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Rewind May 28, 2010: Nepal’s Constituent Assembly (CA) failed to deliver its responsibility of writing the country’s new constitution. An additional year was added to its tenure in hope for its success in 2011. And as the D-day is only a week away, it looks like that one of the world’s newest republics is still going through a critical phase, perhaps failing for a second time to meet the May 28 deadline.

As it seems, ordinary Nepalis are frustrated by the concept of CA for it has betrayed the hope of millions; the election and their votes seemed to have lost their significance. Fifteen years after the home-grown Maoist conflict that killed more than 13,000 Nepalis, the April Revolution, four and a half years following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord in November 2006, Nepali politicians are still entangled in blame game and power play. Apparently, leaders have failed to acknowledge and respect those important timeframes of history that have helped mark their identity today.

With only eight days away that would decide the fate of the country’s future, the sub-committee on Thursday resolved eight contentious issues in the draft of new constitution to bring down the number of contentious issues to 22. As the momentum is gathering, The Week gathered 13 influential individuals in their respective rights on May 18 to talk about the country’s political standoff, the problems and the solutions.

The discussion moderated by social entrepreneur Anil Chitrakar included CK Lal, writer and political analyst; Gagan Thapa, Constituent Assembly member from Nepali Congress and also a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee; Anita Thapa, president of Youth Initiative and a youth activist; Robin Sitoula, executive director of Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation; Shiva Gaunle, chief of the Federation of Nepali Journalists; Anil Shah, chief executive officer, Mega Bank; Himal Sharma, UCPN (Maoist)-affiliated student leader; Binda Pandey, UML member/chairperson of the Fundamental Rights Committee; Khim Lal Devkota, UCPN (Maoist) member/law expert and rights activist; Ajay Babu Shiwakoti, activist; and Prashant Singh, environmentalist.

Some of the key points that came forward unanimously in the two-hour discussion were lack of communication in disseminating the information on constitution drafting between the CA members and the public; need of power-sharing among the political parties for a consensus; lack of activeness at the top level leadership; and a need to pressure the top leaders from within and outside the CA and make them accountable.

Latest development and what’s the latest you’ve heard when you were on the way to this discussion?

CK Lal: There’s a decline in the probability that the deadlock will end. The Maoists and Nepali Congress are clear with their agenda. But now it all depends on what kind of role will the UML play; but there’s a sign that the probability is declining.

If we’re talking about a national consensus government, it’ll take time. What can happen is that Nepali Congress will intensify their protest but could loosen up in the long run.

Khim Lal Devkota: May 28 is a good opportunity for everyone to bargain. Since Nepali Congress and the Maoists have their own agendas, and even if there isn’t a breakthrough and an agreement, there could be a path to think afresh.

However, in our latest subcommittee meetings, we’ve been discussing how much work has been done and how much is left. We know that.

Anita Thapa: What we’ve been hearing is that 80% work has been done. And now we have a week. So what I’ve been hearing is that if there’s willpower, ten days are a substantial time to finish the 20% of the remaining work. The first two years might have been a little less, and then we added another year. And now, in the last few days, if they all gear up, it might just be possible.

Binda Pandey: We should be out of the delusion that we can make a Constitution in the final 10 days. Even if we work 24/7, it wouldn’t be possible. But until May 28, what we’ve all been saying is that the Nepali people should at least get a compiled draft. That draft also isn’t possible because it has to pass through the subcommittee to a full committee and further on to the Constituent Assembly. This will certainly take time. However, if there’s a little more effort from the leaders and the topmost leaders feel the pressure, this can be done.

Anil Shah: In the non-political sector, we don’t know what’s happening inside the Constituent Assembly. But I feel that the people have been completely excluded from this process. And if we’re talking about the extension of the tenure, it’s not the 601 CA members who decide but more or less six of the top leaders who decide on that. So it’s not only us who feel left out but also the ones whom we elected who seem to be excluded. 

Prashant Singh: We’re talking about deadlock here. But what is this deadlock for—is it to decide on a new prime minister or a Cabinet? The latest information that we have is that people are being disgruntled; we feel left out. We talk about public pressure but then again I don’t think that we’re being taken seriously. So this might create more dissatisfaction among the youth.

