Constitutional crisis in Nepal likely to worsen

Constitutional crisis in Nepal likely to worsen

By ABHIMANYU SINGH | Kathmandu,New Delhi | 12 January, 2013
Given the political uncertainties in Nepal, the consensus on upcoming elections seems “a distant possibility”.

The constitutional crisis in Nepal is deepening by the day, with no resolution in sight in the near future. Although the incumbent Maoist-led government has called for elections in April-May, 2013, it remains to be seen whether they will be held during that time period. The last date given for elections was 22 November last year, but they were not held due to several reasons, crucial among them the refusal of other political parties to contest under the Maoist-led caretaker government. The seventh deadline given by the President Ram Baran Yadav expired on 9 January, with no consensus reached among the parties.

Elections are necessary for the formation of a new Parliament and a new Constituent Assembly, both of which stand dissolved since May last year, plunging the country into its present political crisis.

Last year, Nepal was ranked 27th by the Fund for Peace in its Failed State Index 2012. "Nepal has the dubious distinction of being ranked alongside some of the most unstable states in the world like North Korea, Myanmar, Sierra Leone and, closer home, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka," wrote prominent Nepali newspaper Republica back then and added: "We believe the reason for Nepal's dismal standing should be interpreted as, above everything else, a collective failure of our political class."

Neither has the government initiated the process of the updating of voter cards, nor has it moved to submit an ordinance to the President, asking for fresh elections, since the Interim Constitution does not provide for the same, thereby making it unlikely that elections will be held in time. 

Menaka Guruswamy, constitutional lawyer at the Supreme Court, and a well-known commentator on Nepal's crisis, said that a "lack of political will" was the underlying cause behind it.

She pointed out the political parties whose representatives made up the Constituent Assembly were more interested in sticking to their own agendas, thereby hampering progress on the writing of the new Constitution which was the task of the CA. The two chief sticking points are whether the country should have a federal system of government and if the presidential form of government be adhered to, instead of the erstwhile Westminster model.

Commenting on the issue, well-known Nepali journalist Deepak Adhikary, said: "The Maoists want a federal state along ethnic lines, with maximum autonomy. For long, Nepal has had a centralised form of government. This led to the state-sponsored marginalisation of communities like the Madhesis of the Terai region."

The federal system with maximum autonomy for different communities divided on ethnic lines would be in line with Maoist politics, who have received support of these marginalised communities in their long protracted people's war which came to an end with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006.

However, traditional parties like the Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal — Unified Marxist Leninist are opposed to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) on this issue. They are "status-quoist", said Adhikary.

The second bone of contention is whether or not to opt for a presidential form of governance.

The Maoists have always maintained that a parliamentary form of governance is not suitable for Nepal — which has seen four governments in as many preceding years — as it leads to corruption in the forms of horse-trading, among other ills. The traditional parties oppose it as they see it as a ploy by the Maoists to implement their socialist agenda, which would be easier to do in case of a presidential form of government.

Adhikary pointed out that neither has the government initiated the process of the updating of voter cards, nor has it moved to submit an ordinance to the President, asking for fresh elections, since the Interim Constitution does not provide for the same, thereby making it unlikely that elections will be held in time.

"They are seeking political consensus over the issue," he said. Considering the past, consensus will be very hard to come by.

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