Clash of wolves

With the understanding reached on the arms issue, there remained several other points of difference, such as the row over the relative strength of the eight parties, particularly the big four, in the proposed interim parliament. This and other issues, such as the CPN-UML’s stand for a simultaneous referendum as well as for the sole proportional representation system, delayed the final agreement on the total political package. Besides, discontent arose among the six parties on grounds that they were ignored by Prime Minister G P Koirala and the CPN-Maoist while making a deal. There is some truth to the accusation, but the larger part of the blame can be put at the door of the six parties which failed to assert themselves. But now it is too late.

However, irrespective of the contents of the political package, the ideas underlying the differences are worth considering. It seems strange that none of the eight parties took any stand in favour of holding a referendum for the sovereign people to accept or reject the draft constitution prepared by the constituent assembly (CA). A subsequent referendum is essential, as it will act as a powerful check against the possibility of any CA member or political party taking the people for a ride after securing their vote. In other words, the referendum would safeguard the people’s ultimate right to vote down the constitution if they reckoned the draft constitution did not reflect their aspirations. A carte blanche to the elected representatives is no guarantee against a situation in which an individual or party seeks votes on one plank but votes differently, e.g. on the monarchy v republic issue. Admittedly, all the voters cannot put their heads together and decide all the nitty-gritty of the constitutional process, but on fundamental issues the people’s mandate must get the required reflection. Otherwise, it would later lead to questions of legitimacy over the CA decisions. This is much more important than the CPN-UML’s stand on simultaneous CA and referendum or Koirala’s CA-alone stance.

It is a good thing that both the first-past-the-post and proportional representation systems will be adopted to form the constituent assembly. This is especially important as the first system alone ignores a large percentage of the popular vote cast, letting a party falling short of a majority decide the fundamental issues. The mixed system ensures the widest possible participation of the populace in constitution-making. However, it will be of less importance if for later periodic elections either of the two systems or a combination of both is selected. While a mixed electoral system has been agreed upon, a legitimate question arises whether it has been followed also in determining the relative number of legislative seats for each of the parties. Instead, each jockeyed for as many seats as possible for itself, so much so that one party insisted on getting at least one seat more than another. They need to rise above this petty mindset, as the challenges ahead are far more daunting than generally perceived.