Nepal is in the midst of drafting a new constitution to address the aspirations of the many ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups that call Nepal “home”. This is a tall order, especially given that this constitutional process is part of a larger peace process aimed at, among other things, ending the decade-long “People’s War” launched by the Maoists. As political parties joust for control over the government (and the drafting of the new constitution), Nepal’s drafting process proceeds in fits and starts.
The 2006 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the subsequent Interim Constitution brought the decade long People’s War to an end; delineated the framework that guides Nepal through the transition period; established a Constituent Assembly to draft the new constitution and perform legislative functions; and outlined the process for bringing the Maoists into the political mainstream (but tabled the discussion of what to do with Maoists cadres until a later date). Since this peace accord, Nepal elected its Constituent Assembly which has the chief responsibility of drafting the new constitution by May 2010. (There is a provision in the interim constitution that permits this deadline to be extended by six months, but only in case of emergency).
Following the April 2008 elections that saw the Maoists win the largest number of seats (approximately 38%, enough to make it the largest party in government but forcing the Maoists to establish a coalition government), the Maoists struggled to cultivate relationships to effectively govern. This led to the Maoists unable to adhere to the central tenet of the Interim Constitution – political consensus on critical issues. This inability to reach consensus reached a head in April/May 2009 when the then-Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Maoist) sacked the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) over alleged insubordination. However, the sacking was reversed by President Ram Baran Yadav (Nepali Congress), leading to a political crisis. Prime Minister Dahal subsequently resigned his position, permitting the Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Unified Marxist-Leninist and the Nepali Congress party to form a coalition government. Although fragile, this coalition government remains in existence today. (For the most up-to-date information on this, please see the International Crisis Group’s recent report titled “Nepal’s Future: In Whose Hands?” available at http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=6269&l=1)
The parties, however, remain unable to reach a consensus on who should head the Constitutional Committee, the central committee tasked with drafting the new constitution. While the other drafting committees – 10 subject matter committees and 3 procedural committees – plow ahead with their work, the Constitutional Committee’s work has almost halted as it waits for the political parties to come to an agreement on the chairperson. With only 9 months left to complete the constitution, complete with a robust notice and comment period, the Constituent Assembly faces a daunting challenge of meeting its deadline to deliver a new constitution to Nepal.
I will post more soon on the critical issues facing the drafters of Nepal’s new constitution. I wanted to lay the political groundwork in order to set the stage.