Constitution coming by May 27: Sitaula
Nepali Congress General Secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula is one of the key negotiators involved in all ups and downs of the peace process since its very beginning when the then rebel Maoists and the Seven-Party Alliance inked the historic 12-point agreement in 2005 to end the 10-year conflict and replace the monarchy with a republic.
Sitaula, who worked closely with late Girija Prsasad Koirala in bringing the former rebels in mainstream politics, is equally active in completing the unfinished business of the peace process. Kamal Raj Sigdel and Bhadra Sharma of The Kathmandu Post caught up with Sitaula right after a crucial three-party meeting on Friday afternoon that made a new breakthrough in the peace process. Excerpts:
The parties were supposed to make a major breakthrough on army integration today. What did the three-party meeting decide?
Today, the major parties have agreed to formulate two bills relating to Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Disappeared Commission on consensus basis. We agreed on formulation of bills and will sit for the next round of talks tomorrow.
What was agreed on integration?
It was just a reiteration of what was already agreed. The integration process will now advance in accordance with the seven-point deal. We have agreed that the Special Committee will again provide opportunity for the remaining cantoned combatants to opt for voluntary retirement. A group has already left the cantonments in line with what we agreed in the seven-point deal. Out of the rest, a maximum of 6,500 will be integrated in the Nepal Army based on their individual qualifications. NA will fix their ranks. The government will take both the arms and cantonments under its control. The SC will take decision in this line and army integration process will be completed very soon.
Have you agreed to any time-bound action plan?
Tentatively, we’ve agreed that vacation of the cantonments, initiation of integration process and the act of referring the combatants to the Army and handing over of weapons to the government will be completed within seven to 10 days.
How did you sort out the contentious issue such as rank harmonisation?
Let me make it clear that we are not for rank harmonisation. There is no such term in any agreement so far. It is rank determination and the Army will take a call on that based on its standard norms.
So, do you mean that the Maoist leadership agreed to complete the integration process without rank determination?
Yes. They have agreed to complete the peace process for which the seven-point agreement was signed. There is no political understanding to offer top post to the combatants. The NA will fix their ranks as per its criteria. Rank fixation is purely a matter concerned with the NA and we don’t have expertise on that. We do not know whether the Maoist combatants are eligible for the post of constable or general in the NA.
However, we can discuss if the Army comes across any dispute or difficulty during the integration process. Political decisions on recruitment of army is not accepted anywhere in the world.
Was not rank a major issue of haggling ?
It was not an issue. The Maoist leadership had already agreed to move on. But the media was raising it in vain.
What exactly was stalling the integration process for the last four months since the seven-point deal was signed?
It’s purely because of the Maoist intra-party rift, the Baidya faction’s opposition.
But the intra-party rift in the Maoists has not been resolved yet. How can you assure that the integration process will now complete?
It seems the Maoist leadership has come up with courage to end the peace process. We can guess that as well.
If you look backwards, the seven-point deal brought similar optimism but it remained unimplemented, as you said, with the problem within the Maoists, mainly the Baidya faction’s opposition. How can you assure there won’t be any more hurdles?
We believe the Maoist chairman will persuade them. If you look at Nepali Congress, when Shusil da signs a deal, we also respect it. There is no ideological difference among the Maoist factions but it is more a tussle for power among the leaders. Had not Kiran proposed Baburam Bhattarai as prime ministerial candidate? Prachandaji accepted the proposal only after Dhobighat alliance. We should not pay more attention to their internal conflict. We want to deal with chief of the concerned party and that’s it.
When you compromise and take a decision, you never expect you will be praised by all. There will be critics. All the agreements that we signed so far beginning with the 12-point pact have courted controversy in each party, as these documents were not of any specific party. That is the nature of agreement too.
What do you think triggered the Maoist leadership for this ‘courage’?
Time is running out fast. Leaders have felt both pressure and realisation of their responsibility.
Is this development a part of larger give and take, which also includes agreements contentious issues of the new constitution, for example, forms of governance?
There is no such deal. We all have agreed to concentrate on the constitution writing once the integration process reaches an irreversible stage. However, the parties have been discussing formally and informally at the dispute resolution committee, constitutional committee and other forums on constitution writing as well.
Until recently, the Maoist leaders were firm on their stance that both
peace and statue should go parallel.
Have they given up?
They have neither given up nor stuck to their position. It all depends on how you interpret the developments. In fact, both are progressing.
Both the army integration and the statute writing are reaching an irreversible point. We will be promulgating the new constitution by May 27 and by then the army integration will not have completed completely. The issues such as rank determination will take time.
What has been agreed on government formation? Will the incumbent government continue?
Baburamji should quit after the army integration process completes. The process should be completed within seven days. All the work related to the integration process may not be completed within seven days. But this government should quit shortly.
Does that mean the Bhattarai-led government will be replaced before May 27?
Yes. Before May 27. I have confidence that NC-led unity government will be formed and it will promulgate the constitution by May 27. NC’s government will hold general elections.
However, the Maoist party has also proposed us to join the current government after vacating the cantonments. The NC is yet to discuss this issue.
Given the timeframe and the contentious issues, don’t you sound little overconfident when you say parties can deliver constitution before May 27?
We can do it. There are only five issues to be resolved in constitution writing. Of them, leaders have sorted out issues related to judiciary. I firmly believe that the parties will adhere to what judges suggested the other day.
On federalism, there will be 7 to 8 provinces, perhaps seven. Bordering and naming of the provinces is a little bit difficult issue but this too will be sorted out. On forms of governance, the leaders will discuss. NC has been proposing
the parliamentary system but the Maoist party is firm on directly elected presidential system.
UML is in favour of directly elected prime ministerial system. UML’s proposal is not so good. Directly elected president is better than what the UML has proposed.