Constitution-making has become a hard nut to crack in post-monarchy Nepal. Several serious attempts have been made in this direction but political parties and legislators are still struggling to give the country a workable constitution.
Nepal did well in the revolution of 2006 when it ended its 240-year old absolute monarchy. But it did not manage the change well. With the traditional power center and the king sidelined, Nepal was caught in political instability and is still struggling hard to come out of its impasse. The democratic and communist parties that joined hands in overthrowing the king have indulged since then in unabated wrangling over power sharing and claiming the booty. The formation of a 601-member Constituent Assembly (simultaneously functioning as national parliament) in 2008 by a general election to write a new constitution did not help resolve the problem. The national poll complicated the power equation when the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), a rebel group, unexpectedly emerged as the biggest party in Nepal’s parliament with 238 seats. Nepali Congress, the oldest democratic party bagged only 114 seats, while another communist party United Marxist Leninist (UML) got 109. A fourth regional force also emerged in the Terai belt of Nepal, known as the Madhes-based party with a total of 71 seats.
The national agenda since the second People’s Movement of 2006 (the first one taking place in 1990 that ended the king-guided system of Panchayat) is to write a new constitu- tion that is supposed to be democratic, republican, inclusive, secular and federal. An interim constitution agreed upon by all the parties set a two-year term for the Constituent Assembly to do the job. When it failed to do so in 2010, the assembly extended its term for a year. When it again did not succeed to come up with a new document this May, it added three more months to its life. However, there is still no satisfactory progress towards the goal.
What will happen if a new constitution is not formed? Will the term of the Constituent Assembly come to an end, creating a political vacuum? Nobody is clear. None of the political leaders, lawyers, political analysts or any other worth the name have any idea of how the country will function under such an eventuality.
By far the biggest hurdle to constitution-making is the question of integration of some 19,000 combatants belonging to the Maoist party. The Maoists want to get one half of the number of combatants, if not the bulk of them, integrated into the Nepal army with the rebel hierarchy unbroken. Other parties opposed to this proposition have conceded to only 5,000 at the most to be merged in the regular army subject to meeting the basic physical qualifications. The rebel soldiers have been kept in a number of cantonments spread over different parts of the country, initially under UN supervision but later under the Special Committee comprising all parties and headed by the Prime Minister.
The issue involves not only the number of the combatants joining the army and other security forces like the police or the armed police but also adjustment at the officer level, timing of handing over the arms to the legitimate government and compensation for those opting for civil life. The issue has grown too sensitive over longdrawn public discussions and is feared to revive the armed conflicts that took place for ten years from 1996 to 2006 resulting in casualties of over 16,000 people, including hundreds of innocent. Hard bargaining is continuing among the leaders of different parties to achieve a consensus. However, no positive signs are emerging towards concluding the peace process.
Another factor hindering constitution drafting is the issue of power sharing. After the monarchic traditional power center was first emasculated following the revolution in 2006 and finally abolished in 2008, the big parties like Nepali Congress, UML and the Maoists filled the vacuum and participated in the national government.
However, rule by consensus did