A new constitution was agreed in Nepal this September, but will the document bring concord to the often unsettled nation? Arguing that constitutional stability is critical for long-term development, Daniel Goldstein examines Nepal’s mechanisms for constitutional change and projects the nation’s constitutional stability over the next 20 years.
Despite the end of a ten year civil war and total rejection of the monarchy in late 2006, Nepal has remained a politically turbulent country. Although an interim constitution passed in 2007, the process of agreeing a finalised constitution was delayed by political bickering. Shortly after conclusion of the civil war, the one-time military foes of the government, the Maoist, entered the legislature as a political party. Gaining significant support, the Maoist clashed with the traditional political parties over the constitution. Though there have been several amendments to the interim constitution, most progress toward a new document occurred in the months preceding the September 2015 enactment of the new constitution. The suddenly expedited process has been partially attributed to national solidarity following the April 25 2015 earthquake, which killed over 8,500 people.
Divisions along ethnic, language, and caste lines pervade Nepal, factors that substantially influenced passage of the new constitution, which creates a federal system dividing the country into seven states. The Maoist campaigned strongly for the federal constitution which aimed to provide rights to discriminated minorities. However, concerns that the new constitution does not go far enough to protect the rights of minorities, as well as objections to the drawing of state borders, have led to continued upheaval since the September enactment. Protests have been especially prevalent in the region of Terai, bordering India, where residents feel that the new constitution will allow for continued discrimination against those of mixed Indian and Nepalese backgrounds and against women. The constitution grants Nepalese citizenship to children of Nepalese men who marry immigrants, but this privilege is not extended to Nepalese women unless their immigrant husband first becomes a Nepalese citizen. There is additional worry that the constitution was hurriedly sanctioned by the predominant political parties, which are led primarily by males of high castes, and that the present dissatisfaction with the constitution could lead to a renewal of violence.