Challenges ahead: Leaders must demonstrate statesmanship

The government has shown its commitment to live up to the sentiment of the people’s movement. It has rightly declared a ceasefire, withdrawn the terrorist tag against the Maoists, lifted the Red Corner notices issued against 16 Maoist leaders and have also invited them to a dialogue. This indicates that the government is committed to translating the seven-party alliance’s (SPA) road map into a reality. The home minister has also informed that the government has started the process of releasing the Maoist leaders and cadres detained in various prisons and security posts.

The House of Representatives has unanimously passed the proposal for holding elections to a constituent assembly (CA). The historic agenda of drawing up a new constitution since 2007 BS was set by the aspirations of the people. The Maoists have made the demand for CA their bottom-line right since the previous talks. They have taken the government’s move in a positive light. Prachanda, chairman of CPN-Maoist, in a statement has said that with a ‘deep sense of responsibility toward the people’s desire for democracy and peace’ his party will participate in a dialogue remaining committed to the 12-point understanding. Submission of a draft code of conduct to be followed by both sides during the period of dialogue indicates that they are far ahead in doing their homework regarding talks and future programmes, which the government must accomplish. He has stressed an interim constitution and interim government after preliminary talks.

The task before the government is not that easy as people are sniffing some conspiracy amidst present developments. They think some elements have become active in eroding the faith in democracy, as they did after 2046 BS, and are trying to destabilise the situation. Home Minister Krishna Sitaula has accepted this fact in the House. Manhandling of UML parliamentarian Pradeep Gyawali by some mischievous elements disguised behind activists’ mask, shooting of senior paediatrician Dr Hemang Dixit, many incidents of looting by armed people in an organised way not even sparing orphanages like Green Tara Child Haven School, are some examples. Even the undisciplined actions of security personnel and the incident of setting off a bomb at a religious gathering have raised many questions, which the government should investigate immediately. The security forces too should keep their personnel under strict discipline. The Maoists should be watchful of their cadres. For the future, the report of the newly constituted high level commission to probe and punish those involved in crushing the pro-democracy movement should immediately be implemented.

The 1990 Constitution was a result of an agreement among the parties and the palace. The Constitution, which was a document of the then political circumstances, is incapable of coping with the present crisis and balance of power. Also, the balance of power has changed after the King violated the compromise by taking over power himself and another political force, the Maoists, emerged. The civil uprising, along with the 12-point understanding for holding the CA elections, has led to a new equation. It may be remembered that one of the main forces of the 1990 people’s movement, the CPN-UML, had given its critical support to the Constitution, citing the need to amend two dozen provisions. The Maoists have emerged as a vital political force, as the people and as main parties have made common cause with the CA agenda.

The government and the Maoists have to settle many questions before going in for CA polls. Some people are underscoring the need of a UN role in monitoring the weapons as well as the CA elections to which the Maoists have agreed in principle. They have to decide whether to amend the existing Constitution and turn it into the interim one or frame a new interim constitution. Prime Minister Koirala has instructed his ministers to move ahead, seeking timely amendments to the Constitution so that the government could work constructively. However, the Maoist leaders are seeking an interim constitution. Still, the real test of the government will come during its negotiations with the Maoists. The government and the House should be alert and work to fulfil people’s demand of holding CA polls.

The parties and their leaders have to prove themselves that they are trustworthy. Therefore, the SPA has to exercise responsible leadership in the current uneasy and challenging situation, and immediate action is needed for honouring each of the partners’ contributions. They must display not only their leadership but also statesmanship and remain united to ensure that the people’s aspirations are fulfilled through the consolidation of the gains of the Jana Andolan. The political exercises should be directed towards fulfilling those aspirations through a constitution written by the people, thus ushering in total dem-ocracy, good governance and prosperity.

Chalise is a career journalist