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Countdown To A New Constitution For Nepal

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Nepal's second Constituent Assembly, charged with writing a new constitution for the country after the failure of the first attempt, was elected on 19 November 2013. All major parties represented had campaigned on a promise to deliver a new statute within a year.

But the body didn't even meet until two months later, and recessed for weeks afterwards while the top two parties wrangled over the formation of a coalition government. The government that resulted promised a new constitution by January 20, 2015. That commitment has not been matched by prompt action.

Constitutional committees such as the Constitution Drafting Committee weren't formed until May. The critical Dispute Resolution Committee was charged to report within 30 days about issues that were not resolved by the first assembly. Only this week did the committee report, and they addressed only a few trivial issues related to the transition period after promulgation and new elections.

More than three-dozen issues remain, all contentious ones, on which the major parties have established hard lines. While a federal model is widely agreed, parties are miles apart on the nature of the federal states, their divisions and parliaments, and devolution of power from central authorities.

The question of local elections complicates the power-sharing discussions. Nepal has not held local elections since 1997: Several parties ran on a platform of immediate local elections, but the coalition government (mostly) wants to wait until after the new constitution, which would establish, presumably, new districts and procedures. Since the constitution requires a two-thirds majority of the assembly for approval, the opposition can hold the coalition government hostage over the local elections issue.

And six months after the first meeting, the assembly has yet to complete its membership. Under the interim constitution, 26 seats are to be appointed to provide representation for experts and ethnic or civic groups not represented by the elected members. Despite a Supreme Court ruling on May 12th requiring the appointments, no action has been taken due to political squabbling between the parties. In the high court's ruling it warned that the legitimacy of the assembly was in doubt without completing its membership.

Six months remain to the January deadline. According to the assembly's calendar the first draft was due mid-October. That plan has already slipped by a month, and there are more than 20 days of public holidays before then. After the draft is issued there is to be time for public comments and revisions.

Expect delays. The previous assembly modified its working calendar more than a dozen times before its tenure expired without a statute. Nepalis may not see a new constitution in 2015, let alone on January 20th.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors. Read more stories by John Child in Kathmandu.

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