The package deal should not include constitutional issues

DEC 10 -

Back in 2005, before the Maoists came into mainstream politics, some leaders from the Nepali Congress were already making attempts to reach out to them. Among them was NC leader Dr Shekhar Koirala who went on to win a seat in the Constituent Assembly from Morang-7. The NC altogether, however, fared poorly in the 2008 elections and its peformance in Tarai was dismal. Koirala’s stance on the Maoists has hardened since and he now claims that it is the Maoists who do not desire another CA election and that they are stalling the process by not allowing the current government to resign. In conversation with the Post’s Bidushi Dhungel, Koirala spoke about the deadlock and the NC’s preparations for the next elections.

The FDRA, led by the Maoists, recently decided that the only way forward was a “package deal”. The opposition, including the NC, has been against the “package deal” idea. Will the FDRA’s new stance pose as a major hurdle now?

We haven’t been clear. We are not against a package deal. What’s important is the content of the package deal. For example, the date of the election has to be in the deal, along with the number of representatives in the new CA—how many directly elected and how many proportionally represented. If we are going to keep the constituency delineation at 240, then PR will have to go down—not more than 100. We can’t have more than 340 representatives in the CA. Third, how to deal with constitutional posts that are becoming vacant through consensus; this also has to be a part of the package. On these issues, we have to proceed via a package deal. But what the Maoists and FDRA are saying is that the package should also include agreement on components of the constitution. But my question to them is: if there is to be a deal on the content of the constitution, why didn’t the CA draft the constitution in the first place? Also, since we’re readying to go for another election to a CA, it doesn’t make sense to discuss the contents of the constitution right now—we can’t. So we are not against a package deal but we can only support a package deal that doesn’t include constitutional issues.

What about the issue of government formation?

Yes, that could be package deal in so far as who gets what ministries.

And aside from government, the things I’ve mentioned before would be part of the package.

So the NC is not demanding the resignation of PM Baburam Bhattarai before any agreement is made?

In order for the current government to go, a package deal is what we need. We can do that together. I don’t think the NC has been able to make this clear. It’s not that we’re asking for resignation first before any agreement can even be discussed.

The NC has declared its candidate for PM finally as Sushil Koirala after a long internal struggle. Why Sushil Koirala?

Government leadership is the NC’s legitimate political claim now. In so far as Sushil Koirala is concerned, he should be the PM because he is now the party’s consensus candidate. The UML, Maoists and others were asking for a candidate from the NC so we declared Koirala. The catch here is that the Maoists never expected that the NC would be able to come up with a consensus candidate, which means that they still haven’t understood the culture and workings of our party. They assumed that we would be caught up in intra-party wrangling and never come up with a candidate. But we proved them wrong.

There is a school of thought that argues that the NC wants the leadership to postpone and delay elections and the constitution.

It is basically the Maoists and the Madhesi Morcha who hold this opinion. They call the NC “anti-federalist”. If you look at the NC’s CA manifesto

and the paper of the party’s 12th convention, it clearly says that the NC is going for federalism. It is true however that the NC doesn’t accept the kind of ethnic federalism as envisioned by the Maoists and Morcha. And it will not accept this today or tomorrow either. The 10-state model which they are advocating—eight in the hills and two in the Madhes—is not acceptable for the NC.

It was understood that prior to the CA being dissolved, an agreement on federalism had already been made.

Yes, that was for 11 states—not 10. We are against ethnic federalism, that’s all. And according to the leading coalition that makes us “anti-federalists” and “status-quoists.” The NC has its own idea about federalism and that is allowed, is it not? The second thing which is being debated now is the matters of the constitution. Within that, there are two things—the system of governance, which the Maoists think should be mixed and with a directly-elected president. We think there should be parliamentary system. If we go for what the Maoists want, a Dalit can never make it to the top in politics, and low-level Janajatis can also never make it to high positions. But the parliamentary system would allow for that. Since we cannot agree, that’s why we have been saying that the CA can deal with these issues.

The public mood seems to be apprehensive of all parties, making them afraid of elections. There are also those who argue that the NC in particular is afraid of polls.

When the 2008 elections happened, even in a situation of fear and violence propagated by the Maoists, we got 23 lakh votes, which is not a joke. The Maoists got 29 lakh, even as all their fear and violence mechanisms were in full swing. They won the directly elected seats using these mechanisms and that is one aspect. NC’s performance in the last election was the worst—there’s no room to perform more poorly and the situation is not such. Compared to then, our performance, in terms of our visits to the constituencies and districts, has improved. Definitely, we’ll do better than we did the last time. That’s why the NC is the only party that wants CA election. The Maoists and Morcha don’t want it now because they will not do better than last time. If we can keep democracy on track, then that would be a win for the NC as a democratic party. Winning or losing is not that important. But democracy must win and elections ensure that.

 Analysts of the NC say that one major reason for the NC’s poor performance is that the party has detached itself from the grassroots. Do you agree?

I agree with that. But we have to look at the genesis of that. When the Maoist armed movement began, the NC’s crème cadres, the ones in the villages, were killed by the Maoists. As a result, slowly the village cadres of our party left the villages and moved to urban areas. Even today, there is still a sense of fear among many NC cadres as the Maoists still haven’t returned their seized property. That is a fact. I remember when the 2006 election took place, many of the NC candidates who had tickets to run, never once went to their constituencies but fought for the election. That is now slowly improving. I won’t say that we’ve reached all corners and districts already again, but we’re working on that and it’s better than it was in 2008. Not just me, but many like me are now making it a point to frequently go to our constituencies.

Do you think that the public image of the party has tarnished since its heyday in the early 1990s?

A party is always evolving. The problem with the NC is that we fought against the Panchayat system for 30 years. When 1990 finally came, if you look at the development that happened after, it wasn’t bad—be it in media, education, technology etc. But what we failed to do is make the process inclusive. We didn’t realise that democracy is supposed to be inherently inclusive—we shouldn’t have even needed that prefix. The other fault was that we focussed more on the private sector than on the social sector. We should have been able to focus on developing a welfare state along with private sector development. It is however to be noted that the entire world was on that privatisation frenzy and everyone, including the NC, seemed to forget about social welfare.

If elections are to be held next year, there needs to be agreement within the next couple of weeks. What could be the meeting ground?

Look, the meeting ground is that Baburam Bhattarai has to resign. In other terms, there is no meeting ground. On this, there can be no compromise. We gave him a chance and joined his government once already. But they didn’t even have a plan to promulgate a new constitution and that’s clear now, so there’s no chance we could join this government. He couldn’t even materialise the elections he called for in November. He should have resigned then.

What guarantee is there that the new CA will deliver a constitution on time?

This is a million-dollar question. The signs are such that it seems like the mandate will be even more fractured than before. What we need to do is agree beforehand that if any issue cannot be agreed on through a two-thirds majority, we should go for a referendum immediately on those issues. And I can identify those issues right now—like ethnic federalism, for example. We have to make that agreement before the election so as to have a mechanism in place to make sure that by the end of a year of the next CA, we either have a constitution or we go for a referendum. Unfortunately, this hasn’t made it to the discussion table yet, but I will be pushing this agenda forward with my colleagues.

Posted on: 2012-12-10 08:45