Friday, October 19, 2007

Referendum not the solution

By DR KHAGENDRA N SHARMA

CPN (Maoist) chairman Prachanda is reported to have said that a referendum to decide the fate of the king can be an alternative solution to the present impasse if an outright declaration from the parliament to end the monarchy is not acceptable to the Seven Party Alliance (SPA).


Let me remind Prachandaji that the UML was very loudly raising the slogan of referendum to determine the fate of the king while the interim constitution was being finalized. The UML could not garner adequate support to pass this provision and were content to make a note of dissent. The Maoists were then whole-heartedly calling for a timely constituent assembly (CA) poll and did not consider the referendum as a solution.

Now the tables are turned around. The UML does not consider referendum as a solution any longer. Why did the Maoists not support the UML proposal for a referendum then? Why does the UML not support the Maoists' call for a referendum now? Does a referendum solve the problem now? What is the real problem?

The answers are not easy to seek. First, it is a tactical problem that besets all the political parties and the leaders. They change their tone and content frequently. It is not now the stands of the Maoists and the UML are juxtaposed, and both are backtracking their earlier motives on this issue. The primary motive for all the political actors is to create an instant impact on the potential voters. So, there have been shameless changes of stands and commitments.

The major political parties appear to be guided by an insatiable hunger for power. Next they have an enormous capability of adopting any means to reach the goal of political power. Either they have no discernment between the end and the means or they follow no norm to desist from immoral means to reach a moral goal. In this sense the Maoists have superceded all the rest: in respect of their moral commitments, they can striptease in the open mass meetings.

Another side of the problem is a referendum cannot solve multiple problems. The country is trying to articulate the case of not only a kingless Nepal, but more importantly, the restructuring of the state in a satisfactory federation. The whole issue of inclusion of over a hundred claimants revolves around this problem. Such a comprehensive problem cannot be decided in a yes or no vote. This could have been properly considered and decided through a national round table conference before the drafting of the interim constitution. The Maoists did make some noise about the round table conference before joining the government, but the SPA paid no heed to it. When the Maoists joined the government, they also forgot it. When the Maoists called a round table conference after stepping out of the government, it was a tragic failure.

The third element of the problem is the inherently growing polarization between the Nepali Congress and the Maoists. That the SPA lacked unity was clear from the very beginning. After the Maoists joined in, there was a tendency to bypass other parties and start negotiation between the prime minister and Prachanda. Even the UML were ignored unless they hit back bitterly.

However, this closeness could not sustain long and rifts started to rise every now and then. The Maoists showed their fists several times and the prime minister reciprocated by his damn care method. Both were defiant. After the NC unification, the polarization has reached an irreversible peak. The recent NC meeting was not in a mood of accommodation. Nor are the Maoists relenting in their demands and conditions.

It appears that the Maoists will be isolated in their alternative demand for referendum. In terms of logistics, a referendum is as costly as a general election, except that counting of votes may be quicker in a referendum. But the referendum will only solve one problem: that of the institution of monarchy. Even after holding a referendum, a general election would be equally necessary to compose the CA for the more important problems. So, the referendum at this stage would be redundant.

The country was almost filled with the spirit of CA election. The people did not only want an end to the institution of monarchy, but they also wanted the beginning of the restructuring process through the CA election. The SPA decided to defer the CA poll and created a nationwide depression at a time when the people were really prepared to go through the poll. Even if a referendum to decide the fate of monarchy is declared now, it will be very hard to re-energize the people. The context will have changed. They will not be assured of the nature of the future form of the state. It will just be the removal of the monarchy which they had already decided to do away with during the April revolution in 2006.

Holding the CA poll had promised a number of political achievements. Some major achievements would have been the conversion of the Maoists from the armed insurgent group to a peaceful political entity, the vindication of the people's sovereignty in action, the end of the feudal social structure headed by the monarchy, and the foundation of an inclusive, participatory democratic federation of Nepal.

The direct impact of deferring the election will be the end of SPA unity (which was already thin anyway) and an endless cycle of uncertainty. The SPA could not create the congenial atmosphere for conducting the CA election. Can it be held again in a congenial atmosphere?
The SPA stood on the strength of the people's verdict expressed through the Jana Andolan II to carry out their mandate. Cancellation of the CA poll will result in the loss of that legitimacy. There will be a constitutional crisis. There may be a civil war.

If the SPA could not agree on the declaration of a republic from the parliament on the basis of the popular verdict, there is much less chance of a unanimous agreement on holding a referendum. Both the options would require an amendment to the interim constitution. While the option of declaring a republic would provide a clear slate in one step to constitute a CA for an outright democratic republic and write the new constitution accordingly, the option of the referendum would involve two step mobilization of enormous manpower and other resources. Would not that be an avoidable embezzlement of the scarce resources of a poor country?

When organizing one CA election is proving to be an exhaustive exercise for the nation, could Nepal afford the repetition of the same load in a quick succession? If the referendum is held now and it agrees to get the king going, how long can the nation wait for the rest of the problems? The transition politics is based on the SPA unity. It is already flimsy. If it is lost, there will be no legitimization for the next phase. In the ensuing fury, the people will remove both the king and the SPA from the scene. And that is a possibility.source:www.kantipuronline.com/kolnews.php?&nid=126044

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