Ajay Babu Shiwakoti: If we talk about our Facebook campaign, young people are getting aware of the issues we’re supporting. They are showing considerable energy and spirit to prove that we, the young people, stand for those issues. But then, there are discussions about how the Constituent Assembly is functioning. Are they working hard enough on setting a foundation first or just planning on the end result? And it seems that they’re focusing on the latter. Thus, we need to build more pressure and a structured process for Constitution drafting must be determined, too.

Robin Sitoula: The big question here is accountability. In two years plus the extension, how much have our CA members accomplished? But pressurizing them now to draft something in the final few days isn’t a good idea because, after all, it’s “the” Constitution.

What we can do now is maybe separation of roles? Currently, the same people who are responsible in the Constitution drafting are also involved in the affairs of the state. So this leads to another topic—the CA members will be making policies for themselves, too. Isn’t there a conflict of interest here?

At this point of time, the breeding frustration among youth is that all politicians are corrupt. So the failure is in the political system and people will question the system. That needs to change.

Himal Sharma: The latest inquisitiveness in everyone is that if there’s a possibility of a Constitution at all. That’s a No. And what will happen next then? Will CA tenure be extended, and what if not? The leaders themselves don’t know perhaps, and people aren’t hopeful. But then, there again is hope. So what should happen is that Nepal’s politics and political leaders should exercise their own minds and not function according to what someone else says. Until and unless there is a unified, common understanding, this isn’t possible.

Gagan Thapa: If the issues to be resolved are only related to the Constituent Assembly, then they can easily be solved. I’ve had a look at some of the key questions and most of them have been solved. So what’s been understood outside as to how the Constitution will be drafted by the 601 CA members, I see a possibility that a first draft can be made.

But then, while writing the Constitution, we have to address issues like that of the army and the country can only have one armed force. And political leaders have made this issue as a popular political issue that has nothing to do with the people, which is wrong.

Another thing I feel strongly is that until and unless there is power sharing among the parties, this issue will not move forward. Even in terms of a formation of a new government, leaders should be ready for sharing power.

What I see today is if we make a work schedule, we can achieve many of our goals. And then there should be a national consensus government which should be led by the Maoists. They should focus on the Peace Process and Constitution, and the tenure of the CA should be extended by 5-6 months. However, during these months, it would be wise for the CA members to not take their financial benefits they receive. This might help them to gain a little trust from the people that they’ve lost, and also gain some moral strength.

What is still a variable?

Lal: The main question now isn’t the Constitution, nor is it army integration or governance. The main question is that Nepal is starting a process to become a state. And in that process, what steps should we take and questions we should raise? What is the definition of being a Nepali? What makes us Nepalis? How can all Nepalis can get social justice? So in order to answer all these, a Constitution is written; it isn’t written just for the sake of writing a Constitution. Constitution should be written so as to define how to make this country a nation. And we gave the task and the decision-making to the CA but unfortunately they couldn’t even start a process.

So the main variable is what is the main job or function of the Constituent Assembly? Constitution writing, if we say, is its job, then it’s not a job at all. The main question they should address is how to make Nepal a nation, and they haven’t delved into it.

Devkota: We’ve emerged from a conflict and now we’re coming to manage that conflict. One of the major responsibilities of the CA is to find solutions to all the problems that were agreed on before the formation on the CA and to write the Constitution. If we’re talking about writing the Constitution, this can be done. But the major hurdle is the consensus and agreement among all when it comes to defining what’s good and what’s not to be enshrined  in the Constitution.

Shah: Whatever we do, irrespective of our professions, everything is rooted in the Constituent Assembly. So, ordinary Nepalis have realized that this has become a hurdle since the root itself is weak. Another thing is that we’ve forgotten our responsibilities. As a Nepali, I feel that we don’t need to be responsible for making a nation, it’s always been there.

But please write a Constitution for us, that’s the CA’s responsibility, and we’ll fulfill our responsibility of developing this nation. And if the current CA members can’t do this, it would be better to pave for others who are willing to do it.

