CA polls impossible without both sides in peace process on board
CPN-UML Politburo member Pradeep Gyanwali has been active in the peace and constitution making process right from the signing of the 12-point accord in 2005 and is considered a strong ideological voice in the party. Biswas Baral talked to Gyanwali, who is also UML spokesperson, about the current political process and UML’s role in.
The second extended deadline the President set for formation of consensus government has expired. Why is the process stuck?
The reason we have not had a breakthrough so far is because of the constant Maoist flip-flop on important issues. This kind of Maoist tactic makes agreements impossible. For a long time the Maoists said they were open for a new government if the opposition parties could put forth their PM candidate. In this backdrop, Nepali Congress proposed Sushil Koirala as the party’s official PM candidate and UML endorsed his candidacy. But no sooner had NC settled on its candidate, the Maoists came up with new preconditions. This unpredictable and devious Maoist attitude has been the biggest hurdle to formation of new government. In this climate, I don’t see a breakthrough on the horizon.
What is the UML bottom-line on consensus government?
We have four conditions. First, election of new CA by coming May. Second, clearing the hurdles to new CA polls through consensus, which entail constitutional amendments, appointment of election commission officials and finalization of the shape and representation structure of new CA. Our third condition is that the work completed by the old CA must find continuity in the new CA. Fourth, we believe consensus government is a must to achieve all these goals. UML’s roadmap has consensus government as its starting point, and election of new CA and promulgation of new constitution the end point. Our main focus will be shortening the period of transition through timely CA polls. We have already had signs that if we let the transition continue indefinitely, all progressive changes since 2006 could be reversed. Also, our geopolitical reality is such that the longer the transition, the more the prospects of foreign meddling.
The ruling Maoist party has said it is ready to exercise ‘maximum flexibility’. Do you imply that their words are not replicated in their actions?
The current Maoist proposal is very ambiguous. At a personal level, I do not trust them yet. Although the Maoists have been making these public pronouncements, what we find in reality is that their only goal at present is to prolong their hold on power. Until and unless the Maoists show their flexibility through concrete steps, words alone count for little.
You said you don’t see possibility of a breakthrough in near future. Why?
A breakthrough is unlikely because the Bhattarai government can only be removed in one of two ways: either through consensus or through street pressure. Whatever they say, the Maoists are yet to show the kind of flexibility needed for a breakthrough, which precludes chances of consensus. At present, there is also no prospect of the kind of strong protests that will be needed to oust the government. I also suspect the forces that are backing the Bhattarai government would like to see the recent split in the Maoist party formalized. They might thus be waiting for the upcoming general convention of the Mohan Baidya-led Maoist party (Jan 9-13) to cement the division.
How do you evaluate the conditions of the ruling coalition for leadership change?
We had kept the option of CA revival open until September. We wanted to give legitimacy to the work carried out by the expired CA. But now, we have again come back to the alignment witnessed on May 27. At the time, the Maoists refused to back away from their stand of single-identity federal model. The other parties were in no position to concede to this demand. Now the same polarization is reappearing as the Maoists have decided to go back on our earlier (post CA dissolution) agreement that these issues can only be resolved through fresh mandate. Now, for the Maoists to say that these issues should be settled before formation of new government under NC leadership is political dishonesty and a ploy to prolong the impasse. This only heightens our suspicion that the Maoists are reluctant to let go of their hold over the government.
But isn’t it logical to seek agreements on issues that led to CA’s dissolution? Otherwise, won’t the constitution making process be stalled again over the same issues?
First of all, if those issues could have been settled, we would have had a constitution by May 27. In the lead up to May 27, we had proposed that a constitution be promulgated by incorporating the agreed points, leaving the resolution of a few contentious issues for another date. Back in September, we proposed the revival of CA to settle these issues. But even this effort failed to bear fruit. Like I said, to insist now that these issues be settled before formation of new government is political dishonesty. This again makes us suspicious that the Maoists are afraid of elections.
