Prachanda: We Stand by our Inclusive, Federal Nepal Pledge
Posted by Harry Sims on May 10, 2011
This interview comes from ekantipur.com.
“The new constitution will have to create a win-win situation for all. That means all parties will have to compromise and adjust. But there are few things we have all agreed on. At the outset of this process we have agreed on a constitution through the Constituent Assembly and that there will be a progressive and inclusive restructuring of the state”.
We stand by our inclusive, federal Nepal pledge
Barely 18 days are left for the expiry of CA, but given the glacial progress, it is unlikely that it will deliver a constitution on time. Instead the discussions are now centred on making irreversible progress on the peace process and finalising a preliminary draft of the constitution by May 28. The Maoists as the largest party in the CA are leading the political parleys. In his first exclusive interview with Akhilesh Upadhyay and Kamal Dev Bhattarai after the crucial Maoist Central Committee meeting on April 29—which decided that peace and constitution would remain the party’s core focus until the outstanding peace and constitutional issues were settled—Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, perhaps for the first time, offered specifics on the party’s positions on a range of much-disputed integration issues, such as the norms and modalities for entry into the security forces—including the combatants’ age, rank, number and chain of command.
Will the parties be able to finalise a constitution in next 18 days?
It isn’t possible to reach a point where we can promulgate a final draft of the constitution in 18 days. But we can definitely finalise a unified draft by May 28 that would assure the people that a full statute will be drafted. We can then send the unified draft to the public for suggestion before finalising it in the CA. Though time is short, this is still possible and I believe this is the right course.
There has been no work on constitution drafting for last three months. Do you think it is possible to even finalise a unified draft by May 28?
It is true that the constitution drafting process has been obstructed for last one and a half months due to obstructions in the Constitutional Committee. But even prior to that, the sub-committee to settle outstanding disputes under the Constitutional Committee had been active. This obstruction hasn’t sent a positive signal, but in the meantime major parties have been discussing. Soon we should be able to convene the meeting of the Constitutional Committee and push for a draft.
What has obstructed the Constitution drafting process?
The obstruction of the Constitutional Committee is more a technical matter. But substantively, the dispute is on state restructuring, forms of government and electoral system. Further discussions are soon likely to resolve the disagreement on electoral system. Thus the disagreement over state restructuring and forms of government is the biggest stumbling block to a complete draft by May 28. Unfortunately, there has been little discussion among major parties on these two issues. Though they are not impossible to resolve, we will need more time to hammer out the differences.
On state restructuring, we have put forth a proposal on the number of provinces, but we are open to discussions on creation of economically and politically viable provinces. Our major concern is protecting the rights of the oppressed and marginalised. This is our principle position in any form of state restructuring. But other parties feel that regional autonomy should be the guiding principle for any restructuring. This is where the debate is.
The prime minister has left for Turkey at a time he is most needed at home. Is there a lack of coordination among parties given that you are a key partner in the coalition?
I had advised the prime minister against travelling to Turkey a few weeks ago. Even two days prior to his departure, we had a serious discussion and I told him that the situation required him to remain in the country. He insisted that as the Chair (of LDCs) he was required in Turkey. He said his he would cut his visit short and return after two days.
Give us a sense of the ongoing dialogue between your party and Nepali Congress on the likely meeting point.
After our party’s Central Committee endorsed the line of peace and constitution, I have held several formal and informal discussions with the leaders of Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Madhesi parties. The Congress’ mass rallies have affected the continuity of the dialogues. I believe the discussion among major parties will yield result. As soon as the Congress leaders are available for discussions, we are ready to engage with them again.
Some in your party have expressed reservations about the agreement forged by the dispute resolution sub-committee that you led.
Yes, some in the party do feel that the party chairman has made too many compromises, but since the line of peace and constitution has been endorsed by the Central Committee, the official decision of the party is now clear. Once the Constitutional Committee resumes its meetings, the sub-committee will again sit down to narrow down the remaining differences.
NC leaders have been saying that they will support an extension only if there is a guarantee that the new constitution will be in keeping with basic democratic values and pluralism.
These public statements will only breed suspicions. We have already accepted multiparty competition, press freedom, fundamental rights and all other fundamental aspects of democracy. It is pointless to keep on discussing whether or not this implies pluralism. There were some issues about independent
judiciary, but we have resolved that. These statements go even against what has already been agreed in the Constituent Assembly. It is unfortunate if they are suggesting that they will cooperate in constitution writing if we agree on Westminster model of democracy. We won’t accept that. If we follow that line of reasoning, than we can insist on a ‘communist constitution’ or a ‘people’s constitution’. We have all agreed on creating an inclusive, federal Nepal and we stand by it.
In present situation, are Maoists clear about the fact that the new constitution will be a compromise document?