Gagan Thapa: We keep talking about the 601 members, but I don’t see people like Sushil Koirala, Mohan Baidya and KP Oli. And these are the people who matter in making key decisions in the end. So the leadership itself is missing, not only among the parties but within the CA itself as well. The CA has been formed bearing such a big responsibility and they need to work on that. But unless that thought of responsibility is sown in the brains of the leadership, it’s not possible. We’re leaders but on different layers, so we aren’t capable of making any decisions. And when we take issues to the CA, andto the senior leaders, they don’t see them as such.

Pandey: First of all, there’s a challenge that people are always going to question the commitment of our political leaders. So in the coming days, how to regain or build that trust comes up as a major issue. Secondly, we hear that in all of those three years, there’s been no work in the CA. But as an insider, I beg to differ because whatever jobs we’ve been given in the thematic committee, we’ve fulfilled them. But the problem is that we haven’t been able to properly communicate what we’ve achieved so far. The third point is leadership since it all comes down to the six or 12 main top leaders who make the ultimate decisions but haven’t been active. But if we, who are in the second layer in the CA, had formed an intra-party team and constantly pushed our leaders, perhaps some work could’ve been achieved. If we had thought about this even some months before, we could’ve had a first draft of/for the Constitution. But we lagged behind in pressuring our own leaders.

Anita: Many in the youth population don’t know exactly what’s really happening in the country. Talking about the variable, I think integrity and commitment from the leaders are lacking and that’s what brewing an aggressive frustration in the youth. If we analyze the previous week’s youth rally for Constitution, we  saw that as soon as they neared the CA building, their slogans lashed the CA members.

Another thing is skill. In order to educate the other, one should be skilled and aware, and at this point of time people are. However, today, when people think of political process, people relate it to the Constitution. As a result, people have had high expectations, which haven’t been actually fulfilled by the leadership.

Lastly, we should understand that in Nepal, we’re not making a Constitution simply because we don’t have one. We’re creating one that has people’s participation in it.

Nepal’s politics and economy: How have you analyzed them in your field?

Sitoula: Well, it’s been said that there have been lack of delivery in terms of information as to what the CA has done so far. But what we know so far is that there will not be a Constitution in the next eight days, and the CA might be extended. But what if there’s still no Constitution? What would be the consequences? As CA members, would they be able to stand up and promise to deliver the Constitution in the next six months; and if not, ready to face punishment? If policymakers can impose laws on us and punish when we fail to follow, they should be accountable too.

If you were Prime Minister, what would you do?

Singh: We need cheerleaders, not chair leaders. A prime minister needs to be accountable to the people. And I want to see the leadership, and it’s now time to show that. If there is a commitment, people will back anyone who is in that position.

What kind of strategy will help build a pressure?

Devkota: From Poush 1, 2065 to Baishak 31, 2066, we made concrete notes, prepared a preliminary draft and also got views and opinions from the people. And we also held discussions in the CA. So we finished 80% of the work. And it was people like us who had 80% attendance in the CA who were responsible for it. As for the rest 20% of the work, we gave it to the top leaders who, however,   showed up for mere 10 days in the CA.

So, we don’t see a problem in the content. The problem lies in the intent of the top leaders. When we discuss various issues in the secondary level, we get into consensus. But when it reaches the top level, there is disparity because there are  vested interests there, and that’s the main problem. There should be a continuous pressure, which I think is lacking at the moment.

Himal Sharma: There’s been a gap between the leaders and people as to what goals have been achieved. So what we can do now is issue a white paper, pre-plan and make some sort of  a calendar that would set fixed deadlines. People can still trust them. But one of the biggest challenges lies in the internal conflict among and within the parties and their leadership is entangled there.

Collective role of the media in the process

Shiva Gaunle: Until the media disseminates the facts to the people, there’s no beginning to all of this.

After the Maoists’ Palungtar meeting, I was clear that the Constitution wouldn’t be drafted within  the given time. We, however, started the dialogue only a month back. What were we doing till then? Watch the hullabaloo outside the Parliament and former CA members  staging sit-ins. But many of us may not know that Jana Andolan II victims are also staging their protests outside the CA. And when it comes to them, the case is valid as there is sentiment attached to it. But what about the parliamentarians? They are just there to misinform the people. They know very well that the Constitution won’t be drafted.

