Uncertainty further deepens in Nepalese politics as political parties continue to lock horns and keep on sticking to their old agendas and stances. Divergence on issues and agendas is natural in a pluralist democracy like ours but it should not lead to confrontation. Given the nature of divergence in the present political context of Nepal, it is likely to lead to a situation of a worse crisis and conflict in near future. The constitution writing process appears to be in limbo as parties fail to reach a consensus or compromise on some disputed issues concerning n the new constitution that remains to be settled.
In the present context and given the nature of issues, consensus is not likely to be reached very easily. But parties can arrive at a conclusion on ways and methods to settle the disputed issues so that the constitution can be delivered and be owned up by larger majority of people, if not by all. Federalism is the crux of issue that has stalled the entire constitution writing process. In principle, parties have agreed to adopt federalism but they are divided on the model of federalism and number of federal provinces. This is the issue that has stalled the constitution writing process for the last five years.
The first constituent assembly was formed through an election in 2008, which ultimately saw its unceremonious demise in four years due to its inability to resolve the issues concerning federalism. There had been agreement among political parties on more than 80 per cent contents of the new constitution. However, the constituent assembly suffered a hitch when the federalism issue came to the fore for discussion. This has been the same case even after the formation of the second constituent assembly. More than one year has passed since the election for the second constituent assembly was held in November 2013. But the situation at present is exactly like the one as it was prior to the demise of the first constituent assembly.
The election to the second constituent assembly changed political equation in the country as the UCPNM, which was the first party earlier, was reduced to the status of the third party that two with far less seats compared to the first and the second forces. The Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML emerged as the first and the second forces, which combined possess almost two-third majority. This rendered the UCPN-M virtually irrelevant in constitution-making process as the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML can easily pass the constitution without the support of the UCPNM. Moreover, the NC and UML have almost identical agenda and stance on key issues of constitution. Perhaps, this is the fundamental factor that has brought the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML together into the coalition government. The coalition of the first and second largest party seems to be unusual given the practice in other democracies in the world. But Congress-UML coalition is guided by two reasons. One is their compulsion as the constitution cannot be promulgated without their cooperation and the second is the common approach and stance on key issues concerning constitution. Their partnership is expected to continue until the promulgation of the constitution and next coalition is likely to emerge after that.
All the political forces have their own strategy to have upper hand in national politics. Since the NC and UML have comfortable position in the constituent assembly, they often tend to ignore and even negate the opposition mainly the UCPNM in the constitution making process and other gubernatorial tasks. The UCPNM knows well that it alone cannot do anything in the constituent assembly and it forged an alliance of opposition parties to collectively exert pressure on the ruling parties to make their presence felt and voices heard. Now, the UCPNM, Madhesi parties, janajati parties and other fringe groups have come together and are trying to exert pressure for a consensus-based constitution. Although the ruling parties in public talk of the consensus-based constitution, they practically and inherently do not appear to be prepared for consensus-based constitution. Instead, they want to deliver the constitution through a voting process for which they have the required two-thirds majority. The consensus-based constitution means agendas and concerns of all parties and forces need to be incorporated in the constitution. But it is not practically possible. Moreover, there are fundamental differences on key issues mainly on federalism, which is the fundamental hurdle for consensus. Given the nature and arrogance of the parties and their leaders, consensus is least likely, which will ultimately compel the constituent assembly to adopt the voting process to settle the disputed issues and promulgate the new constitution.
In order to reach consensus, parties are required to make compromise and sacrifice. But no party is prepared to give up its agenda and make a compromise on the key issues. Given this situation, the constitution cannot be delivered on the basis of consensus. All parties are aware of this situation. Despite having the two-third majority, the ruling parties do not appear to have enough courage to go for voting process in an outright manner. They see the danger that announcing constitution without the consent of the opposition parties will create a new round of conflict and confrontation in the country. If constitution was declared without minimum support of the UCPNM, Madhesi and janajati parties, the disgruntled forces will immediately go to streets and condemn the constitution. The ruling parties do not want to risk this. The ruling parties seem to be more concerned with Madhesi parties than the UCPNM and janajati parties. This is because the ruling parties are fearful that if Madhesi parties go for all out protest in Madhes, the supply system in the country may be paralyzed as it happened in the past. The ruling parties are trying to woo Madhesi parties more than the UCPNM and divide the opposition alliance. Once the opposition alliance is divided, the ruling parties may try to bulldoze and settle the disputed issues though voting. The other fear from Madhesi parties is due to their close affinity with the New Delhi establishment.
But this strategy of the ruling parties may not be the solution. If ruling parties divide the opposition alliance and bring the Madhesi parties on board, the UCPNM will be forced to be closer with other Maoist parties including the ones led by Mohan Vaidya and Netra Bikram Chand. The Maoist parties led by Vaidya and Chand do not support the parliamentary process and instead condemned the constituent assembly. If the ruling parties choose to divide the opposition alliance, this will polarize the national politics as it was prior to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006.
Now the ruling parties have neither been able to convince the opposition parties on the constitution promulgation process nor are prepared to accommodate their agendas. Thus, it has already complicated the constitution writing process and is likely to make it more complex in future. But they, at the same time, are also aware that constitution is urgently needed in order to end the protracted transition. Thus, the entire situation depends on how accommodative and liberal the ruling parties become. Similarly, the opposition parties are also required to be more responsible in order to give the country an amicable outlet.