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Wisdom of experience

As the deadline for the drafting of the new constitution approaches, the political parties of Nepal persist in their old habits. They continue to treat the Constituent Assembly calendar with indifference, treating deadlines as mere recommendations that can be easily postponed.

Meanwhile, each party has been issuing maximalist demands and threats in the belief that this will force their rivals to accede.

The Nepali Congress and CPN-UML have come together on a federal model that disregards identity concerns. In the face of objections from the UCPN (Maoist) and Madhesi parties, they have threatened to force a vote in the CA to pass the new constitution with the two-thirds majority that they can muster.

Meanwhile, the opposition’s 22-party alliance has been attempting to forge a street movement that will force the ruling parties to accept their demands. While top Maoist and Madhesi leaders have been holding political rallies across the country, the last one in Janakpur on Saturday, to energize their base, especially the Madhesi and Janajati constituencies, the ruling parties held a joint news conference on Sunday, urging the opposition to reconsider their movement and abide by democratic norms, implying a vote.

As parties engage in political jockeying, mistrust between them seems to have increased. A number of leaders state that it is only natural that the political parties should seek to polarize opinion at the current time so as to influence the final constitution, and that the current polarization is not indicative of any great problem. Sometime in the near future, perhaps after the Saarc Summit, leaders of the various parties will sit together and hammer out a compromise.

This view is much too complacent. There are real dangers in the way that the politicians are acting now. In fact, their behavior is very similar to the way they acted around the early months of 2012, when the first CA went to dissolution.

At that time too, they repeatedly postponed deadlines. They entered negotiations on federalism very late, and when they finally did, there was a lot of grandstanding to ensure that their respective position be adopted in the constitution. Strangely, until the last moment they were complacent that they would still be able to come up with a new constitution. But this was not to be. The CA was dissolved, and the country was thrust into a major crisis, from which it took the country over a year to emerge.

While our political leaders formulate their strategies for the days ahead and participate in negotiations on constitutional matters, they would do well to look back to the events in 2012 and seek to prevent the mistakes that they made. All sides in the debate over the new constitution need to make a genuine effort to understand the position of the other side, and seek to draft a settlement that at least partially fulfills the demands and aspirations of all involved.

The parties in power need to avoid arrogance. Having been in politics for decades, their leaders must refrain from attempting to push through a vote until the very end of the constitution-writing process, as a constitution passed without taking a significant chunk of the political section into confidence will not be durable.

(Editorial Desk, The Japan News)
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