Taking turns

Obstruction of the parliamentary business by political parties has not been uncommon in Nepal under one pretext or another. They have tended to take different stances on the issue depending on whether they are in the government or in the opposition. For instance, the Nepali Congress used to speak against the practice of disrupting the parliamentary proceedings in the post-1990 period when the CPN-UML, which assumed the role of the main opposition for most of the period, used to resort to such tactics from time to time with the objective of having the government do or not do something. Congress leaders used to brand such disruptive practices as undemocratic. Now, the Congress’s role has changed — it is in the opposition. It has been stalling the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly for several days demanding that Prime Minister Prachanda fix a deadline for the fulfilment of the nine-point understanding that he had reached with the Congress and which he had made known to the CA not long ago. Its leaders have been saying that the disruption will continue until its demand is met.

Irrespective of the merit of the case, this obstructionist practice, whoever may be the agent, is wrong, because it tends to insult the people who gave their electoral verdict, with varying numerical strengths for the various political parties. At the start of the CA session, it was the Tarai-centric parties that had been stalling the CA proceedings. Tomorrow, it may be yet another party. Disruptive tactics seek to short-circuit the people’s mandate reflected in the legislature, and to achieve ends, right or wrong, by holding to ransom this mandate. Prolonged obstructions will cut at democracy in that the popular mandate is not allowed to be operative. However, it could be understandable if any party resorts to symbolic disruptions for a very short period, not exceeding a day, to register its point. Beyond that, any disgruntled party or MP would do well to adopt other forms of protest, including taking to the streets. But it should not disrupt the CA business.

Besides, at this particular juncture in history, disruption will be doubly harmful, because the CA doubles up as the legislature-parliament and the constitution-writing body. The other worry is that frequent disruptions may delay the constitution-writing process beyond the timeframe agreed between the political parties and stipulated in the Interim Constitution. A delay may well lead to unpleasant consequences. The least of all is that it will prolong the period of uncertainty and keep the peace process still inconclusive. The political parties have come to this stage together, and they need to go together at least till the promulgation of the new constitution and the resolution of key outstanding issues relating to the peace process. These are the most important tasks before them. Therefore, other issues should not be allowed to impede the constitution-writing process, as it would prove self-defeating, too. There is no alternative to mutual cooperation. No political party can escape by laying blame at another’s door for its share of contribution to any probable delay in making the constitution. First things should come first.