Constitution writing process has become undemocratic
Elected member of the Constituent Assembly from Laltipur-3 and a Central Committee member of UCPN(Maoist), Pampha Bhusal is considered a ‘hardliner’ close to the Mohan Baidya ‘Kiran’ faction of the party. With 70 days remaining before the Constituent Assembly expires on May 27, this faction has announced a protest programme to force the Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s government to resign and pave the way for a national unity government, which it believes will make it easier to conclude the peace and constitution-writing process. The Post’s Gyanu Adhikari spoke with Bhusal to discuss Maoist views on the new constitution and the hurdle it faces.
Some politicians, including Sher Bahadur Deuba, have recently said that the 1990 constitution can be resurrected with some modifications. What is the Maoist view on this?
Impossible. The 1990 constitution is dead. You can do many things in this age of science and technology, but you can’t bring back to life a dead thing. As far as comparisons go, the interim constitution is better than that of 1990—it accepts federalism, republicanism, proportional representation, secularism and inclusion.
The communists usually like to divide political forces into friends and foes. What are the major political forces within the Constituent Assembly and outside of it?
There’s a force that’s regressive and reactionary, which wants to go back. But it’s weak. I don’t think this force will be able to regain power in the near future. The major challenge today is posed by the status-quoists. Those who talk of the good old days of the 1990s, and don’t want to move forward, are primarily in the Nepali Congress. This is the biggest force backing the status quo. And there’s the CPN-UML. It is supposed to be a communist party, and people voted for it for that reason. But a faction of UML wants to maintain the status quo, probably for two reasons. The first reason is that the CA, federalism and proportional representation was not its agenda to begin with. Second, ultimately, all politics is based on class. Whose class interests do you represent? Both of these parties, primarily the Nepali Congress, attracts the well to do, feudals, elites and the broker capitalists of this society. Although UML gets its votes by calling itself communist, it serves the class interest of the same group.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle in writing a new constitution?
It depends on how forward we want to move. As I said, the real quarrel is between the status quoists and the progressives. This is becoming a matter of ego. Lately, the constitution-writing process has become undemocratic. Mostly, it’s the three or four politicians of the big parties who sit together. There’s one politician, the Maoist, representing the progressive interest in these meetings, but there are three other politicians there who represent the status quo. They think that they’re the majority in the closed-door meetings. But the reality is different if you accept the result of the people’s votes. This clash between the status quoists’ ego and the reality of progressive politics manifests in all issues in the CA.
Which issues in particular are you referring to?
Although it appears that the debate is technical—presidential or prime ministerial system—this is not really important. From a class perspective, it’s not guaranteed that a presidential or a prime ministerial system ensures the interests of the working class. The major issue is whether the people get their rights or not. People are demanding the right to rule themselves. This demand for self rule manifests in the issue of proportional representation and inclusion — and federalism.
So where do the parties differ on federalism?
The reason we want federalism is that power resides at the centre, out of reach for people. If federalism with special rights is established, people in Jumla will be able to compete with those in Kathmandu and so will Mahdesis and those who live in Kathmandu. So it’s a question of rights and opportunities. Again, we Maoists want to give these rights, but the status quoists do not. You might know that we made the commitment to the people before the CA even existed. But four years after the CA, the Nepali Congress has not, officially, proposed a federal model. The State Restructuring Committee of the CA proposed 14 states. The Nepali Congress doesn’t accept it. Then a State Restructuring Commission was formed, as the Nepali Congress wanted. But they won’t accept that either.
Rather than not have a constitution at all because of disagreements on federalism, isn’t it better to have one that contains a basic framework and commitments?
That’s just a ploy. The people voted for federalism. We cannot postpone it. Instead, we should put it into practice right away and make refinements as we go. Also, no constitution lasts forever. Even this Interim Constitution has been amended eight or nine times. The thing is that the ruling class is scared of losing power. Similarly, international power centres find it much easier to pull strings if there is a single centre. With a federal model with 12 or so provinces, it’ll be much more difficult for them to maintain their interests.
Let’s change track. Why are there so few female politicians at the top level?
Let’s put it this way, there’s a lot of contradiction between a man who is born as a born ruler, and a woman who develops her abilities despite all obstacles. And it’s not only women. There’re no indigenous or Dalits at top positions either. In Nepal, our tradition dictated that only educated, rich, upper class males did politics. The political environment change a little after 1990.
The constitution then guaranteed representation of five percent women. This wasn’t enough.
How are the women organising to push their demands?
We have a women’s caucus which cuts across party lines. None of the males in the CA will openly oppose the caucus’ demands because half the electorate is women. All the women agree on 50 percent representation. The Maoists want 50 plus, that is special rights on top of proportional representation. I’ve noticed that those who oppose federalism come up with argument also tend to be dismissive about women’s issues. Ultimately, if the constitution gets written in a democratic way, it’ll be in favour of women, indigenous and other marginalised people. But if it gets written in closed rooms in five-star hotels, it won’t be in their favour.
Looking at the process so far, has the constitution writing process been democratic?
People look at the CA and expect it to deliver, and CA members get a lot of flak for taking their salary and not doing the job. But the 601 CA members have had almost no role since the last two years. No CA member has a role except to raise their hands when the CA gets extended. I asked the CA Chairman not to make it so undemocratic. It’s no use for him to go on stage and preach to the parties to agree with each other. The head of the Constitutional Committee, Nilambar Acharya, is also responsible.
Why hasn’t more debate taken place in the CA?
They don’t want it. The irony is that the CA was the beginning of a very democratic process, but for the last two years and four months, it hasn’t functioned. The thematic committees have officially submitted their reports. They can come up with a document, a draft constitution based on these reports to be discussed. This can draft can include the minority view. This draft, then, can be presented to the CA and we can debate, article by article, on every provision.
So who is actually engaged in constitution-making?
I don’t feel proud any longer that I won the election for the CA. Only five or so people in the CA actually have a role today. What can I do? I can’t call a meeting, I’m not the Chairman of the CA. Nor does the Chairman of my party ask for a CA meeting. He goes to a room, politicians from three other parties join him, and he comes out as a minority. Granted, constitution is a result of consensus, and we don’t want to see the constitution torn the day it’s promulgated.
Your faction of the Maoist party wants to force PM Baburam Bhattarai to resign and form a unity government. Won’t that be a distraction from the main task of writing the constitution?
No, what’s the government done to help with constitution writing? Not everyone feels ownership of this government. Even we Maoists don’t feel like this is our government. We opposed the four-point agreement since the beginning as anti-national. The BIPPA, the proposed Act on extradition and the current agreements from then onwards followed from that foundation—these are the issues we raised while preparing the groundwork for the ‘People’s War’. This government is not good for the people, or the nation. It’s discrediting the Maoist movement. Besides, consensus on the constitution requires power sharing. Even Baburam Bhattarai has repeatedly said this.
The drum beats for a unity government have sounded for more than a year. Isn’t this an untimely call when there are only 70 days left before the CA expires?
Of course not. As you know, a lot of the time, we churn out compromises very quickly—usually around midnight.