Governance Specialist, Nepal
From the President in the sital niwas to the pauper in the street, everyone is talking of political consensus. Mr. President is visibly worried by the delays in political consensus. He is seen busy offering breakfasts and tea parties to our party-loving party leaders. Having wined and dined in almost all the posh hotels and resorts in Nepal, make-shift caterings inside sital niwas will leave little impression to our political masters.
Mr. Sushil Koirala, Nepali Congress (NC) Chairman can be heard stuttering in his hardly audible voice, “There is no alternative to sahamati, sahakaraya and ekata.” Mr. J.N. Khanal, from CPN-UML, could be seen forcefully emphasizing and re-emphasizing national consensus as only feasible nikas (exit point). Comrade Prachanda, the big, assumes even bigger with himself having the biggest onus to seek political consensus. This must be the reason why he is busy making house to house calls. Hope there is no other ulterior motive.
Even after a month of CA dissolution, political consensus is no where near sight. Instead, what we see is a series of demonstrations by political parties exhibiting their muscle power. A blogger rightly commented – it is time to show brain power, not brawn power. We also see political parties busy patching up their internal wounds and fractions. If political consensus within a party is such a difficult proposition, imagine how difficult it will be amongst ever disputing, antagonistic political parties?
There is no way out from the present deadlock situation. By their own actions and inactions, the political parties have brought us to this legal quagmire. Without political consensus we cannot have a national government and without a national government, we cannot introduce changes in the Interim Constitution and without making changes we cannot go to elections. And without elections we cannot have a new constitution. It will be nothing more than our stupidity to assume that the country can be governed for ever under an Interim Constitution with a care-taker Prime Minister. To complicate the matter further, we have a prime minister is reduced to a care taker status even before he manages to quit. There is no provision in the constitution to sack an elected prime minister. This must be the reason why opposition parties (primarily, NC and CPN-UML) are demanding resignation of a care taker prime minister. They say they cannot think of political consensus without PM first tendering his resignation. PM’s resignation is a pre-condition to political negotiation and consensus. PM, in turn, says that he will not stay in power, more than a minute, once political consensus is warranted. Once again, the country is back to chicken-egg syndrome.
There is no alternative to political consensus. On 27 May, we experienced live the things that could go wrong in the absence of political consensus. Constituent Assembly (CA), an institution supposed to be a historic and most inclusive and powerful, came to an end after political parties fail to reach an agreement. Now, the remaining alternative to political consensus is chaos and mayhem. And this must be the single reason why everyone is harping on political consensus. Whether it is Maoist Party that believes in ultimate rule by the proletariat or the parliamentary political parties that believe in a majority rule with oppositional force in place or pro-monarchists, die hard panchas that once believed in one-party regime with no place for opponents – amazingly, they all talk of political consensus. Interestingly, foreign diplomats and donors, who are here for their vested interests, are also singing to the tune of political consensus.
Political consensus is a nice word to speak and listen to, it hurts no body, antagonizes none. But the problem is that it does not just happen like our monsoon rain, falling from the sky with almost certainty, during June/July. Political consensus is not going to happen simply because we all wished for it. It has to be created; it has to be worked out, moreover, one has to earn for it through hard work, perseverance and dedication. This is conspicuously lacking in Nepali politics.
There are divergent views on political consensus. NC and CPN-UML take it to mean immediate, unconditional implementation of the five point agreement with the Maoist Party which included, among others, resignation by the PM and handover of the power, literally, in a silver plate, to NC. There is also a line of thinking within NC and CPN-UML camps, on the possibility of reviving a dead CA, as an agenda of future political negotiation. For Comrade Prachanda, political consensus means starting dialogues from the point where CA came to an end. The implied meaning here is that there cannot be any negotiations on identity-based federalism. Period. For mushrooming Terai-Madhes based political parties, a maximum of two provinces in Terai-Madhes is what they can think of. For PM Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai, political consensus equals all-party participation in his Cabinet and successful holding of elections. Vaidya faction, a splintered Maoist Party, takes political consensus to mean round-table meeting to thrash out all contentious issues including the formation of interim government, drafting of the new constitution and holding of future elections. Contrary to the Maoist Party, it is surprising to find Vaidya faction disfavouring next CA elections. Money rather than ideology must be an underlying factor. The Maoist splitting is due to haves and have-nots; between those who have an opportunity to dip their fingers into national honey jars and those who have not. Pro-monarchists equates political consensus with putting end to four-party political cartelling and their equal and unequivocal participation in all future negotiations. With the demise of CA, there are no such things as big and small parties, for them, all parties are equal. Interestingly, they have welcomed CA elections. Given these different and divergent perspectives, it will be a herculean task to reconcile and strike a balance.
In the past we have seen how political consensus, defined as my way or high way, pulled the whole system to the ground. The starting point is the former PM Girija Prasad calling needless mid term poll in mid 1990s. Since then every things have gone wrong in Nepal. We have also seen how numerically defined political consensus, i.e., two-third majority or a simple majority – is not made to work, instead, gave out to behavioural perversions like winners take all or equal or sharing of booty or in fixed proportions or to have it on a turn-by-turn basis. This has left the nation high and dry.
Political consensus should have been built around national interests, for greater good, a sacrifice of the few for the betterment of many. However, political consensus has always been defined as getting into, sharing of or staying onto the power. By now it is clear to everybody that power-sharing agenda overshadowed all other political contentious issues – conclusion of peace process, drafting of the constitution, creating identity-based federalism and forms of governance – and left CA to die on its own. If politics is all about power, it is pointless and shameless for NC and CPN-UML combine to blame the Maoists for state capture. They do have that insatiable hunger for power. Will they come down to a pragmatic politics? Or they are already in?
The author can be reached at: email@example.com