With just a few weeks left to meet the 22 January, 2015 deadline for the promulgation of the constitution, the President of Nepal, Ram Baran Yadav, is busy asking the lawmakers to fulfill their commitments.
The current Constituent Assembly (CA) that was elected in November 2013 has already taken the ownership of the progress made by the previous CA – which streamlined the tasks of writing a new constitution. Despite that, Nepalese political leaders made little effort to resolve the contentious issues of the constitution-making. They need to resolve four key contentious issues including federalism, forms of governance, electoral system and judiciary. Due to lack of intensive discussion among the political parties, they have failed to make any substantial progress.
Federalism remains one of the thorny issues major parties are sharply divided on. Among the crucial questions are the numbers of federal provinces, demarcation of boundaries, and names of the federal units. The future of the constitution also depends on how the political parties handle the issue of federalism. The Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-Maoists) advocate for decentralised governance of 10 to 14 provinces based on ethnicity while the Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) call for centralised governance of a maximum seven provinces. The UCPN-Maoists and the Madhes-based parties are demanding more provinces in the hilly regions and less in the Madhes.
The UCPN-Maoist has proposed for a presidential form of government and envisage the directly-elected president as both the head of state and head of government while the NC proposed a reformed parliamentary form of government where the president is the head of the state and the prime minister is the executive chief. Vis-à-vis the electoral system, the UCPN-Maoists proposed a multiple-member, proportional, direct electoral system based on proportional inclusion, to be determined on the basis of the population, geography and socio-economic factors while the NC and CPN-UML proposed a mixed system, with half the members of parliament elected directly on First Past the Post (FPTP) voting and half elected proportionally (similar to the system applied in the CA elections). Regarding judiciary, the NC and the CPN-UML call for a supreme court while UCPN-Maoists demand a constitutional court.
Additionally, the parties of the ruling coalition, namely the NC and the CPN-UML, prefer all decisions to be taken in the plenary of the CA by majority vote while the oppositions (UCPN-Maoists and Madhes-based parties) prefers the consensus approach.
Polarisation among the Political Parties
Presently, the UCPN-Maoist is building alliances both within and outside the CA to counter the dominant position of the ruling coalition (NC and CPN-UML). Outside the CA, the UCPN-M is reaching out to splinter Maoist groups while within the CA, it has formed an alliance with pro identity-based federalism parties – mainly the Madhes and ethnicity-based parties — called the Federal Republic Alliance (FRA). The signature campaign by Madhesi leaders of the NC against the federal model proposed by the NC and CPN-UML has also foiled the chances of imposing constitution by majority vote.
It seems unlikely that the newly-elected CA has learnt lessons from the past and would deliver a new constitution of Nepal within the stipulated timeframe. There has not been much change in the leadership of political parties and opportunities to discuss the numbers of provinces and identity issues, and the establishment of self-governance structures for smaller ethnic groups was missed. It is entirely possible that the same challenges that sunk the first CA will resurface.
In spite of all these challenges, one can hope that Nepal gets the constitution within the stipulated time. It is in the interest of all the political parties to fulfill their commitments. The NC can claim the successful promulgation of the constitution during their tenure while the CPN-UML should leave no stone unturned for timely constitution-making as they can claim to lead the next government. In February 2014, the NC and the CPN-UML signed a deal stating that former would hand over the leadership of the government to the latter in January 2015.
A failure to promulgate the constitution by January 22 might break the coalition between the two and destroy the CPN-UML’s chances to lead the government. It might open the possibility for new alliances to be created. The UCPN-Maoists and Madhes-based parties would also like to consolidate their gains as they are pretty assured that Nepal would not go for the third CA election.