Thick clouds of uncertainty hover over Nepal'shorizon as the political parties are engaged in an intense battle of nerves to maximize their gains from the split mandate in April 10 elections to the Constitution Assembly (CA). King Gyanendra must see the writing on the wall. He sealed the fate of the monarchy by gross abuse of powers and failure to gauge the popular mood. It is a worrisome scenario as Nepal'stransition to a federal democratic republic is unlikely to be smooth. The CPI (Maoist) that emerged as the single largest party with 29 per cent of popular votes and 220 of the 575 elected seats in the Constitution Assembly is engaged in hard bargaining to grab both the top offices of President and Prime Minister. Nepali Congress'sdesire that Prime Minister G P Koirala continue as either head of the government or head of the state (As of now, he is holding both the offices) has met with stiff resistance from the Maoists. Ironically, the party with 29 per cent votes claims that it is its natural right to get both the top positions but is unwilling to concede any of the two offices to the second largest party with 21.1 per cent votes and 110 seats in the Assembly. The third largest party in the Assembly CPI (UML) – that secured 20.3 per cent votes and has 103 members in the House – has come up with a reasonable proposal that each of the three major parties should have one of the three constitutional offices namely President, Prime Minister and Chairman of the CA. The maximum [x1]Maoists are willing to concede is the chairmanship of CA to Koirala keeping in view his stature and experience in public life. This is evident from party'srecent statement that the Nepali Congress leader deserves to be a ?guide? and that he can'tbe denied a role in the writing of the constitution. Implicit in Maoists? recent statements is that they don'tsee any role for NC'stop leader after the adoption of the Constitution. As for the CPI (UML), Maoists think it is an ?ideologically redundant? outfit that has lost its relevance.
NC and CPI (UML) that together have 213 members in the House against 220 of CPI (Maoist) have made it clear that they won'taccept a coalition led by Maoists unless they disband their parallel army comprising of armed outlaws, hand over to the army or destroy the weapons they have in their possession, and agree to amend the interim constitution to provide for removing an incumbent Government with a simple majority. Under the interim constitution, a 2/3rd majority is required to vote out a Government. Maoists? counter proposal is that they should be allowed to lead a coalition of all parties and that other issues, including amendments to the interim constitution, can be taken up later. This is totally unacceptable to the other two major parties for obvious reasons. Unless the simple majority clause is incorporated in the interim constitution, no one would be able to dislodge Maoist-led government for the simple reason that all non-Maoists parties together command less than 2/3rd majority in the Assembly. Add to this the uncertainty about the time the Assembly may take to frame the constitution. Several commentators are of the view that the complex task of writing a new constitution may not be completed in the stipulated two and half year. Democratic parties apprehend that once in power, Maoists may delay the process to perpetuate their rule till they succeed in foisting single party ?democracy? on Nepal .
To build a broad political consensus on the organization of states and the kind of autonomy to be granted to them pose a major challenge before the Constitution Assembly. Sections of Nepalese have grave apprehensions about the unity and integrity of the country if states were organised on ethnicity and are granted autonomy. They argue for a unitary form of government with states carved out only on administrative and geographical considerations. Avantika Regmi, a US-based Nepali intellectual, argues that a country of the size of Nepal doesn'tneed a federal structure. She accuses political parties of sowing seeds of ethno-federalism that would lead to erosion of Nepali identity. The demon of federalism, she argues, would break the country, encourage ethnic groups to fight against each other for supremacy and would eventually lead to foreign intervention that would enslave the country. This may be dismissed as an alarmist view. The ground realities can'tbe wished away. There are strong demands for autonomous states based on ethnicity. A way will have to be found to meet the aspiration of the masses. Madhesis living in the Terai region of southern Nepal launched a violent struggle and fought recent elections on their demand for an autonomous Terai with the right to self-determination. This section of Nepalese have all along been discriminated against and denied their rightful place under the Sun. Most of them are of Indian origin and culturally and linguistically close to UP and Bihar . For the first time in recent history, Madhesis have raised their voice forcefully and refuse to be treated as pariahs. However granting right of self determination to Terai may endanger territorial integrity of the country. Major political parties are also against a single state for the entire Terai on the premise that it would be too unwieldy and that Tharus and other ethnic groups living in the region have their own aspirations that can be brushed aside.
There are several crucial issues that will have to be addressed if the process of constitution making is to proceed on a consensual basis. The most controversial issue is Maoists? insistence to ?integrate? their cadres in the Nepalese army. Non-Maoist parties and senior commanders of the army are opposed to the move as it would convert a professional army into a body of indoctrinated outlaws seriously undermining army'scommand and control structure. As of now, the strength of the army is 90,000 but the Maoists? consistent refrain has been that the army'ssize should be reduced to 30,000. Their audacious game plan is too obvious to be ignored. They want the size of the army to be reduced to 1/3rd of its present size in due course, but want 20,000 of its cadres to be inducted into the army. If everything works to their plan, the Nepalese army'sprofessionalism and discipline would be compromised as the Maoist cadres inducted into the army would be more loyal to the party than to the constitution.