Though Nepal’s second Constituent Assembly has to deliver a constitution by January 22, Nepal’s politics has become sharply polarised. Deep divisions exist between the ruling Nepali Congress-Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) combine on one hand, and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists)-Madhesi-ethnic forces on the other – on both the substance of the constitution and its process.
HT spoke to a range of politicians and diplomats in Nepal’s capital this week.
Substantively, there are differences on form of government, judiciary, electoral system, citizenship and federalism.
The ruling combine favours a ‘reformed parliamentary system’, even as the opposition has demanded a directly elected presidential system. A common point, a top Maoist leader told HT, can be a mixed system with a PM elected by parliament and some powers to the president. The ruling combine favors a First Past the Post electoral system, while the opposition – for the sake of inclusion – promotes Proportional Representation. A common point could be a mix of the two on a 60-40 basis in favour of FPTP.
On the judiciary, there is a debate on the formation of a constitutional court – with the ruling combine favouring a constitutional bench within the existing Supreme Court.
Here too, a compromise could be the constitution of such a court for a limited period of time, said a UML negotiator. On citizenship, all parties – except the UML – have agreed to revise a discriminatory provision which does not allow citizenship to be passed through one’s mother. But the heart of the dispute remains federalism. NC-UML alliance is for seven states, based on principles like administrative convenience, and feasibility. As Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has told HT in the past, “We are country with no parliament building of our own in Kathmandu. We must have a limited number of provinces for it to sustain.” The weakness of this approach – say the Maoists - is that in most of these provinces, hill upper-castes will be in majority. To counter this, they propose 10 provinces, in most of which hill ethnic groups or Tarai dwellers will have a majority. The issue of whether to give ethnic names to provinces has also divided the parties. The number of provinces in the Tarai belt, bordering India, is also contentious. The opposition wants not more than two provinces while NC-UML is pushing for three eastern districts, one central district, and two western districts to be merged with hill provinces. Divisions over precisely this region had led to the collapse of the first CA in 2012.
But substantive negotiations are now stalled because of differences on the process.
NC and UML, arguing that it is time to take the democratic route, want to initiate voting in the CA to push through the constitution by a two-thirds majority. The Maoists and Madhesis argue this violates the spirit of the peace process; and a majoritarian approach will not address aspirations of the marginalised. This is now manifesting itself in the CA, with the opposition – for the first time – boycotting proceedings on Tuesday even as ruling parties urge the chairman to enable voting exercise.
The depth bitterness indicates Nepal will not have a constitution on January 22. If it can have a draft by consensus, it will be lucky.