Nepali politics: What is consensus after all?

The word ‘consensus’ has become very popular in Nepali political circle. From the top leader of seven political parties to the general workers at the local level, each uses the word ‘consensus’ in relation to some political, social or even personal work. From the 12-point agreement to the comprehensive peace accord signed between the then seven party alliance and the CPN-Maoist or between the Maoists and the Nepal government, commitment to work with consensus has been expressed. The Interim Constitution (2063) says that not only will the executive and the legislature work with consensus, even government policies will be framed after establishing consensus among the seven parties.

The goal of the People’s Uprising 2063 was not to make the seven party leaders all in all even though they are the caretakers of the interim system. The goal of the people’s movement was to make people supreme. For that purpose, CA election was given due priority. But unfortunately it has been postponed three times. The seven top leaders consented to hold the election. But instead consensus has been made the tool to postpone the election.

The word ‘consensus’ has been defined and abused according to the interests of the seven political parties. Now this term has been turned into a pressure tactic. The consensus among the seven political parties was to hold CA election on a fixed date. But the Maoists, in order to put pressure on the six parties, declared their 22-point agenda three months before the election date. Thus the election had to be postponed.

Similarly, a senior CPN-UML minister said in one electronic media that NC has not understood the word and it’s spirit. The PM’s interference in different ministries has not allowed the concerned ministers to work freely, which is contrary to the spirit of consensus, the minister said. In this sense, UML equates consensus with autonomy for its ministers. There should be no PM’s interference in their work. Even the peon either has to leave the ministry if he harbours any other ideology. If not, he has to be a member of the particular communist party that holds the respective ministry. Thus they want to make the ministry their party headquarters and run it as they like.

This is how the communist minister and the communist leaders representing seven party alliance understand the meaning and spirit of consensus. A recent statement of CPN-UML general secretary Madhav K Nepal is also interesting in this context. He told the press that he has given GP Koirala the last chance to hold election in Chaitra. This kind of irresponsible statements creates misunderstandings among the alliance partners. From this statement, anyone can easily understand that UML also does not want the election in Chaitra and is careful that the entire blame for poll deferral goes to the PM and the top post lands in the laps of Madhav Kumar Nepal. This is how the UML leader understands the spirit of consensus. But the spirit of consensus is that the veto remains in seven political leaders representing seven political parties. Which parties may head which ministries does not have any meaning in this regard.

Every minister (whichever party he may belong to) has to work in the interest of seven party alliance. Consensus means unanimity of voice within the seven parties. But what is happening in Nepali politics is that the seven parties are using this principle as a pressure tactic. The Maoists are putting pressure on the government to change the decision on mixed electoral process and political system and this is an example of pressure tactic.

When election date had already been fixed through the consensus of seven political parties and polls were about to be held, the Maoists declared their agitation, now taking a U-turn on their earlier stance and insisting that they would not participate unless the election was fully proportional.

The Maoist strategy is to capture power by hook or by crook. But if they go for election, it will be impossible for them to win even one seat. Hence they do not want a mixed election system. One senior Maoist leader said that the Maoists won’t participate in the election which they will not win. Another Maoist lawyer told in a BBC interview that it is the government who decides who can participate in the election. Even the UML may be barred from the election.

According to him, among the seven party partners, only the Maoists and the United Front are qualified to participate in the election. Similarly, the Maoist supremo also told the press once that the republican system followed by NC and UML is different to the one followed by the Maoists. They want to establish a system where all Maoist candidates can win so that they get to produce the constitution according to their own interest in the constituent assembly.

This is the Maoist definition of consensus. Thus consensus in Nepali politics has now become a misnomer and a pressure tactic to fulfil self interests and hold on to power.

Joshi is ex-minister and NC CWC member