Making of new constitution in Nepal : Historical Background and Various Issues

Nepal is a landlocked country, lying between two giants- India and China, in South Asia. It has a population of 26.62 million as per 2011 census. It is ethnically diverse country with no ethnic group enjoying majority at the national level, but in their respective area each ethnic group exercising their dominance. Religiously Hindus constitutes 81.9% of the population, Buddhist 9%, 4.4% Muslims, others 4.9%. India states which border Nepal are: Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim. On the Chinese side, TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region) borders Nepal, thus making Nepal geostrategically an important country for India as well as China. A narrow Siliguri corridor (chicken neck) separates Nepal from Bangladesh. Most of the Nepal is mountainous except southern Tarai region which is flat, fertile land.

Historical Background

For most of this duration Nepal was under monarchy of king. Since 1950s, there has always been desire in the society of Nepal for establishing democracy, but various attempts to establish it were either unsuccessful or thwarted by ruling Shah Dynasty. During the 1950s, efforts were made to frame a constitution for Nepal that would establish a representative form of government, based on British model, even there was multiparty democracy in Nepal during 1950s (although for brief period). But these were only for temporary period. In 1979 students protest forced Nepal monarch to hold constitutional referendum. These democratic reforms, although small, laid the foundation for civil disobedience movements during 1980s.

In 1990s, the Jan Andolan/People movement brought to an end to the absolute monarchy. All political parties, including congress (pro democracy group) & communist party (illegal political party in Nepal at that time), united together during the movement. Their main demand was abolition of absolute monarch and establishment of multiparty democracy similar to that Nepal had during 1950s. Finally after this movement absolute monarch was abolished and there was constitutional monarch thereafter. First parliamentary in near 50 years were held in Nepal in 1991. In these elections, congress party came to power.

However, soon Nepal plunged into Civil War. Dissatisfied with its rule in various aspects like economic, corruption, land reforms, the Maoists launched armed rebel to establish People’s Republic in the country. Immediate reason given by Maoists was that their demands were rejected by the then ruling government. Earlier in 1994 communist party split, with militant faction known as Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) formed this faction launched the armed rebel. Earlier only police was used to suppress the armed rebellion, but later refusal by Nepalese army led the Prime Minister to resign. But in 2002 rebellion attacked the army barracks in western Nepal, after this event army was unleashed against the insurgents. Under the aegis of the global war on terrorism and with the stated goal of averting the development of a “failed state” that could serve as a source of regional and international instability, the United States, European Union, and India, among other nations, have provided extensive military and economic aid to the Nepali government. This material support to the Nepali government dried up after Nepal’s king seized full control in February 2005 to get rid of civil war for once and all because relatively democratic government’s inability to restore order. During this whole period Nepalese government controlled towns and cities while Maoists had stronghold in rural areas. Finally in 2006 a Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed between Nepal government and CPN (M) which ended decade long civil war and allowed Maoists to take part in the government. This Comprehensive Peace Accord was a
12 point accord. The main points of which are mentioned below:

  • Civil war was formally ended.
  • Army of Maoists was to fall back to barracks and later was to rehabilitated and integrated. Nepalese army was also to be in barracks during this period. UN will supervise both sides in barracks.
  • King was to be stripped of his all powers and his property to be nationalised.
  • Both sides to follow ceasefire.
  • Formation of National Peace and Rehabilitation Commission, Truth Commission, and a high-level Commission for State Restructuring.

In 2007, an interim constitution was adopted with the intent of forming a Constituent Assembly; and Nepal became a democratic republic with the abolition of the monarchy in 2008. In 1st election after 2006 accord, CPN (M) was brought to power, with Nepali Congress coming second in election. 1st Constituent Assembly was formed in 2008. But due to petty politics 1st Constituent Assembly failed in its task to bring a new constitution by May 2012 after which its period ended. Thus another election was held in November 2013 for 2nd constituent assembly. In this election Nepali Congress emerged as the largest party, with CPN (UML) coming second and most disrupting CPN (M) came last. Thus this 2nd election brought well established parties in Nepal at the top. Because CPN (M) has always been seen as the hindering the process of drafting the constitution and always remain on the verge of launching another rebellion. But this 2nd constituent assembly has also missed its deadline of 22 January 2015 to bring Nepali constitution.

Recent Issues

There have been several instances of democracy being established in Nepal, but these all were for temporary period until 2006, when a comprehensive peace accord was signed after a decade long civil war (between government forces and Maoists) involving Communist Party of Nepal. A Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed in 2006 which led to abolition of monarchy. Further elections were held in 2008 for constituent assembly for drafting Nepalese constitution, which failed to do so. Thus another constituent assembly election were held in November 2013 to make another attempt to draft the constitution of Nepal with 22 January 2015 as the deadline, which has been missed, thus complicating the political crisis in Nepal further.

Major issues in the making of new constitution in Nepal

Key issues that are standing by in making the new constitution in Nepal are as follows:

  • Federal issue: The names, numbers and borders of the proposed federal states. The biggest hurdle in this is whether to form federation along ethnic lines or names. The Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, who want multi-ethnic 6 or 7 federal states, fearing that federation along ethnic lines, could lead to conflict or even to it disintegration. While CPN (M) and Madhesi parties want between 8 to 10 states with one or maximum 2 states in Tarai region. Both of these parties want carving out and naming of the states mainly on single ethnic identity.
  • Types of governance i.e. whether to give executive powers to President or Prime Minister.
  • The type of electoral system – direct (first past the post), proportional or a mix of both.
  • Type of judicial system, whether to make it federal, formation of a constitutional court.

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