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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Is National Unity Government Possible?



Yuba Nath Lamsal
Nepal has been deeply shattered and shocked by the devastated earthquake that struck the country on April 25. The magnitude of the earthquake was 7.9 in the Richter scale with epicenter in Barpak village of Gorkha district. But there are still debates on the magnitude of the April 25 earthquake. National Seismological Center has recorded it 7.6 in the Richter scale, western media call it of 7.8 and 7.9 magnitude , while Chinese media have termed  the April 25 earthquake of the magnitude of 8.1 in the Richter scale. Whatever the debate on its magnitude, the earthquake was powerful and massive, which has caused colossal damage to Nepal in terms of both collateral as well as psychological level.
Even almost three weeks after the first powerful quake hit, fear has not disappeared from the mind of the people. It is because aftershocks continue to hit. Since then hundreds of smaller tremors have been felt. The earthquake killed more than 8000 people, injured over 15000 while damaging private and public property worth billions of rupees.
 The collateral damage is huge and huge resources are needed to repair, renovate and reconstruct. But commitment and determination is more important than the resources as the country may not be able to cope with such a large scale national catastrophe in a easy manner that the people in the government are thinking.  In the helms of affairs at present are the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. And these two parties need to be more serious and responsible to take all political forces along to collectively face the disaster and its aftermath.
But the bigger impact is its psychological damage that has deeply seated in the mind of Nepalese people.  People are still fearful and are even afraid to live peacefully within their safe house. Many are still in tents in the open space. We can see hundreds of tents in Tundikhel, Basantapur and several other open places. Most people have lost something.   Some have lost family members, some relatives and loved ones, some friends in the earthquake. There are very few lucky ones in Kathmandu and other 29 earthquake hit districts whose houses have not been damaged. Many houses have been totally flattened while most of the houses have suffered partial damage requiring heavy repair.
 People’s confidence has shaken. Given the colossal physical and psychological damage, it will take years to overcome this crisis. Perhaps, bold and more responsible actions on the part of the government in perfect collaboration with the international community are needed at this time of national crisis. The Nepal Government has promised to rebuild earthquake ravaged buildings and infrastructures within two years. But it remains to be seen whether it will be able to instill optimism and confidence in people as they are mentally and psychologically ravaged and traumatized. Given the early symptoms, the government lacks that zeal and enthusiasm to tackle this crisis in a way Nepalese people and international community are expecting.
There seems to be trust-gap between Nepal government and the international community. The international community has pledged assistance to help earthquake victims and reconstruction. But they are reluctant to release the fund as they are not confident of its proper utilization in an effective and transparent manner. They suspect looming corruption in the relief distribution as there are already complaints of patronizing in relief distribution by people in power. There are reports that needy people especially in villages have not received the relief materials while some powerful leaders are siphoned funds and relief materials to their own constituencies. At this time of national crisis, leaders must rise above their constituency politics and make sure that the genuine victims and needy people get the relief in time and in adequate manner.
All including Nepalese people and international community seem to be in favor of strong national government so that Nepal can strongly, collectively and effectively respond to this national crisis. Perhaps, political parties, too, have realized the need of national government. Otherwise, divided political parties have demonstrated unprecedented unity at this time of national crisis. They have joined hands to support the victims of earthquake and rebuild the country. The parliament recently adopted a motion in a unanimous manner pledging to work collectively for the relief of the earthquake victims and rebuild the country soon. This is n itself is a unique development. This unanimous decision of political parties was taken first time since Nepal was declared a republic. Parties are also talking of the national unity government to tackle the crisis in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. Although it has not yet taken a concrete shape, parties seem to be heading towards the direction of the formation of the national unity government.  The national unity government is necessary at this time of national tragedy, which will not only be able to face the present crisis in a more resolute manner and rebuild the country but will also help in delivering early constitution.
Now parties seem to have realized their responsibility to the country and people.  They have also realized the value of unity. It is the unity thought brought about historic changes in the country in the past. But everything got into mess when parties got more occupied in partisan agenda rather than national agenda. Although earthquake has caused colossal damage, it has given at least one positive message to the political parties that it is time for national unity and the country cannot stand without the broad national and collective resolve. Perhaps, parties and leaders have realized it, which should be translated into action sooner than latter to steer the county out of great crisis. Now we must learn that united we stand and divided we fall.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Constitution writing takes a back seat


Yuba Nath Lamsal
It seems as though the constitution writing process has taken a back seat as political parties are heavily preoccupied in power sharing. Now political parties and their leaders are making their own calculation to reap maximum benefit out of the present situation of crisis and take the reign of power at their hands. In this race are the two largest parties namely the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. The UCPN-Maoist and other smaller parties, too, are not an exception.
