The rocky road of political change: Nepal’s challenges

Creating a new constitution

posted by Dale Dodge, with information from Suresh Shrestha

After 6 years of democratic government, the government of Nepal has been unable to get the job done of writing a constitution.  There are too many parties, too many vested interests, and too little power.  The following is the final question and answer from an interview with Lok Raj Baral, author and political science professor in Nepal.

Question: You touched on many aspects of governance. It will soon be a year since the formation of the government under Sushil Koirala. How would you assess its performance?

Mr. Baral’s response: This government has not done anything; it has been a non-functioning government. It was barely able to even appoint ambassadors. It failed to expedite the constitution and it has not been actively inclusive. It has been a failure. But I would not just blame Sushil Koirala. It was the same during the tenure of Prachanda and Baburam Bhattarai.

This is a fault of the system. There is no single-party majority so any government needs to take other parties along with it. So either you need to satisfy your coalition partner or you need a prime minister with the personality to do what needs to be done. But I also don’t know what the alternative is. Furthermore, we are forced to deal with multiple crises at the same time—governance crisis, leadership crisis, constitutional crisis, corruption crisis, etc. And none of the parties abide by their ideologies. The NC is not socialist, the UML is not Leninist-Marxist, and the Maoists are not Maoist. That is why we need a minimum understanding between the major parties.

Harsh words, but echoed in the report sent to us recently by Suresh Shrestha, our TSS partner in Manthali.

“The commitment was made by all political parties to promulgate a new constitution by Jan 22, 2015 after the election of  the Constituent Assembly (CA) a year ago. Unfortunately, the CA meeting that continued till midnight  on Jan 21 was adjourned due to strong protests by opposition lawmakers without entering into its scheduled process. Due to the protest, the CA failed to start the process of voting for forming a questionnaire committee. The two-third lawmakers from the ruling parties (NC & UML) have already agreed to form the questionnaire committee to solve thorny issues.  The questionnaire committee was the next step in progressing toward a written draft constitution, and was to help sort out thorny issues of federalism, ethnicity, language, culture, and territorial contiguity.

The CA Chairman conducted two rounds of voting in the parliament where over 100 lawmakers from a 19-parties alliance led by the Maoists chanted opposition slogans continuously for more than 5 hours inside the CA hall. The opposition lawmakers were encircled within a human chain formed by hundreds of security personnel to protect vandalism and attacks. The CA Chairman (who is also from 2nd biggest ruling party-UML) did not invite the Chief-Whip of NC to table the motion of questionnaire committee fearing further tension by the opposition.”

And about a week later, a further update from Suresh Shrestha, on the situation in his country:

“Three days ago, the opposition parties halted the CA business while the CA Chairman called NC Chief-Whip to table the proposal for the formation of questionnaire committee. All the opposition lawmakers left their seats and rushed towards the rostrum chanting against the move. The opposition lawmakers tried to break the human chain of the marshals to stop the proposal. However, the NC Chief-Whip was not allowed to reach to the podium. Some of the opposition lawmakers broke chairs & microphones, jumping over the tables, throwing chairs towards the marshals, throwing microphone towards ruling party leader, hurling their shoes towards the podium and trying to attack the CA Chairman. At least four marshals were injured, and dozens of chairs, tables & microphones were smashed.

The CA is again scheduled to meet today (Jan 22) at 1.00 pm. As per the Ministry of Finance, to date there has been more than  $352 million CDN on the 1st CA election, the 2nd CA election & benefits for CA members. Despite such a huge amount of investment, it is not sure when the Nepali people will have the most-awaited new constitution.”

It remains to be seen how this situation will unfold over the next few months, but we are sure to be kept informed by Suresh.