Although the Constituent Assembly II has received a fractured mandate to govern, it could not be clearer in in its mandate for writing a new constitution within a year, as the major parties have pledged in their election manifestos. But as things are developing in Kathmandu, one gets the sense that none of the major parties actually want to deliver the statute as promised.
The background first. In the 601-member CA II, 240 seats are assigned to direct elections and 335 to proportional representation, and 26 to nomination. From the first two categories, the Nepali Congress (NC) has 196 seats, the CPN (UML) 175 seats and the UCPN (Maoist) 80 seats. Smaller parties have secured the rest. The nominated slot is yet to be filled. Once that is done, the NC will approximately have 205, the UML 181 and the Maoists 84 seats.
Evidently, no single party has received the magic number of 301 for the governing majority. Yet the NC and UML together will need only 15 members from other parties to approve the new constitution by a two-thirds majority, as stipulated by the Interim Constitution. And their positions on such key contentious issues like the nature of federalism and form of government, left outstanding by the CA I, are close if not identical.
But the post-election developments strongly suggest that none of the major parties, contrary to their pledge in their manifestos, is eager to deliver a new statute within a year. To write the constitution quickly, the NC and UML need to work together in government and in the CA II and try to take on board the Maoists and other parties. The Maoists, the largest party in the CA I, are not a major player this time but they enjoy nuisance value.
However, neither the NC nor the UML seems in a mood of compromise on the division of posts and perks in the government to be formed. The NC would not accept elections for a new President, and yield Home and Finance portfolios. The UML would not participate in government unless it gets the presidency and Home and Finance ministries. The bitterness arising from this lack of compromise on government will spill over to the work of the CA II as well and make the collaboration, needed for timely writing of the law of the land, very difficult.
Incidentally, under the Interim Constitution, there is no need for electing the President until a new constitution is adopted. And the division of portfolios between the two parties is a matter of political give and take. The unwillingness of the NC and UML to accommodate each other makes it abundantly clear that none of them is in a hurry to deliver the constitution within a year.
To boot, if the new President is elected now and the constitution is written within a year, his term would be one year plus the time to conduct parliamentary elections. Why any of the senior UML leaders would want to become President for a year or so? To let the newly elected President serve for 4/5 years, the new constitution will have to be delayed accordingly.
The NC is not in a hurry either. Sushil Koirala has had an understanding with his deputy Ram Chandra Paudel to serve as Prime Minister for the duration of writing the constitution and then handover the post to him. Why would Koirala want to shorten his premiership if he can prolong it by delaying the new constitution?
In other words, neither the UML nor the NC wants to write the statute within a year or two.
The Maoists do not want the constitution to be written by the CA II at all because they do not have the numbers to bend it their way, without which they would not compromise.
Politicians seldom feel moral shame when they breach their vows and pledges. Niccolo Machiavelli has said, “Politics has no relation to morals.” Centuries later, Thomas Jefferson said, “Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.” Even though times have changed, the relation between politics and morals remains constant, unchanged with the passage of time.
All politics is personal. The NC emerged the largest party in the recent election under Sushil Koirala, who should have had the moral privilege to be automatically nominated by his party to lead new government. No. Koirala had to defeat Sher Bahadur Deuba who also staked his claim as the leader of parliamentary party (LPP). The post of President and Finance and Home ministers have become non-negotiable for the NC more because the incumbent President Ram Baran Yadav is from the NC cadre and certain powerful members of the party have claimed those portfolios and less because they have an issue of principle.
In the same vein, the UML leaders want a “respectable share” of key posts more to resolve their internal power struggle and less to serve any national or constitutional cause. None of the top three leaders — Jhalanath Khanal, Madhav Nepal and KP Oli – wants to become President for a year or so. But each of them wants the other to take the high post and get out of the way so the remaining two can become the party chairman or the LPP. The LPP has become lucrative because of the fractured mandate in the CA II that opens the door for realigning the parties and becoming Prime Minister.
One engages in politics for post and power. Therefore, there is nothing wrong in hard bargains in politics, where morality has little room anyway. But there must be a virtual line where personal interest ends and national interest begins, so the former does not trump the latter.
Everyone can judge politicians, but only history and voters can award them consequences. History’s judgement and consequences often occur after the subject has faded from power or vanished from earth. Only voters have the opportunity to judge and reward or punish politicians in every election cycle. We must ask ourselves, have we as voters done our job well this time?
Perhaps not. We have once again given a fractured mandate to the CA II and returned mostly the same old faces who had failed us in the CA I. We missed the opportunity to set right what was wrong the last time. In the next election cycle, we must give a clear mandate, as well as exercise our right to hold leaders accountable and to reward and punish them. Equally important, we must demand that the right to recall our elected representatives is included in the new statute to keep our leaders on their toes.
Only then, politicians will behave, act in a morally upright fashion, and deliver. Otherwise, we voters will continue to complain about politicians, and leaders will continue to pursue their personal interest with impunity.
Yet, this must be said: Even robbers, thieves and pickpockets have their own integrity, whose breach is punished with corporal pain and even death. So we voters have every right to expect some level of morality, integrity and accountability from our representatives this time and every time.