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Now what - History in Restrospect

Bipin Adhikari
The Kathmandu Post, 7 May, 2009
Source: The Kathmandu Post

The resignation of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" after his coalition government lost its majority when two key allies pulled out in protest against his dismissal of the Chief of Army Staff is not without consequences for the Constituent Assembly (CA). Yet it is difficult to gauge the scale of the impact that it might have unless other variables of politics become clear.

The CA is in its 11th month of operation. It will have to adopt a new constitution for Nepal within the next 13 months. It is already behind the original schedule. While the work is going on, albeit at a slower speed, it is without direction on key constitutional features of the new constitution, such as the form of government and devolution of power. All major parties still differ remarkably with each other on these issues.

Prime Minister Prachanda was certainly not able to invest his time in the constitution making process over these months. Neither was he able to provide political and intellectual leadership to the CA on any of the crucial issues before it, nor was he seen to be keen on entering into negotiations with other parties to resolve the differences they have with each other. Recent initiations at the CA, no matter how small they were, mostly came from the chair of the CA Constitutional Committee, again without much needed moral support from the prime minister.

Yet Prachanda as prime minister had a meaning for the CA processes. To many, he symbolized the change of the regime. The purano satta had gone, and the naya satta of progressive forces had been installed. A much hailed revolutionary was in the driver's seat of the nation along with his big dreaming associates. His hardcore colleagues were forced to cooperate with the openly "bourgeois" system, even if that was just a strategy to buy time. The CA members of his party were forced to sit with other members and talk about constitutional provisions rather than Maoist catchwords.

Even at the cadre level, many of his unruly people were forced to behave as cadres of the ruling party, vindicating law and order. Rebels had to talk like politicians, asking for popular support rather than issuing threats and applying duress. The "donation terror" was fast receding. A country that was passing through violence, physical threats and intimidation had started to extricate itself out of the morass. And, most important of all, many common people had started becoming futuristic. It is a precondition of any peace process.

With Prachanda gone, there is a strong likelihood of this trend being reversed. Although nobody believes that the Maoists will revert to armed revolution, Prachanda's May 4 television address gives enough indications of a protracted struggle on different fronts. It is not clear why the prime minister thought sacking Gen. Rookmangud Katawal illegally was so crucial for him at this stage. It defies any common sense inference. But he certainly knows that the more they struggle in the Maoist way, the more this country will lose its independence, territorial integrity, the rule of law and democracy.

Almost seven years ago, on Oct. 4, 2002, King Gyanendra, an inexperienced constitutional monarch, dismissed the Sher Bahadur Deuba government and assumed full executive powers, arguing that the prime minister lacked competence and was not determined to hold the election to the House of Representatives, which was already due. The beleaguered king justified his move under Article 127 of the then constitution, which gave him the power to remove difficulties in the implementation of the constitution. He knew that this provision did not allow him any substantial power of this nature or empower him to act without the advice of the prime minister.

After 15 months of the move, the king said to Time Asia magazine, "I did not dismiss the government on Oct. 4, 2002, out of my own free will. Are you saying I liked doing what I did, what I had to do? The compulsions of those days made me do what I had to..." The move proved to be a major setback to democracy.

It was not all, not definitely an isolated event. In the same vein, in Feb. 2005, the king usurped all executive powers of the state by proclaiming an emergency. He justified the proclamation by citing the failure of the political parties to take a unified approach against terrorism, their inability to hold elections in time and also their betrayal of the people's aspirations for social, political and economic justice. He did not like to receive directions from any quarters this time. After three years, he was deposed.

The peace process allowed weeding out operations and installation of the Maoists (previously "terrorists") in the government. The Interim Constitution created a powerful government and "constitutional" president to replace the undemocratic monarchy. No sooner had the president completed eight months of his tenure than he was asked to exercise executive power against the elected government. It appeared as if the rule of law had lost its cause.

The president was very much aware that he could not take any executive decision to overrule the dismissal of Gen. Katawal following a long confrontation with Prime Minister Prachanda and his party. The legal grounds for dismissal and the process he followed were certainly suspect. Again, by the time the decision was made, the government had become a minority government which could not take a decision without reaching a consensus among the major parties.

These facts did not, however, create any encumbrance on the part of the "constitutional" president to take the lead and correct the mistake. Once again, the institution of the presidency was forced to act, knowing full well that, although a little tardy, there were clear and safe avenues for the resolution of these issues. But neither was the deposed king curious about the alternatives nor the newly established Maoist prime minister, the first president of Nepal or those parties who are now trying hard to form a new government.

Wrangling for power has started again, minimizing the main business. Meanwhile, a 16-month-old tape has just been released in which the outgoing prime minister is shown very honestly explaining to his combatants the strategy to capture the state, whatever the recent rhetoric about the CA. It seems to be a planned move. The fire in the belly is out again.

These new developments will continue to cast a shadow on the commitment of this nation to get back to constitutional democracy through the CA procedures. Cultures that build are being minimized. To borrow the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington's famous remark in his 2004 book, we will suffer the fate of Sparta and Rome, if we allow this culture to wane.

Copyright @ Bipin Adhikari,