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Running in circles

"A national consensus government without opposition is a risky choice"

Bipin Adhikari
The Kathmandu Post
May 9, 2012

Only 19 days remain to promulgate a new constitution. In this challenging situation that req-uires honest, concentrated efforts to resolve the disputed issues, the leaders of major parties are acting on yet another five-point agreement to form a national consensus government.

The top leaders have tried to build on the seven-point agreement of October 31, 2011, which maintained, among other things, that a consensus government should be formed along with constitution-building work. This would have been worthwhile at this critical hour if there was any agreement regarding the important matters of constitution-building first. A consensus government could have been envisioned based on such an agreement. But the idea of focusing on a consensus government while ignoring the constitution-making process gives enough grounds to critical observers to smell a rat on the alternative scenario being created in the country.

Building a constitution and forming a national government are two different things. It is not necessary to be in the government to make the constitution. In fact, even the ones not in the Constituent Assembly have assisted the constitution-building process. Besides, from the perspective of parties in opposition, it is easier to clarify ones principles and ideologies while not in the government. So why has the issue of forming a consensus government been associated with the constitution, which must be the only focus, at this hour? The question is puzzling, and the top leaders have not been able to clarify the reasons.

Forming a consensus government cannot be refuted in some difficult situations. But this country is not at war. The civil processes have somehow restarted. There are no disastrous problems with the general administration. The peace and security situation has improved compared with last year. There is no state of national emergency. There is no economic or financial crisis warranting revolutionary measures. In fact, if there is any problem, then it is regarding the character and culture of the political leadership. There is a problem with the irresponsible view of this group regarding the priorities of the country. This problem is not going to be solved by forming a national consensus government.

So, then, why is a consensus government needed at this juncture? If Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai is acceptable today, why is he unacceptable for May 27? Why should the Prime Minister leading the constitution-making process be removed on the day of its promulgation? What issues, undecided by the previous and the government, are to be decided by the new consensus government? These questions need answers.

In times of peace the role of the opposition is a pre-requisite to make the concept of constitutionalism functional, or to ensure that the rule of law is implemented and good governance carried out. If the people claiming to be leaders were not incapable, dishonest or unreliable then no democracy would require an opposition. The existence of an opposition is not only a preparation for the next government but also for the constant monitoring of the current one entrusted to rule. If any wrongful step is being taken by the government, the opposition is required to inform the people and warn the government.

Parties in opposition help bring the other sides and issues on the table. If the opposition is also inducted in the consensus government then there are no parties in the parliament to raise issues of national interest. The current situation needs to be analysed appropriately. There is a competition between the people wanting to continue with an undivided far-west and the people wanting a so called autonomous Tharuhat in the south. There are slogans of ethnic provinces in the east. There is opposition to that in the west. Some extremists have already struck in Janakpur. As May 27 approaches, the possibility of wrong decisions being taken secretly and enforced by the consensus government is also increasing. Moreover, it will be a great misfortune if the new constitution cannot be enforced. If it fails to side with the pride of an inviolable Nepal, with its nationality and democracy, it will create an untenable situation. In such a scenario the people need to get their voices heard. For this reason, at least one of the major parties—UML, Nepali Congress or UCPN (Maoist) needs to remain in the opposition.

There will be smaller parties in the CA or the Legislature Parliament who will express their opinions about the decisions being made. But any national movement these small parties may attempt will be weak. There is no shortage of parties who simply dismiss these parties as "regressive" to hide their own regressive overtones. Recently, there were reports of death threats sent from outside Nepal against the leader of Rashtriya Janamorcha, Chitra Bahadur KC, who is known to be a vocal critic of federalism. This fact, known to the leaders of the big parties, shows that the smaller parties are being intimidated. And who knows to what extent they are being silenced. In the current situation a weak opposition is unlikely to be able to fulfill its responsibilities. It is, therefore, unwise to bring up the idea of a national consensus government at this juncture.

Today the nation is in danger of another type. Attempts are being made to rush through changes that are difficult to be actualised through a democratic process. The inability to build a new constitution will deepen this danger. In such an important hour, the talk of forming consensus government call into question the moral aspect of the political parties, but also places the nation under threat of bigger conspiracies.

The chief duty of the major political parties is to focus on the constitution. Today is the time to clarify the beliefs, principles and ideologies on the table. There is no time to waste by running after an elusive consensus government, especially since powerful forces who want Nepal to kneel down are everywhere. Rather than a consensus national government, a strong opposition is required to counter this game of throes.

Adhikari is a constitutional expert

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