INTERVIEW with Maoist leader Pampha Bhusal
'No political party is willing to stay out of government'
THE KATHMANDU POST, DEC 22 - Pampha Bhusal, a Central Committee member of the UCPN (Maoist), is also a member of the Constituent Assembly’s Committee on Determination of Forms of the Governance of State. She is also currently focused on the protests that the Maoists are holding in the name of civilian supremacy. Aditya Adhikari and Pranab Kharel spoke to her about the disagreements in the Committee on Forms of Governance and what her party expects as a result of the ongoing protests, which seem to have entered confrontational stage.
What is the state of the debate between parties in the Committee on Forms of Governance?
Bhusal: Various parties have different proposals on forms of governance. We are proposing a president directly elected by the people who will be both heads of government and state. This has changed somewhat from the time when we were going to [CA] elections. We had said then that, in addition to a president, there would be a prime minister with some powers. But our own experience has shown that two separate power centres should not be allowed to exist, as this gives the opportunity for foreign powers to interfere in our politics and bring in instability. The primary reason why we want a powerful president is to avoid instability and allow his or her programmes and policies to be implemented.
Second, the powerful institution of the monarchy, which was the head of state, has just been dislodged. It is important to install another equally powerful institution in its place. We also think that there should be a consensus government, where the president will form a council of ministers consisting of all political parties based on their proportion of seats in the legislature-parliament.
The CPN- UML initially wanted a directly elected prime minister, and a ceremonial president elected from the House. The Nepali Congress wants both elected from House. The Tarai-Madhesh Loktantrik Party (TMLP) wants the president to be chosen from the House but to have executive powers. We were discussing these four models and made great efforts to reach consensus. When we couldn’t we decided to complete the process through voting. At the last moment, the Nepali Congress and the UML agreed on a joint proposal. The UML agreed to the NC’s model of the distribution of powers and mode of election of the president and prime minister; the NC agreed to support the UML’s position on the electoral system to be adopted.
Then the voting process started. There was first voting on our proposal. There were 18 votes for and 20 against. For the joint proposal of the NC and UML there were 16 for and 21 against. On TMLP’s proposal there were 3 for and 31 against.
The chairperson of the committee read out that since the Maoists’ won the most votes, though without a majority, their proposal would be accepted as the official one. And that the other proposals could be registered as notes of dissent. While he was reading from the proposal, an NC member in the committee, Prakash Sharan Mahat, snatched the paper from out of his hands. Some tension arose, but we decided to be calm and agreed to reach a conclusion based on examples of what had happened in other committees and also to get the advice of the Chairman [Nembang].
But the chairperson [Sambhu Hajara of NC] hasn’t called a meeting so far, some of our committee members have gone to
What kind of election system has your party put forward?
Bhusal: The kind of election system we have proposed is a fully proportional one regarding quotas provided to various ethnicities, castes and women but everyone is to be directly elected through multi-member constituencies. At every constituency, there will be seats separated for members of various groups. For example, if there are two seats in a constituency, one for men and another for women, the public will compulsorily have to vote for a man for one seat and a woman for the other. This will ensure fully proportional inclusion, while avoiding the problems of a proportional system as we saw during the CA elections. We saw then that because those elected from the proportional side of the electoral race were not directly elected from a constituency, there were problems regarding their accountability to the electorate. Our system avoids this flaw.
Why do you insist on having an all-party government with no provision for an opposition?
Bhusal: What we have seen over the previous years is that no political party is willing to stay out of government. Even right now, in direct violation of the mandate provided by the people, we have a prime minister and ministers who lost elections. We’ve had three prime ministers since the elections because everyone is interested only in power. Will these problems of [political] culture be remedied simply by drafting a new constitution? It will not.
Also, the current transition phase will take some time to complete. It will take eight to 10 years to take the nation into sustainable peace. For these reasons, we need a consensus government, with each party holding ministerial portfolios according to the proportion of votes they have in the legislature, until the transition is complete.
The Nepali Congress and others say that having a directly elected president will lead the country into authoritarianism.
Bhusal: What could be more democratic than having a directly elected head of state and government? How can it be claimed that a president who is elected directly from the people will be authoritarian whereas a prime minister who lost from two constituencies is not?
Moreover, there will be checks and balances on the president. He or she will have to choose a Cabinet from all parties in the legislature. The president will have to seek the ratification of policies through the legislature. International treaties or agreements of national importance will have to be passed by a two-thirds majority. On some major issues, there will even be a need for a referendum. The president, therefore, will not have unlimited powers.
Why has your party decided to intensify protests?
Bhusal: We are very clear: we want civilian supremacy to prevail and the president to rectify his unconstitutional move of revoking the order of an elected government to sack the Army chief. That is all. If today we are allowed to discuss the president’s actions in parliament, we are ready to give up all protests.
But the more you protest, the more the ruling parties will harden their positions and refuse to compromise.
Bhusal: It’s not a matter of what they want and desire. We have asked to use a right given in the constitution. Does the president have the right to become the new king? Is it democratic to not even allow a discussion about the president’s actions? This is only a new form of authoritarianism. If we have to, we will fight against this for the next 10 years.
These are the same people and powers that while in government in the 1990s did not see it possible to establish a republic or a federal state, declared us as terrorists and placed prices on our heads. But they were forced to accept republicanism and federalism. Right now they have gone back to the time when they declared a state of emergency and declared us terrorists. But that has failed. We were able to topple Gyanendra, the Supreme Commander of a 100,000-strong Army. So we are not so worried about these people in government. At least Gyanendra is living in a dignified manner in Nagarjuna. A situation may come when these people, because of the crimes they have committed while in government in the past, may have to go live in Nakkhu.
(Originally printed at: http://www.ekantipur.com/2009/12/21/Oped/No-political-party-is-willing-to-stay-out-of-government/304843/)