As the deadline for drafting Nepal’s constitution looms, it seems unlikely the Constituent Assembly will be able to deliver on time. The question of federal restructuring has been a particular roadblock, but the opaque nature of negotiations and the exclusion of minority interests have also inhibited compromise, writes Mara Malagodi.
Almost a year has passed since Nepal’s second Constituent Assembly (CA2) was elected in November 2013. Regrettably, no significant progress has been made so far on constitution drafting by the new legislature/Constituent Assembly. As a result, the peace process that put an end to a decade of civil war in 2006 remains to this day incomplete, and the country’s political situation deeply unstable.
In March 2014 the CA2 finally succeeded in adopting the many agreements reached by the first Constituent Assembly (CA1). However, the thorny issues that caused the CA1 to be dissolved without a new constitution after four years of deliberations and four extensions (2008-2012) remain embattled and divisive.
The questions of federal restructuring and form of government have polarised Nepal’s political spectrum. On the one hand, the Nepali Congress, the UML (or Communist Party), and other smaller conservative and left-wing parties advocate for territorial restructuring along the lines of devolution, and to retain a parliamentary form of government. On the other, the Maoists, alongside Madhesi and Janajati parties, promote federal restructuring along ethnic lines to secure the inclusion of the many marginalised groups, and a presidential system in which the President is elected by popular vote. The Nepali Congress and UML currently dominate the CA2, making the former institutional roadmap the most likely outcome. However, a qualified two-third majority of CA members is required to pass the new constitution. The two dominant parties are short of a handful of votes, which forces a degree of compromise. Negotiations therefore remain ongoing.