The bull’s eye

In a resolution passed on Sunday, the restored House of Representatives decided to go in for the elections to constituent assembly (CA) to draft a constitution to replace the one promulgated in 1990 following the people’s movement then. It was historic because the parliament has for the first time taken this decision, after the palace went back on the promise of holding the CA polls made by King Tribhuvan in 1951 after the overthrow of the Rana regime. However, it is difficult to call it courageous on the part of a House which, before its dissolution more than four years ago, had passed a contrary resolution directing the then Sher Bahadur Deuba government not to go beyond the preamble to the 1990 Constitution in its peace talks with the Maoists. The House had no alternative this time around as CA was the minimum demand of the 19-day mass movement, the biggest and most widespread in Nepali history. The seven-party alliance includes CA as the culmination of its demands. House restoration is only the starting point for the resolution of the national political crisis, the point of solution, however, lies in CA.

For a King who was considering announcing a date for the parliamentary election, even after the fiasco of the municipal polls, this turnaround marks the success of people power. The main task now is to prepare the ground for the polls, which need an interim constitution, or at least, major changes to the existing one to take into account the spirit of the movement and to organise CA smoothly. Things have to be sorted out with the Maoists. The modalities and processes for CA have to be worked out. So this House is vastly different in nature, function and scope from all the preceding ones. The new government, made up of the constituents of the alliance, cannot therefore afford to get lost in the rigmarole of parliamentary procedures and meetings.

A government installed by the mass movement and set out to hold the CA polls should not allow itself to be hindered much by the baggage of the moribund Constitution. The general fear and suspicion is therefore that the government might lose its sense of direction; it is in the saddle not to hold the parliamentary polls under the 1990 statute. It is bound to the 12-point understanding with the Maoists which alone could resolve the 10-year-old insurgency within a fully democratic framework. It is not unnatural for a people who have, in the past, seen much deception and conspiracy to fall between promise and performace to harbour doubts that the road to CA may well be strewn with big obstacles. A sign of this trust deficit is the demand for unconditional CA, which is, by definition, strings-free, and the omission of the word ‘unconditional’ from the House resolution may have added to these doubts. While the new government has at once the noble and daunting task of holding the CA polls, the alliance partners should take special care that they do not become embroiled in petty quarrels and narrow interests.