The peace process got a boost with the agreement on the numbers and modalities for integration and rehabilitation of Maoist fighters. A State Restructuring Commission was formed, and although packed with political appointees, it was a step forward. The Dispute Resolution Sub-committee, headed by Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, rapidly removed most of the 200 contentious issues in the new constitution. It finally looked like this Constituent Assembly would be able to meet its final deadline by 28 May.
Now, the whole process has ground to a halt. The political parties all have to take a share of the blame for obstructing progress, for putting their personal and partisan interests above the national need for closure, and for the colossal opportunity cost of the prolonged transition on governance, the economy and delayed development.
But by far the greatest responsibility for the current deadlock goes to the Maoist party, and particularly its chairman. Dahal's inability and unwillingness to stand up to the hardliners within his party has made him go back on most of the progress cited above. In fact, it looks like he wants to have his cake and eat another one, too. The internal rift within the party has been a useful bargaining tool for Dahal in negotiations with the opposition, but he has now played this card once too often.
To understand what Dahal is after, one just has to look at where the process is stuck: on the disputed provision in the new constitution about form of governance. Dahal has made no secret of the fact that Nepal should have a directly-elected presidential system, and the first president should be none other than himself. When the NC and UML objected, Dahal derailed the entire process not just by stalling talks, but by going back on what had already been agreed to in the sub-committee he himself heads. This is a classic case of the one step forward and two steps back strategy that the Maoist party has practiced since 2006.
Neither the NC or UML should have any problems with a presidential system, there are plenty of examples where it has worked. The problem is that the directly-elected president provision in the constitution is being put forward to fulfil the personal ambition of one man, and not because of its suitability for the country.
As we have argued in this page before, there are equally compelling arguments for all three governance systems proposed. There are examples of executive presidential systems that have succeeded spectacularly, and just as many countries where they have failed miserably. The same goes for the parliamentary system. The real issue here is that the executive should be accountable, and should not have an opportunity to become a dictator. Democracy has been derailed once too often by demagogues who used the electoral process to gain power and remain there forever. By the time we find out whether or not Dear Leader Dahal is desirable, it will be too late.
Do we trust with a powerful executive president a party that hasn't yet publicly abjured violence, still believes in state capture through rebellion, wants to turn Nepal into a 'people's republic', wants mandatory military training for all citizens, and in government has treated the national treasury as its party war chest?
The person who desperately seeks the mantle of president has time and again shown through wildly contradictory statements that he can't be trusted, he has been caught on camera boasting about how he lied and misled the international community. Foreign governments are rightly wary of him, he has issued open threats to the media, he has shown himself to be manipulative and venal. And that's not just us saying it, disillusioned revolutionaries within his own party use even stronger words.
It has become de rigeur for pundits to tar all parties with the same brush, to spread the blame for the delayed peace and constitution process on all political parties equally. It's time to call a spade a spade and pinpoint the obstruction.
Chairman Dahal has a great opportunity to rebuild trust by delivering on past promises, publicly renouncing violent rebellion, and showing statesmanship. Dahal is both the problem and the solution.
Street drama, ANURAG ACHARYA
Youth groups shut down the country to protest a fuel price rise announced by their parent parties in government
Who says Nepal is divided?, VIJAY LAMA
The Tamang new year celebration on Tuesday proved Nepalis are more united than ever