Got to do something
Civil society should find common ground among the political parties and urge them to act on it
JUL 30 -
The present government led by Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai rationalises its continued existence after dismissal of the Constituent Assembly (CA) on the basis of three reasons: the legal base provided by the theory of power continuation, protection and institutionalisation of minority rights through ethnic federalism and maintenance of a developmentalist state for further physical advancement. The prime minister, ministers and politicians associated with the government have been giving these reasons for their adherence to government. On the contrary, present circumstances reveal that the longer this government continues, the smaller the chances of achieving this agenda of social, economic and political change.
The continuous subscription to the theory of power continuation has, in fact, backfired on the image and intention of the government, particularly the prime minister. This theory essentially means that the government existing at the end of an elected political system will continue to function until another elected government is in place. In the absence of clear provisions in the Interim Constitution to deal with the present political situation, this theory of power continuation is used to underpin the legality of the government. However, in reality, adherence to this theory has negatively affected the people’s trust in the government. As a result, there is now increasing support for the argument that the prime minister had dissolved the CA in order to stay in power for a while. His reluctance to leave the position and his declared intention to remain in power for a long time clearly indicate his ill intention in dissolving the CA. This has eroded the benefit of the doubt that he enjoyed for some time after the CA’s dismissal.
The argument that the continuation of this government is necessary in order to protect the rights of minorities through ethnic federalism now seems to be difficult to prove. The agenda of minority rights has subsided after the CA was dissolved. The government has done nothing to preserve whatever had been gained in the past. Now it is all moving toward ground zero. The support base of parties following democratic principles and adopting new changes is also dwindling. This will lead to a situation where extreme right parties gain ground. Pro-monarchists are also raising their heads. The reason why the monarchy has not yet become popular is because of its misdeeds and lack of trust in this institution among the youth. Its image has faded not because of the new change-seeking political parties, but because of its own actions.
Ethnic federalism was a contentious issue in the CA. In the changed circumstances, there is a need to redefine it and create a model that is suitable to a larger section of the population. The previous models proposed by a CA committee and the State Restructuring Committee were not really beneficial to the marginalised and vulnerable population. For example, there was uncertainty as to how ethnic federalism would benefit Dalits and other dispersed marginalised ethnic groups. In the new circumstances, a dialogue among the political parties to ensure minority rights and benefits for disadvantaged people like the Dalits through federalism should have been initiated.
On the other hand, a hard-line approach and extreme position on ethnic federalism, like forming a new party to champion ethnic interests, may not entirely solve the problem of state restructuring. It will certainly delay the present momentum and polarise society. In Nepal’s multi-cultural society, it is clear that ethnic federalism also needs the support of non-ethnic groups for its successful implementation. Therefore, a compromising and balanced attitude would be necessary to deal with such a sensitive issue.
The attitude of “nothing is better than something” among parties supporting ethnic federalism was a roadblock in the quest for a new constitution through the CA. This attitude is also responsible for not institutionalising the political gains made by the minorities and marginalised groups. Generally, political parties proposing radical agendas and total transformation adhere to such an attitude which prevents the benefits of right but soft policies from being realised.
Let us take land reform as an example. Land reform programmes have not been implemented globally because of the “radical” agenda like total transformation in the ownership structure which is almost difficult to implement. Attempts to implement such a policy have led to conflicts, eventually harming the poor and landless people. In places where common ground on land reform was first sought and ideas agreed upon by the major stakeholders were implemented, conflicts were avoided and changes were sustainable. This process will continue and significant positive changes will come. I think Nepal’s political parties should also have done the same thing regarding federalism.
The rationality of “developmentalist state” if the present government continues can also be criticised on various grounds. This concept of developmentalist state was once a slogan of Lee Kuan Yew in a different context in Singapore. It said that citizens have to forgo some of their political rights if they want to have economic rights. But this theory has not worked effectively in the very diverse society of South Asia where political resistance and conflict have thwarted attempts to implement it. Moreover, to sustain development, political stability and a peaceful environment are necessary. Without support from other political parties, the government alone cannot bring even basic physical development like infrastructure, let alone social and political development.
Given the above situation, questions may arise as to what alternative paths are available to escape from the present political turmoil. There are certainly no readymade answers to these questions, even though different suggestions have been presented like giving governmental authority to non-political persons to conduct elections and revive the CA or forming a roundtable forum. Again, all these options require the support of the political parties. Under such circumstances, it is the task of civil society to find common ground among the major political parties and urge them to stand on this ground to reach an agreement to manage the transition, draft a workable constitution and hold elections. After all, it is the political parties which should run the government.
Posted on: 2012-07-30 08:18