Honey in the horn

A Bill to amend the Interim Constitution (IC) was tabled in Parliament yesterday. The amendment, second in four months, would incorporate a new timeframe for the elections to the Constituent Assembly (CA) within this Mangsir (by Dec. 15) after the existing date, June 20, could not be kept. Other features include disqualification from contesting the polls of those people who are thought to have had a hand in trying to suppress Jana Andolan II or those who are black-listed as bank defaulters; providing for official status of opposition in the legislature; the provision to abolish the institution of monarchy and to remove the Prime Minister — both by a two-thirds parliamentary majority. The requirement of a two-thirds majority to decide the monarchy’s future is necessary, as it relates to an institution that has existed for 238 years.

But the requirement of the same proportion of votes to remove the Prime Minister too conflicts with the practice of democratic parliaments. It can even lead to a constitutional crisis and a deadlock in governance. If Girija Prasad Koirala ceased to be the Prime Minister for any reason, Parliament would have to choose a successor. But, then, there is every possibility that the political parties would be divided. It is likely that no prime ministerial candidate would get the required number of votes. For practical purposes, simple majority is the norm in both appointment and dismissal of the head of government. Why cannot the MPs choose the Prime Minister from among them through a simple majority? A two-thirds rule would complicate matters, and may even encourage a tendency to develop in any Prime Minister to act in an authoritarian manner.

The system of the opposition benches — with the resultant salaries and perks — in a Parliament created by Jana Andolan II — is a contradiction in terms. In fact, there was no need for an artificially created parliament in the first place — after the 1990 Jana Andolan, the then interim government had wielded legislative powers, too. The eight parties’ consensus is all-important to decide every nationally important matter because it is they, not the individual members of the Parliament, who have received the people’s mandate to steer the country through transition and hold the CA polls. As for the tiny parties outside the alliance that are represented in the legislature, they are there just because of the alliance’s large-heartedness, not because of their significant role in fighting regression. In all probability, the proposed amendment will be passed unanimously or with a resounding majority. But the setting of Mangsir as the month for the polls also has some risks — the government may fail to keep the new date yet again. As the eight parties are still divided over the crucial issue of the monarchy, Maoist chairman Prachanda says the CA polls cannot take place until they reach a consensus on the monarchy — either to retain it or to abolish it. Other political leaders have given other reasons why the CA polls may be delayed further. So, what if this happened again?