It is very hard to wait for news when you know that something really meaningful and important is about to happen; we in Nepal experienced this last Friday, May 28 - the last day of the two-year term for the Constituent Assembly (CA). From early morning, Constituent Members were seen on the premises; they had been asked to arrive for the 8am start of the formal session. I knew that by midnight the political parties would have to take a decision had about the term of the CA. From the morning, I was constantly checking the news and talking to people who might know more, including some members of the CA. From morning until midnight, I did not move away from the internet, phone and television for even a minute. The reason for the high tension is that the stakes are so high - there remains a really possibility of Nepal returning to violence.
Meetings and consultations between political leaders rapidly increased as the day went on. On the one hand, the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN (M)) was sticking to its position that the Prime Minister Madhav Kumar should first step down, then the extension to the CA could be discussed. On the other hand, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) were also sticking to their agendas, of some sort of package deal with some of the major issues in the peace process -such as People's Liberation Army (PLA) integration and rehabilitation, the dissolution of the paramilitary structure of the Young Communist League (YCL), and the return of seized property. All the while, the country remained hostage to what happened in the negotiations and we lived in fear that the country could return to violence at midnight.
Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal met President Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, the Home Minister and other ministers of the cabinet. Top leaders of the major political parties were engaging in last minute efforts to break the deadlock. Finally, the major three political parties had reached three-point agreements and the session of the CA began at 11.45 pm - just 15 minutes to midnight. The three-point agreements are as follows:
- We are firmly committed to consensus and cooperation to take the peace process to a logical conclusion and to immediately complete the remaining tasks of the peace process and accomplish the historic responsibility of writing a new constitution.
- Though significant progress has been made toward constitution drafting process, all the works have not been completed yet. So we have agreed to extend the term of the constituent assembly by one year.
- We are ready to move ahead on the basis of consensus to accomplish the above-mentioned responsibilities and works as soon as possible by forming a national consensus government. We would like to make it clear that the prime minister of the present coalition government is ready to resign as soon as possible.
Although the time of the constituent assembly has been extended for a year, the contentious issues will still have to be addressed - both between the main political parties and those inside the CA.
The most contentious points are basically between the main political parties, the UCPN (Maoists), NC and CPN-UML, and are as follows:
- Implementation of the past agreements basically focusing security issues: (a) integration and rehabilitation of the PLA, (b) dissolution of the paramilitary structure of the YCL and (c) democratization of the Nepal army (the really tough one);
- Power sharing: The UCPN (Maoists) is the largest party in the CA but not in the peace process and the constituent making process. That is one of the reasons why the UCPN (Maoists) has been demanding the new national government be under its leadership.
The contentious issues inside the constituent assembly are:
- State restructure: The model of federalism and number of the provinces for the future federal country;
- Model of the governance: Presidential vs Prime Ministerial system;
- System of the judiciary.
The contentious issues inside and outside of the constituent assembly have a direct impact on the peace process and have halted both constitution making process and peace process since last year.
The three-point agreement has been already misinterpreted, before the ink has even dried. Some of the leaders of NC and CPN-UML are saying that according to the three-point agreement Prime Minister will only resign after UCPN(Maoists) has implemented the other two agreements. But the UCPN(Maoists) is claiming that Prime Minister has to resign first to make way out to do other businesses. It seems that this debate is still not resolved, and although the CA will have another year to resolve such issues, the peace process and the constitution making process remains at a standstill.