The phrase, ‘politics of consensus’ (PoC) may sound extremely positive. But it is rarely practiced in current competitive democratic systems throughout the world. In Nepal, it is regarded as a mantra relied upon to resolve the current political crisis. The ‘politics of consensus’ has therefore become both a panacea and a practise riven with contradictions, especially in those localities where consensus is undermined by one of the core values of democracy: ‘majority rule’. This is all the more problematic because of the constitutional vacuum, due to the dissolution of Constituent Assembly (CA) in June 2012, and subsequent problems in power sharing between the political parties. The idea of a PoC was initiated in 2006 in the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) between former rebel-Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M, hereafter Maoists) – and the government of the Seven Party Alliance (SPA), to end a decade long civil war. The preamble of Nepal’s Interim Constitution 2007 clearly stated that PoC is one of the core values binding political parties to work together to reconstruct a new Nepal. This is an attempt to circumvent confrontation between parties when it came to re-building a new peaceful and prosperous Nepal, irrespective of divided political ideologies.
Nepal was successful in pursuing a PoC under the leadership of the Nepali Congress, around the time of the Constituent Assembly (CA) election in 2008. It facilitated two major historic achievements – peaceful CA elections to establish an inclusive Nepalese republican, secular and federal state in 2008; and the abolition not only of the monarchy, but also the idea of a centralised, Hindu-dominated polity in Nepal.
Out of a total 601 CA seats, the Maoists won 229 seats (38.10 %), the Nepali Congress won 115 seats (19.13%), the UML won 108 seats (17.97%), the Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum (MJF) won 54 seats (8.98%), the Tarai-Madhes Loktantrik Party (TMLP) won 21 seats (3.49%) and the remaining 10.33 per cent of the votes were won by 56 other minor parties and two independent candidates (Nepal Election Commission, 2008). Although the Maoists became the major political party, they did not have a majority to form its government and pass a new constitution and important bills. To overcome this democratic loophole, Nepalese parties devised a new political strategy i.e. to form ‘consensus government’. Leaders of all parties agreed upon and vociferously advocated their commitment to PoC.
However there is an undercurrent of political friction between the Maoists and the SPA -especially the Nepali Congress and United Marxist and Leninist (UML) communist party of Nepal. The Maoists claim to be a progressive force, portraying the SPA as traditional and non-dynamic; whereas, the SPA claims it is a protector of liberal democracy from the radical leftists i.e. Maoists. These two forces are rigidly committed to maintaining the liberal multi-party parliamentary system which they established after the authoritarian Hindu Kind had stepped down in 1990. But the Maoists as part of their push to socialism in Nepal have an identity-based federalism on their agenda. This Maoist agenda of federalism has raised immense hope among the politically excluded and marginalized groups and indigenous ethnic groups of Nepal.
However, the idea of federalism has become extremely controversial, risking plunging Nepal into further uncertainty and ethnic conflict. There is even a threat that the historical achievement which saw the declaration of Nepal as a secular, democratic republic in 2008 will be reversed, especially after the dissolution of the CA. This crisis arises not only because of the multi-level complexities associated with identity politics and federalism in an ethnically diverse society like Nepal (Nepal has 105 ethnic groups) but also because of the incompatability of liberal democratic majoritarian values with the undercurrents of the various local crises.
Full Article: The ‘politics of consensus’ in Nepal | openDemocracy.