Constitution without federalism is unimaginable

Considering the time necessary for constitution drafting, a deal on integration must take place within a week or so if both processes are to be concluded before the May 27 deadline—which is less than two months away. Pradip Gyawali, a Central Committee member of the CPN-UML, and elected member of the Constituent Assembly from Gulmi-2, spoke to Bidushi Dhungel and Bhadra Sharma about the looming deadline, integration, federalism, necessary compromises to be made by all parties and alternative scenarios after May 27. Excerpts:

If a deal on integration doesn’t take place this week or so, there will not be enough time to draft the constitution. How are you and other leaders taking this reality?

In such a situation, it’s the people that will suffer most. Ultimately, the constitution-drafting process will have to be done whereby the review time allotted to take the document to the people for suggestions and inputs will be shortened. Likewise, the time allotted for parties to come to consensus on major issues will also need to be shortened. So, if the integration process isn’t taken to an irreversible point within this week, drafting the constitution will be rather difficult.

What’s really holding the integration process back?

So far, the biggest point of difference has been those in the seven-point agreement, three points of relaxation were to be offered in the integration process. But till now what the Maoists have been trying to do was somehow undermine this framework, and conclude the process politically. And the other parties weren’t agreeing with this. After about three months of hot debate over the issue, we have now all agreed to go forward according to the 7-point agreement. Technically, one of the issues has been on the Maoist representation in the secretariat of the directorate to be formed. Another issue is the length of the bridging course. We have been saying that we should trust the Nepal Army on this issue and let them decide on the length of the course.

Even if there is a breakthrough on integration and the constitution drafting commences, there is talk of keeping federalism aside for the time being.

This idea has spread in public, but most of it is untrue. We can’t imagine a constitution without federalism. Tomorrow, maybe history will evaluate our actions about how well we have taken forward this entire process. But federalism is a non-negotiable. Having said that, a constitution is an evolving thing that we can correct and alter over time. It is a dynamic and continuous process in which some technical aspects can be added on later according to the people’s wishes. If there are gaps we can fill them in future and continue to enrich the constitution.

You mean the boundaries and names will not be decided immediately?

There are a few things on which we have already decided on: first, that Nepal will be federated. Second, that there will be basically three-tiers of federalism—centre, state, and local level. There are however some parties that wish to only have the former two and we don’t agree to this. One of the fundamental aspects of federalism is to bring government to the front yards of the people. There will be no compromise on this. Third, the states to be carved will be based on identity and capability. And fourth, that those groups that have been historically marginalised will be given some kind of provision for affirmative action or some other special provisions. Based on these, a broad framework can be agreed on. But in the remaining two months, whether we can draw clear boundaries or not, or finalise names of provinces is questionable. We will certainly try to complete it by addressing all these issues, but that isn’t guaranteed considering the time limit. But things like boundaries have also been cause for a lot of public outcry. Likewise, whether to give provinces neutral names or ethnic names is also crucial. These issues have become public interest issues and cannot be decided on hastily. Thus the constitution won’t leave out federalism, but some of its details may be decided on later.

But even on issues other than federalism, such as form of governance and electoral system, for example, have not been decided on due to lack of consensus among parties.

We have agreed on three problems that need to be addressed on system o governance: first, that stability is important when changing governments. Second, that government needs to be accountable with a system of checks and balances. Third, the government needs to be inclusive. A mixed system could be a means for compromise here.

But is a compromise possible considering the rifts among and within the parties on almost all issues?

I agree that the rifts in the parties are a big hindrance to the peace and constitution-writing process. As I see it, the UML’s rifts are there, but when it comes to compromises on major issues, the rifts don’t stand in the way. The same goes for Nepali Congress as well. The Maoists, on the other hand, are unable to manage their rift. We have been watching the divide in the party for the past few months, and the debate surrounds the very fundamentals of democracy—whether to support the peace process and democracy or not. Theirs is an ideological rift. Either the Prime Minister at this point had to quell the rift in his party, or he has to be assertive and take a stance. But there’s no time to seek excuses because of intra-party difficulties. Prolonging this peace process is only making it more difficult for the Maoists themselves. For example, if the disqualified were sent home immediately, then they wouldn’t have been dissatisfied on the level that they are today. Likewise, if those opting for voluntary retirement were thanked and sent on their way at the beginning, they wouldn’t be feeling “cheated” by the party. So the more this process stagnates, the more problems begin to brew.

In case compromise on all issues isn’t possible, is a CA extension, or new elections, an alternative?

I can’t and I don’t even want to talk to you or tell you about a post-May 27 scenario in which we haven’t drafted a constitution. We are going to be placed in a mighty difficult position. The failure of the CA means failure of the peace process. It is likely to take the country into a whole new conflict—only this time it will not be the state versus the rebels. This time it will take the shape of an ugly communal and ethnic, regional and cultural conflict. And second, considering Nepal’s geopolitical reality, we’re no longer just a buffer state. There are so many interests that are at work and play as it is—a post May 27 situation without a constitution will bring these forces into unprecedented play. There are simply no possible

alternatives. The idea of elections also holds no weight as it has no logic or justification for the people and plus the Interim Constitution has no room for such provision.

What about bringing back the 1990 constitution with some changes?

Talk of bringing back the 1990 constitution is ridiculous and will take us nowhere. The idea of taking the country some 20 to 22 years backwards is not possible. The only option is to draft a constitution, regardless of what hurdles may be on the way. It’s pointless to talk about alternatives. They are all extremist alternatives—1990 constitution, a constitution from the streets, activities of regressive forces etc.

A segment of society now thinks that the greatest fault lies in the all the parties’, including UML, lack of a vision for what they wish a new Nepal to truly embody. What do you make of this?

I don’t disagree. The base, framework and ideological identity from which the parties came are no longer relevant to the people and their needs. All ideological identities are in a state of crisis. Take the NC for example, until the 1990s, they represented the idea of constitutional monarchy and neoliberal polity. Now, the monarchy is gone, and neoliberalism is in a state of crisis globally. But so far, the NC hasn’t been able to or wished to review and revisit its identity. The Maoists roots are found in a one-party authoritarian model that takes shape through armed revolt. But both of these beliefs have failed and they have joined the mainstream, although they keep carrying their

ideological baggage. The Madhes-based parties are not truly formed as parties as yet—they came up as reactionary force and still remain that way. To a large extent, the UML did try to redefine the democratic needs of today, at least in ideological terms, for a stable democracy with social justice as a means for change. But unfortunately, we have also failed in its implementation. In Nepal, change came at such a rapid pace that the political parties have been unable to keep up.

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