Politicking in Nepal: It’s Not Just About the Constitution
January 21, 2015
January 22 marks the deadline for a new constitution in Nepal, as committed to by all political parties participating in the 2013 Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. But on Tuesday of this week, thousands of police were deployed and schools and shops were shut down in the capital and across the country as the Maoist-led opposition enforced a nationwide general strike to prevent promulgation of the constitution.
Although political parties have intensified consultations in recent days, even a complete draft for discussion before passage seems improbable. A more likely scenario is that of yet another political agreement among mainstream parties that defers promulgation but reveals enough progress in the drafting process to assuage increasing and widespread public frustration with the high politics of the land.
Unlike past deadlines, this one is significant for a few reasons: it represents the deliver-by date of a contract negotiated with and agreed upon by the Nepali people and by every party that competed in the second Constituent Assembly elections of November 2013. Unlike previous elections, the largest-ever turnout of voters and the thorough rejection of poorly performing incumbents seen in the electoral results together placed a significant burden of care on their representatives in the CA. By any measure, those representatives have failed to perform, and, in that sense, the November 2013 elections simply reallocated political power among the three major parties without significantly changing the actors. Perhaps we ought not to be surprised by the result, but we should be deeply concerned how this might undermine popular support for and participation in democratic political processes.
We should also be concerned about the rank and file of each political party, their frustration with lack of voice and agency in these outcomes, and their current mood of helplessness in the face of feckless leadership. In a visible sign of anger – and one hopes, a warning – toward their top leadership last week, the second- and third-tier leaders of political parties gathered and submitted 413 (of a possible 598) signatures of CA representatives, demanding adherence to the January 22 deadline. While this action could be viewed as being desperate, it portends serious problems for their political parties. I recently wrote in this blog about the danger of popular disengagement from politics and the crisis of confidence in political parties owing to the political impasse at various levels in Nepal. Events surrounding the January 22 deadline could spell the beginning of the end for political party leaders who not only break the public trust but also continually marginalize their party colleagues through autocratic behavior.
The January 22 deadline is also significant for the unprecedented international valorization of Nepal’s peaceful, democratic political process by Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, arguably Nepal’s most important neighbor. On more than one public occasion on his international travels, he has drawn attention to the possibility of peaceful disagreement through ballots rather than bullets, singling out and praising the leaders of Nepal’s Maoist movement. He exhorted them to teach Nepal’s lesson to the world, including, no doubt, to the Maoist insurgents in the heartland of India. The first Indian prime minister to visit Nepal in 27 years, Modi personally committed his country’s long-term investment in Nepal’s economic growth by predicating and tying it to Nepal’s political stability, beginning with the timely promulgation of a constitution. Failure to demonstrate tangible progress on January 22 signifies a lack of awareness of the important and powerful symbol of India’s demonstrated goodwill and, perhaps more importantly, Modi’s personal interest in political progress and stability in Nepal.
Showing tangible progress toward achieving a new constitution is a critical step in building enlightened and engaged political practice by all Nepalis over the next several years. Further delay means jeopardizing that future.
George Varughese is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in Nepal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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