Keepers of the house

With the promulgation of the Interim Constitution (IC) and formation of the interim legislature on Monday, the state of uncertainty and confusion and even distrust among the political parties have given way to a new hope and confidence. The IC was the most decisive step that formally ended an era, heralding the birth of a new one. In this upbeat mood, the political parties in the new parliament owe it to the people to conduct themselves in a befitting manner. Today the new legislature is meeting for the second time and it will choose a legislative head and a deputy from among the MPs. But reports say that differences have surfaced regarding who should be the Speaker. Though this matter is by no means a non-issue, yet beside the hugeness of the task at hand — holding of the CA polls — it appears almost unworthy of too much concern and involvement.

Political leaders stressed themes of understanding and cooperation on the occasion of promulgation. For instance, PM Girija Prasad Koirala described January 15, 2007, as a ‘historic day for building a New Nepal on the basis of unity and reconciliation’. Krishna B Mahara, leader of the Maoist parliamentary party, pointing to the possibility of ‘regressive forces raising their heads”, called for “unity and understanding” among the eight parties. But despite two meetings, the CPN-UML and the CPN-Maoist could not agree on which of them should get the post. Now a contested election is a possibility. Although in normal times such voting is quite normal, in these extraordinary circumstances where understanding and unity is at a premium, a unanimous choice will be the best bet.

The parties should not show petty-mindedness but, that said, consensus and agreement are possible only when all the contestants recognise one another’s legitimate interests and claims. It is necessary for the parties to come up with a compromise formula for distributing ministerial portfolios and filling the numerous high-level government vacancies. Without such a formula, every time a new appointment looms, there will be a tussle and a spectacle, leading the public to believe that the parties have not learned anything from their past mistakes. While this will erode their public credibility, this may affect the constituent assembly polls, may provide regressive forces with ammunition to fire at the political parties, and may even shake the donors’ faith. So, as in line with the broader peace agreement, it will be advisable to settle questions of power-sharing on the basis of a package deal. Put simply, the parties are expected to show largeness of heart by desisting from picking up a fight over something a little less or a little more than they demand. Testing time is nobody’s but theirs. For the Maoists, even more so. The people have tried the other political parties. Now they want to see how the Maoists behave as a mainstream political force. It will serve their interests as well as those of the country if they focused on things larger.