Although it has not come into surface, the two ruling parties themselves are at odds internally.  Their discontent is related to the leadership of the government and not the constitution. The CPN-UML has already raised the issue that the time for the Nepali Congress to lead the coalition government is up and Sushil Koirala should quit to hand over the reign of the government to CPN-UML chairman KP Sharma Oli. The UML is citing the agreement reached with the NC in general and NC chief Sushil Koirala in particular prior to the formation of the present coalition government. If the words of the UML leaders were to be believed, Sushil Koirala should have quit the government by January 22, 2015 irrespective of whether the constitution was promulgated or not and handed over the leadership of the government to UML chief KP Sharma Oli. It could not happen as the constitution was not promulgated by then. The constitution was not delivered within the period of one year or on January 22, 2055 and it is still not certain when the country would get a new constitution. In this situation, CPN-UML and its chairman are desperately pursuing for getting the leadership of the government. However, this possibility is getting weaker as the Nepali Congress is not willing to quit the leadership of the government easily. Instead, the Nepali Congress has made a strategy not to give the leadership of the government to the CPN-UML.  In case Sushil Koirala had to quit the leadership of the government, Nepali Congress will try to project someone else like Sher Bahadur Deuba or Ram Chandra Poudel for the next prime minister. Thus, the Nepali Congress is not in the position and mood of handing over the leadership of the new government to CPN-UML.  In such a scenario, CPN-UML may threaten the Nepali Congress to walk away from the government and withdraw support. Nepali Congress has visualized this scenario too and is busy in making contingency plans. Some leaders of the Nepali Congress have already in touch and consultations with the UCPN-Maoist and Madhesi leaders for possible partnership. In fact, the Nepali Congress, in recent months, is not comfortable with the present coalition and partnership with the CPN-UML. It will be happy if the CPN-UML walks away from the government because it will open doors for the Nepali Congress to build partnership with other parties. Moreover, the Nepali Congress will have ground to criticize the UML for spoiling the atmosphere of delivering the constitution, if the UML withdrew from the government. Given this scenario, the Nepali Congress is not very enthusiastic to deliver the new constitution.
The CPN-UML is aware of this situation and is accordingly weighing different options. If UML walks away from the government, it will make no difference for the Congress and instead pave the way for the UCPN-M and Madhesi parties joining the government. CPN-UML does not want this scenario to happen and does not want the UCPN-M to benefit from the government. At the same time, UML has realized that the possibility of its leading the government is getting thinner. If it walks away of the government, CPN-UML will have to sit in the opposition, which this party at the moment does not want. Thus, even if CPN-UML was not given the leadership of the government, it will continue with the coalition government as the other option of sitting in the opposition bench is not its choice. In this situation, CPN-UML will continue with the strategy not to let the Nepali Congress and UCPN-Maoist get closer for which it will have to continue its partnership in the government.  Its priority thus is not the constitution rather it wants to prolong the present situation which can be used against both the Nepali Congress and the UCPN-Maoist. It wants the promulgation of the new constitution only when there is a guarantee that the leadership of the next government will be given to the CPN-UML. Otherwise, its interests will be best served in the present situation.
UCPN-Maoist and Madhesi parties, too, have their own calculations. They too are not interested in the early constitution. Although they are talking of street protests and other forms of pressure tactics to deliver early constitution based on consensus, it may not be their real motive. The crux of the problem in constitution writing appears to be the issue of federalism, its nature and number. However, that, too, is not the real issue. The real issue is power sharing. They have seen that the third largest party in Constituent Assembly in the past had taken benefit of power more than the largest and the second largest parties in the past.  In the first Constituent Assembly, the UCPN-Maoist was the largest party whereas the Nepali Congress was the second largest party. But the CPN-UML took benefit of the government more than the UCPN-M and the NC. The CPN-UML led the coalition government twice in the period of four years. In the present Constituent Assembly also, no party has the majority and there has to be a coalition. In case the Nepali Congress-UML coalition breaks down, a new coalition will have to be formed. This is exactly the situation, the UCPN-Maoist and some Madhesi parties are seeking.  UCPN-Maoist and Madhesi parties know well that they can least influence in constitution making and setting the agenda of the new constitution because of their lesser number. Nepali Congress and CPN-UML combined enjoy almost two-third majority, which is sufficient for adopting the new constitution. If the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML continue to have their partnership and bonhomie, the role of the UCPN-M and Madhesi parties will be nowhere. Thus, the priority of the UCPN-M and the Madhesi parties is to break the coalition and partnership between the NC and UML. Their role will be effective only when these two largest parties clash. UCPN-M and Madhesi parties are effortful to break the partnership between the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. As a result, the constitution has not been their priority.
There has, thus, been a kind of a tacit agreement among all political parties not to deliver the new constitution at the earliest but to prolong this political transition. If this situation continues, the present Constituent Assembly, too, may meet the same kind of fate that the first Constituent Assembly witnessed. Thus, the constitution writing and its promulgation is not in the priority of political parties and there is likelihood that this political transition may continue for a couple of years which may lead to holding another election for another Constituent Assembly.