Besides that, ask any journalist and you’ll find out how the media has limited itself to discussing the numbers rather than delving into facts. We in the media should set the practice of informing people about the facts, not merely reporting events or statements.

Besides lack of trust and power sharing issues, there is a bigger goal of nation building versus the shorter goal of Constitution making. And the nation wants to move ahead from the stagnancy. And we do have variables for them but it’s not that they are unsolvable; we just have to give momentum to them.

Lal: Firstly, a few things should be clarified. This is not business as usual. Violence is over but the conflict isn’t. This country is very much conflicted. People, therefore, don’t want to put up with the pressure as they don’t want to play with festering wounds. Only the frivolous ones want to do so and we should be aware of it.

And since we’re making our move from difficult to normal times, there are no exact solutions to the current situation. I fully believe that whatever we’re doing, we haven’t failed in it though we may  not get 100 out of 100 in our work.

At present, what we’re missing is the “communication.” Here everything is happening behind closed doors. Communication is one thing that is common in all revolutions— be it of France, America, 1945s India or 1971 Bangladesh revolution.

Why can’t government representatives or leaders publicly disseminate what happened previously or what will happen for the day every morning through Radio Nepal for 365 days? In this way, the real intentions will start clearing up because mediators like us can only deliver what we understand.

Gagan: After the CA elections and policy preparation, 14 sub-committees were formed. While the young leaders were handed the small committees to finish the small works, the senior leaders stayed in the Constitutional Committee. Despite having our different viewpoints and going through all the debates and discussions, we wrapped up our share of work. In all of this, it was the media’s responsibility to relate the Constitution to the society and people. And we had expected the media to bring out the developments on the Constitution drafting. But it wasn’t there with us. It was after Sushil Koirala, KP Oli and Mohan Baidya. And from my personal level, I had even asked some to do so.

Apart from it, the media limited itself to questions about party elections and meetings. I don’t remember having a decent conversation about the Constitution neither with our senior leaders nor the media.

And regarding the unresolved issues, we haven’t been authorized to work on them. However, they have already been handed over to the Committee and until and unless it doesn’t take the initiative, the work is stuck. Amidst all this, the likely question that might be directed at us is why aren’t the 601 parliamentarians pressurizing the top leaders like the Facebook campaigners indicated? Well, I wouldn’t like to defend myself on this one because four/five of us tried doing that but gave up. Those few issues, due to which things are on hold, should be clarified and should made  to the public. That’s why I’ve raised the power-sharing issue here, and until the condition for power sharing isn’t created, things aren’t likely to work out.

Regarding us being helpless, it’s not the real case. It’s just that we aren’t running away from the system. How many of us have been able to establish the system the way we want to, or even amend it while staying inside the system?

Last words. Message that you’ll be taking from here.

Shah: The one who violates the rule of the country should be incarcerated—be it a layman, banker or a politician. Impunity of any kind should not be tolerated. Both the giving and receiving end should be punished.

Let us realize that our country is our responsibility.

Sitoula: We need to have more conversation and open dialogues  such as this. Now, as the platform has opened to discuss the role of the civil society at the moment, we want to know how we can be of help to the young leaders to push this issue. And it’s worth remembering the 2006 uprising in this context. There was no way that people were coming out, but small things such as distributing t-shirts with democratic slogans and a few people wearing them sparked talks.

Well, there also have been talks of issuing a white paper. But let’s not forget to mention a point in it, either. That if the works are not completed, the leaders will be held accountable.

However, after all this, at least we can’t go out of this room saying there’s no hope.

Sharma: We need to trust our leaders at the moment rather than spreading animosity against them because this might create some other problems.

Pandey: Like the pressure campaigns that are going out on the streets, we (parliamentarians) should also be able to do the same, but by remaining inside the CA. If we also come out on the streets, who is going to work?

We’ve to have frequent discussions with each other, and also involve the political parties so that there is proper monitoring mechanism to know whether work has been done and deadlines have been met.

