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Nearing a deal

Friday, April 24th, 2015

As Nepal marked the ninth anniversary of Democracy Day without a new constitution on Friday, many asked a question through social media: will the seemingly-endless constitution writing process be completed before the tenth anniversary of the victory of a people’s uprising on 24 April, 2006.

Given how political parties have wasted time – inching closer to an agreement and then backtracking – since the first Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in 2008, a new constitution before the next Democracy Day does not look certain. But the way political parties are narrowing down their differences over the key contents of the new constitution has raised some hope. If a new constitution before the next Democracy Day is not certain, it is not unlikely, either.

Particularly after the UCPN (Maoist) Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal convinced the 30-party opposition alliance to call off their three-day strike on 7 April and reached an understanding with the ruling NC-UML to forward the sorted-out issues to the CA’s Constitution Drafting Committee on 20 April, a breakthrough looks plausible. Both ruling and opposition leaders are now hopeful about reaching a consensus on federalism – the major bone of contention.

“We have intensified formal and informal talks, which is important to break the deadlock,” UCPN (Maoist) leader Top Bahadur Rayamajhi told Nepali Times. “Ruling parties are no longer rigid about using their numerical strength in the CA and we have also distanced ourselves from street protests.”

Sources say Dahal has prepared a new proposal on creating and naming new federal provinces and will present it to the ruling coalition after Prime Minister Sushil Koirala returns from Jakarta, Indonesia. Dahal is now persuading the opposition alliance to endorse his proposal, which sources say has divided the country into eight federal provinces reflecting ethnic identity.

Sources say Dahal’s proposal is just a face-saving and he will agree to join the government and pass the new constitution even if the NC and the UML reject it. In that case, Dahal will press for keeping his proposal in the annex of the new constitution. Once Dahal agrees to pass the new constitution by writing a note of dissent on federalism, the constitution writing process can be completed.

Prem Bahadur Singh, spokesperson of the UCPN (Maosit)-led opposition alliance, says: “We are hopeful because we are now divided over just names and demarcation of federal provinces.”

At a press conference in Kathmandu on Friday, NC leader Dilendra Prasad Badu said the dispute over names and demarcation of federal provinces would not halt the constitution writing process. “This issue can be sorted out by forming a commission to demarcate provinces and allowing peoples of new provinces to name their states,” he said.

Some political leaders also claim that they are so close to an agreement that people need not wait for the next Democracy Day to have a new constitution. They say the new constitution will be promulgated before or on the coming Republic Day on 28 May. Given how political parties have backpedaled after reaching closer to an agreement in the past, it is also likely that people will have to wait longer for a new constitution.

Om Astha Rai

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