Eight days since the Constituent Assembly’s failure to promulgate the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, the mood in Kathmandu is sombre. Particularly among people working in the development sector, Nepalis and expats alike, there is a sense of despair at the four years of wasted effort and opportunity. It seems like this personal apathy is reflected on a larger scale within the city. In comparison to the wide-spread and in some cases devastating protests and bandh (shut-downs) of the previous month, Kathmandu appears calm. To the subjective observer, even the traffic seems somehow less hectic than usual; it is as though the entire city is underwater and has not yet figured out how to come up for air.
The country is in a state of suspense, but without the sense of excitement associated with this term. The Maoist-led Constituent Assembly (CA), which was acting as an interim body until the propagation of the Constitution, remains at the political helm but without any legal right to do so. Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai has called for fresh CA elections on 22 November, in the hope that the new CA members will prove capable of drafting the long-awaited Constitution. Besides the logistical difficulties of organising this election within six months (not least given the fact that the Election Commission has still not completed registering the country’s voters), many legal representatives and opposition political parties have denounced the idea of new CA elections as ‘un-Constitutional.’ Such accusations are illustrative of the reactive finger-pointing and blame-laying currently taking place between the major political parties at the expense of working out constructive solutions to the country’s predicament.
In protest against the Maoists’ appeal for new CA elections and to voice their dissatisfaction with what some actors are calling a Maoist bid to establish autocracy, the two main opposition parties, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), along with another 20 parties, have called for a huge protest on this coming Friday 8 June. This morning’s Himalayan Times quoted the joint statement released by the parties as appealing to “all professionals, scholars, peasants, workers, women, youth, students, businessmen, those representing indigenous, janajati, Madhesi and Dalit communities and people of all walks of life to participate in the protest.” With such a deliberately inclusive appeal, the organisers believe that 150,000 people may attend the event.
Allowing the CA to remain in power until new elections is definitely not an ideal situation, particularly if elections are delayed until spring 2013 as some observers are predicting. It is necessary that lawyers, politicians and civil society members recognise and accordingly react to the situation. Yet the protest scheduled to take place on Friday will only allow people to express their discontent; the organisers do not appear to have any intention of suggesting a viable, legally sound alternative to interim CA leadership beyond the vague concept of forming a ‘national unity government.’ Without offering a constructive alternative, the protest will constitute nothing more than another, more virulent and wide-spread, step in the blame-laying game currently taking place. The protest could thus possibly exacerbate the fragile, if currently muted, situation. Until Nepal’s politicians accept responsibility for their failure to promulgate the CA rather than seeking to absolve themselves of any blame, and focus their energies on developing realistic and acceptable solutions to the current stalemate, it seems unlikely that the situation will be resolved.
The tone and scope of the NC/UML call-to-arms suggests that Kathmandu’s current state of lethargy might soon be coming to an end. The city is approaching monsoon season, and every afternoon dark clouds build up and thunder rumbles threateningly around the Valley. Yet despite the gradually building tension, the rain has yet to come. The weather seems like a metaphor for Nepal’s political climate: beneath the flat, heavy skies, something large is undoubtedly brewing. It is just a question of what will happen and when.