Our second Constituent Assembly (CA) election has been successfully completed. However, the post-election political developments in the country do not look as sound and promising as people had expected. In the seven weeks that have passed nothing has been achieved apart from meetings and talks between some political parties and their big bosses in luxurious hotel rooms in the name of ‘political agreement’. The so-called winners of the election, the NC and the UML, are fighting with each other in power grabbing bids. Surely the political parties should be acting much more speedily in negotiating power sharing, forming a new government and sorting out the presidential issue? Surely the national interest should at all times dominate the politics and be the central element of any debate? Yet the major parties appear to be continually obsessed with fighting over trivial issues.
The actions and omissions of the parties demonstrate that they have still to learn the lesson that the last five years were fruitless because of their wild lust for power aimed at satisfying their own personal, political, and ideological interests. A broader political consensus on major issues still seems elusive in our context. Why? Why the delay in forming a new government? What should be the role of the new Assembly in the changed political scenario?
The whole country – not to mention the international community and our many well-wishers around the world – is dumfounded by the undemocratic and negative attitude of the political parties especially the recent election winners. Everyone is asking the million dollar question today: why the delay calling the session of the new Assembly? Many further questions need to be considered in addressing the current needs of the country. What is the point of having an assembly if a few big bosses can still decide issues in the name of ‘political agreement’? Should every national issue and problem not be discussed and approved within and by the new Assembly? Does the delay not show great disrespect for the fresh mandate of the people? Why do the political parties, or a few so-called big leaders, still bargain for political bhagbanda? Have we not learnt anything from our past mistakes? Should the national interest not be the top priority, and should the making of the new constitution not be the overwhelming aim and ambition of the new CA and government? I wish to suggest a few actions that we should now be undertaking.
Firstly, the new CA must be the ultimate authority as far as decisions on any national issues and problems are concerned. It holds a fresh mandate specifically to decide on such issues. Its role is to provide the final verdict – legitimately, constitutionally and politically. The nation therefore must demand an immediate session of the CA. It is an urgent matter, and if there are any legal or practical obstacles preventing this, the focus of the political process must be to solve them without delay. All political discussion must take place in the Assembly and be approved there. We must not let the new body become the hostage of a few party leaders. What is the point otherwise of holding a hugely expensive election in our country? What is the point even having the Assembly at all? What, context is the constitutional legitimacy of any political agreement reached between a few political dons outside the Assembly? Why should we accept anything of that nature?
Secondly, we must prepare for the election of local bodies as soon as possible. Local governance is a fundamental norm of participatory democracy, of the rule of law and of responsible government. Local bodies represent an essential milestone in the bottom-up approach to proper democratic practice. To address the new political scenario and the expectations of the people, the local bodies also require a new mandate. For too long, our’s have lacked proper people’s representation, and no local election has been conducted in nearly a decade. The bodies are run through political bhagbhanda. Corruption is high in the bodies, and open corruption is reported throughout the VDCs and municipalities. We need to establish a proper investigation mechanism to flush out the truth and to punish the wrongdoers. No one should be allowed to grab tax-payers’ hard-earned cash and resources. We need to ensure that local bodies are more transparent, informed and accountable. Local elections for local bodies will provide the impetus for newly elected local leaders to take full responsibility for local governance.
Thirdly, the time is right for the establishment of the long overdue Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address war-era abuses. It is vital to establish the rule of law to overcome lawlessness and the culture of impunity but, most importantly, to establish a durable peace throughout the country. War-era criminals, no matter who they are and no matter how powerful they are, must be brought to justice as soon as possible. Now is the time for this, and the people through their vote showed their approval. It was and remains the demand of the people. Criminals already convicted by the Supreme Court as murderers and who still roam freely under political protection should be arrested immediately and imprisoned.
Some political leaders who were involved in gross human rights abuses in the wartime era and who should be tried for crimes against humanity, openly challenge the government to have them arrested and tried. I strongly believe that the government must do just that. No one should be above the law in this country, and no one should have the right to kill others in the name of politics or ideology. The government, if there is to be one, must convey a strong message that violence is never the answer, that killing is never the answer, and that there is one thing above all our citizens and that is the law or the rule of law.
Alongside the establishment of a proper Truth Commission, we must make our criminal laws more effective and efficient. Nothing should stop the state arresting and investigating any alleged abuser of human rights during the ten-year civil war. No one should be allowed to escape in the name of the so-called ‘Peace Accord’. The government must prove this time that life is not cheap in our country. At the same time, the government must prepare to ratify the Statute of the International Criminal Court in case our national mechanisms fail to punish such culprits. They should be made to know that there is no escape and that surely one day The Hague will be the final destination for many of them.
Finally, the anti-corruption movement must be given priority in our nation. The anti-corruption body itself must be made more effective and granted greater powers. We may need a new face to head this office - one who is clean, motivated, qualified and not related to any particular political party. It is widely reported that we have political leaders who are the most corrupt in the whole of South Asia. Their dramatic change in life style from rags to riches overnight is evidence of this. How did they achieve such astoundingly fast success? The whole nation is looking for an answer, and a proper investigation should start immediately.
There is, too, an unholy nexus between politicians, mafia dons and businessmen in this country. All of these should be part of the same investigation, and nobody should be spared. It is vital to give our people a sense of change in governance because until now the voice of common people has remained unheard except when it has suited the politicians.
Our country is passing through the most critical political phase since it entered into the peace process. Our aim must be to end the transition as soon as possible for we cannot go on like this forever. Alongside the above points, the real focus of the government has to be to draft a constitution. We need not start from scratch: that would only take up time unnecessarily. Agreed points from the previous CA can be recompiled and approved by the new, and only disputed issues from the last Assembly need be debated again and then approved by wide political consensus. At long last it is time to give democracy a proper chance. It will be seen to pay handsome dividends in the end.
Dr Basnet is a Researcher and Lecturer in International Human Rights Law & Constitutional and Human Rights Law Lawyer in the Supreme Court of Nepal.