Anita: Like music and sports, Constitution should be used as a connector rather than a divider in out context. When it comes to youth, it comprises 38.8% of the total population, which is quite huge. And for this generation, the Constitution not only holds our future but is our present as well. So I think we as youth should prepare ourselves and help by coordination.

Devkota: We’ve always been involved in protest culture rather than being proactive in nation buildng. As we are in a transitional phase, we have both challenges and opportunities in our hands. But if the opportunities are not utilized, they will end up becoming challenges.

In order to save the process, we should be able to compromise on the contents at the moment because a Constitution isn’t something written on stone. It can always be amended with time. Leave some work for the future governments as well.

Lal: Today, a lot of talk revolved around youth. The Maoists and Madheshi Janaadhikar Forum are two parties who have the most youth representation. Besides them, the force is distributed. I feel that if the distributed ones join politics, it will be good. Because in democracy, the centrality is with the political parties and by refusing it and only talking about the youth will lead us nowhere. If you analyze the scene, once we step outside the political periphery, the influence gets marginalized.

The other thing that’s to be taken into consideration is that two wrongs cannot make a right, and if two things are wrong simultaneously, there’s something seriously wrong with the society. In order to find that wrong and reach to the conclusion, we should keep the conversation going. And let’s not return to violence because there will be no conversation at all. Lastly, let’s not return to the governance before 2006. That’s not acceptable. If we take all of these things outside this room, the scenario will improve.

Singh: More than cheerleading, we need someone to lead because the youth who have never been interested in politics have come out on the streets. Let our leaders not devaluate this.

Gagan: Mistrust and fear prevail inside the parties regarding power sharing. But these party traits  also reflect on the traits of our society and the parties are also part of our society. And society comprises all sorts of people. Therefore, society should also come to terms.

The way ahead is to build trust and open up for dialogues. For the larger good, the parties have to come together and share power not only to show to the people and for the media’s sound bytes. And while imparting news, the media should be responsible. Recently, the media had involved the public in SMS polls on whether slapping the parliamentarians concerned was good or not. Let the media talk about the real works rather than busying themselves with unnecessary issues. This shows the state of our society, which is so feeble that we calculate the loss in terms of money but we don’t question the contents of the Constitution. To move further, morals should be strong and high and we should feel the laws not only because it’s there on white paper but because it’s there for us.

Moderators “Take Away”

Anil Chitrakar

Public pressure is still the “one thing” that makes the most difficult issues move forward in Nepal. It creates demands for greater accountability and responsibility. The public cannot wash their hands off after the elections and say “our” job is done. We as the citizens must keep a close watch on the elected politicians.

The public must be better informed, and the media, like all other sectors in Nepal, needs to do a better job. People feel that if they are constantly informed about realistic issues through the media they can better respond to various situations, based on accurate reports of what is happening, and not what the politicians want us to believe.

Political stability and economic developments are not the “chicken and egg” situation anymore. Economic agenda has to be given priority over all else. Most conflicts have their roots in Nepal’s economic poverty. Politics will never stabilize unless the economy is doing well.

The task of constitution writing is but a small part of the nation building process, which is a mammoth task and we are still struggling with  the first and the relatively “easy” part.
The competence and capacity of the people we have entrusted the task to are key components for the current failure to deliver. The situation gets complicated because there is a conflict of interests when elected CA members can re-appoint themselves and have dual roles to perform, that of writing the constitution and serving in the day to day affairs of Nepal.

Power sharing is the biggest variable at present in Nepal. It has to be equitably shared as a way to build trust. It is obvious that trust is the biggest gap within the CA and outside of it.

The country has a large youth population who are losing patience each day. The need of the hour is to discuss the process and content of the constitution, with this demographic group at the center.

CA members who have put in many hours and days of honest hard work feel offended and ashamed when people collectively vent their anger towards them. The leadership of political parties should be blamed for non performance of duties and public scrutiny must be aimed at them. The CA has also done a poor job of communicating what has already been achieved.

The current political and economic crisis must be viewed as an opportunity to unite Nepal and we need to build on to this. We do not have other options.

Published on 2011-05-20 11:33:41
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