But the ruling alliance seems to believe the exact opposite, that it is the ‘status quoist’ NC and UML who are against election.
There are certain fundamental issues which decide if a party is progressive or regressive. In the past, UML has consistantly spoken in favor of a republic in place of an authoritarian monarchy. Was that a status qoist stand? Or is our refusal to accept any kind of authoritarian rule and speaking in favor of full-fledged democracy and pluralism status quoist? What about our advocacy of inclusion and democracy with social justice? The reason the Maoists blame us of being status quoist is because they are wont to giving their extremist positions revolutionary colors. For a long time, they were against independent judiciary.
They were advocating guided democracy where only ‘progressive forces’ would be allowed to compete. It is because of their faulty lens that they see parties like UML as status quoist forces. In fact, if you look at the shift in Maoist ideology in recent times, it seems they are slowly moving from the extreme left to the extreme right. While once they championed class-based policies, they now champion caste-based politics. At one time, the Maoists were identified with extreme nationalism, now they have become completely subservient to foreign masters. At one time Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai had announced that since true socialists are corrupted by power, they would never enter government. Now, they are ready to ally themselves with just about any force to stick to power.
Since CA polls seem to be the common agenda of all major forces, what is wrong in joining the current government to reach that goal?
UML was in the same Bhattarai-led government before CA’s dissolution. In fact, Baburamji became one of only two leaders (along with GP Koirala) who got to lead a consensus government post 2006. This was a great opportunity for him. Showing great magnanimity, we joined the government against a prime minister the party had voted against during the voting for new prime minister in CA. Baburamji misused this historic opportunity. When he decided to move ahead unilaterally on May 27, we considered it a political betrayal. Second, Bhattarai showed no remorse for the demise of the CA under his watch, even though he had assumed government leadership with the promise of completing the peace and constitution process. Third, he showed no regret for his failure to hold the Nov 22 election which he had announced himself. This way, he has lost the moral and constitutional grounds to lead the country. This is the reason there is no possibility of going into election under Baburam Bhattarai’s leadership.
But that still doesn’t answer the question: If CA polls are the end goal, why don’t opposition parties clear the way towards election by joining the Bhattarai government?
If we were going for a regular parliamentary election, the question of government leadership would have been immaterial. But the new election will be for a Constituent Assembly, which is a modality of conflict resolution accepted by the two sides (the then Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists) to the peace process. Both the sides should agree to elect a new CA. CA polls cannot be announced on a unilateral basis. Even if you look at 2008 CA polls, they were held only after we brought the Maoists into the government. Before the Maoists entered the government, CA polls had to be postponed time and again. This again goes to show CA polls are not possible without all relevant stakeholders of the peace process on board.
Let us come to the party’s internal matters. A section under Ashok Rai recently broke away from the party. Separately, old divisions seem to have resurfaced during the ongoing central committee meeting. It appears that UML is a divided house even after Rai’s exit.
Basically, the party is united. The issues that have emerged at the ongoing central committee meeting are isolated. In any case, these have been settled following self-criticism of standing committee leaders who seemed to have taken certain decisions without due process or without broad consent. The speculation in the media that old divides have resurfaced is not well grounded. It is not unusual for democratic parties to witness issue-based groupings, but of late even those divisions have been largely bridged. As far as Ashok Rai and some of his followers’ exit from the party is concerned, yes, it was an unfortunate development for UML.
What is UML’s stand on the option of a non-political candidate for government leadership?
We are not ready to accept that option. The parties might be weak, and so might the politicians. But we are not ready to hand the country over to an individual, thereby giving the message that the whole party-based political system is dysfunctional. Even though the parties have many limitations and constraints, they should have the final say in deciding the country’s fate. It would not be wise to seek solutions from outside major parties. I believe the Maoists should not make the question of government leadership an ego issue and be ready to go into new election under Nepali Congress leadership. The Maoists must be aware that efforts are already underway to take the country on a radically different path, one that could undermine all progressive changes since 2006.