Nepal’s New Constitution Will Not Be Written on Time

With just 10 weeks remaining in the term of the Constituent Assembly, the body serving as Nepal’s interim parliament but charged primarily with writing a new constitution following the abolition of the monarchy two years ago, it is clear that the assembly will fail to deliver on time. Politicians are loath to say so out loud, but the fact is the elephant in the room that everyone pretends not to notice.

Since the Maoist-led government collapsed last May when then-Prime Minister Dahal resigned over his failed attempt to sack the army chief, no substantive progress has been made on the job. All of Nepal’s political parties share the blame, but obstruction by the Maoists in the form of a series of demands largely unrelated to the constitution are the prime cause.

The Maoists have blocked progress over “civilian supremacy” (a demand that Nepal’s president be censured for his role in the army chief of staff fiasco), national independence (their accusation that the 22-party coalition government that succeeded them is taking its marching orders from India), their desire to participate in a “government of national unity,” refusal to discuss rehabilitation and integration of their combatants until after the constitution is promulgated despite the peace agreement which they signed stipulating that it must happen first, strident declarations that the constitution can only be written if they lead a new government to replace the coalition, and a demand that the Nepal Army be restructured and “democratized” immediately.

The Maoists have raised other issues too: In fact it is hard to tell just what conditions would be acceptable to them other than “consensus,” which appears to mean that all other parties concede their positions in favor of the Maoist agenda. And the Maoists have made no bones about the fact that their participation in a “bourgeois” process was tactical – their aim is still a “people’s republic” free from “regression” and “anti-nationalism.”

Even those who lauded the peace agreement and welcomed the Maoists in from the cold are discouraged.

The Maoists are right that no agreement on the contentious issues involved in a new constitution can be reached without them: Ratifying a new constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the assembly, and the Maoists hold about 40 percent of the seats. But the Maoist positions on virtually all of the issues at hand differ greatly from the other parties in government, and those parties have been willing to cede virtually nothing to the Maoists.

The Maoists want a federal republic with states based on ethnicity: The other parties, while largely in agreement with a federal model, disagree that ethnicity is the best way to carve out states within the country. The Maoists want a judiciary under the control of the legislative body; the other parties want a court system separate from the legislative and executive branches.

And so on: There are more than a dozen other vital issues that require consensus or, at least, a plurality of votes in the assembly to be settled.

That is not going to happen by May 28th, and unless there is significant compromise from one or more of the major players here, it may not happen at all. That would be regression indeed.

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

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