We are clear on that. All the agreements beginning with the 12-point agreement make this clear. Neither the Maoists, Congress, UML or Madhesi parties can impose their will entirely. We have to find a middle path. The new
constitution will have to create a win-win situation for all. That means all parties will have to compromise and adjust. But there are few things we have all agreed on. At the outset of this process we have agreed on a constitution through the Constituent Assembly and that there will be a progressive and inclusive restructuring of the state. At the least, Nepali Congress will have to come to that meeting point. If the parties began to confront on the basic thrust of the political direction, then that will be most unfortunate.
As you said earlier you are about to bring a ‘concrete proposal’ on peace and constitution, your core commitments. Can you elaborate?
Regarding the peace process, there has been an understanding on a separate mixed force dating back to the time of the Madhav Kumar Nepal government. The seven-point deal between UML and Maoists, though Congress has some reservations on it, speaks about a separate mixed force too. All parties are positive on the suggestions given by Nepal Army. If we make these and other documents a basis for discussion on modality, an agreement isn’t far away. Then there is the issue of norms, on which we are close to an agreement. Everyone will have to fulfil the minimum requirement for entry into security forces. We are not looking for exception and that is something we have accepted in CPA. Once individuals meet the minimum requirement for integration and are separated, we will have to integrate them in bulk.
Different models of integration have been floated. You insist that it should be bulk entry. Nepali Congress, other parties and the Army want individual entry. And there is still dispute over the numbers.
I can tell you based on our informal discussions with other parties that there is an agreement that number is no longer an issue.
What is that number?
I don’t want to disclose it now.
Will the existing PLA chain of command have to be maintained?
No, the existing chain of command will not continue.
Your party has demanded that the leadership of the integrated forces be given to the PLA.
Yes, that is our position, but we are open to discussions.
The age for entry into security forces is around 18-22. But most of the PLA soldiers are a bit older.
Yes, many of them started their service in 1995, but we can find a workable solution by taking into account their years of service and their current age.
Is there a dispute on ranks?
Due consideration has to be given to our existing ranking system, but again if there are professional shortcomings, they (former combatants) will have to undergo training to compensate.
Are you proposing that the regrouping take place immediately, later followed by detailed discussion on modality and numbers?
Not exactly. Regrouping will be easier once there is an understanding on modality. Or else it will be like shooting an arrow in the dark. Even an agreement on modality isn’t difficult. If we discuss for four-five days we can settle the issue. Regrouping should and will take place before May 28. We will have to provide a credible basis to assure the people that the peace process has moved forward. We have already endorsed our plan to move ahead with integration through our Central Committee.
In trying to forge a new deal, isn’t the Congress likely to raise the issue of a new national unity government and a change in the current political equation?
They have raised the issue of taking the peace process forward, assurances on democratic constitution— perhaps a little too West Ministerial—and the current coalition government. I don’t think it is possible to change this government before May 28. That would overshadow any prospect of progress on peace and constitution and ultimately derail the peace process. I hope the Nepali Congress leadership would pay attention to the message it sends. It will basically tell the people that Congress leaders aren’t interested in peace and constitution and that power is its primary focus. We all know how last one year has been lost—trying to form a government. But once we cross the May 28 threshold and extend the tenure by taking progress in peace and constitution processes to a certain level, we can all sit down and discuss the issue of government. During discussions at Hattiban and Gorkarna resorts, the issue of rotating prime minister-ship had also come up. It is not our intention or wish to sideline Congress.
But would you agree if a package deal that dealt with peace, constitution and government was proposed?
That is up for discussion. I can’t tell you now. But it would be wiser to discuss about a new government only after May 28.
How long should the extension be?
We haven’t discussed on the length of the extension. But we will need at least six months.
There were similar arguments for extension last year. How can the Nepali people be assured that another extension will make any substantial difference?
Last year none of the reports of the thematic committees was finalised. This year reports have been forwarded to the Constitutional Committee. The committee has finished one round of discussions and has forwarded its proposals to the sub-committee for finalising a draft. This is qualitatively different from last year. I want to clear the misconception that no work has been done on constitution. In fact more than 80 percent of it has been sorted out. Disputes have been narrowed down from over 250 to about 33.
How would you look back at the last five years of peace process? Where did you fail?
As Maoist party Chairman, I tried to take things forward according to party decisions. If you ask me, we failed in running the government. In hindsight, if I had the current wisdom, I wouldn’t have allowed our government to fall. We lacked experience. We had to do things we hadn’t done before. It happens rarely in the world that a group running an insurgency gets a chance to lead the government so quickly.
I used to express my feelings freely among my colleagues even during the ‘people’s war’. That was natural and had helped me. But in open politics, I have come to realise that I have to learn to restrain myself. Perhaps that showed my limitations. I have tried to correct myself. Both my party and I have been maturing. I hope that people will understand. My personal stature may have suffered a bit, but I am confident it will make a rebound.