali Congress. Memories of the multiple, unsuccessful extensions to the previous Constituent Assembly and delays in holding polls still rankle. Sticking to deadlines has never been a strong suit of our political leadership and old habits die hard.
The eight day extension can be excused as a minor hitch if we look at the bigger picture. However, if our newly elected representatives were serious about respecting the ‘people’s mandate’ they should have had their party lists ready by Tuesday. From the time the last CA was dissolved to 19 November polls, they had 18 months to prepare it. The wrangling within the NC and other parties over who gets to sit in the assembly should have taken place months ago. Yes, no one could have predicted the exact number of PR seats, but a little foresight and better decision-making by the top leadership and the new CA could have conducted its first session before the new year.
For their part, the first and second runner ups – UML and UCPN (M) – seem unwilling to budge unless their individual demands are met even if it means needlessly prolonging CA proceedings and the formation of a new government. When a provision in the interim constitution says that the president and the vice-president will remain in office until the new constitution is drafted, the UML’s insistence on having new faces for these ceremonial posts is petty. If the UML is really in a hurry to see one of its own in Shital Niwas, then it is in the party’s best interest to get the constitution out of the BICC hall within the one-year deadline.
And the longer the Maoists cry foul, the more their demand for an independent probe committee looks like a strategic ploy to save face and avoid coming to terms with their embarrassing defeat. The UCPN (M) calling for a constitutional amendment to make consensus politics a mandatory provision, on the other hand, shows a complete lack of faith in other parties and a deep seated fear
of being left behind.
However, this provision will lead to further obstruction in the assembly because each ruling will require the approval of all forces and thorny issues like federalism would never be passed by the floor. Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Co would do well to remember that if they keep stalling the CA forming process, the people will run out of patience and in future elections the Maoists might not be able to muster even the 80 seats that they won this time.
Nepalis showed up at polling booths in record numbers in November not because they were worried about state structure and federalism, but because they wanted a stable government that would look after their day-to-day needs and deliver on development and basic services.
Let’s not delude ourselves. Our leaders will never be the statesman that Nelson Mandela was, a man with a strategic national vision, but willing to compromise and take everyone along. The least they can do now is to end this seven-year long, messy transition by relieving the chief justice of his duties, setting up a new cabinet, and letting the 601 CA members begin their job.