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Now for the hard part


SHIVA GAUNLE



KIRAN PANDAY

PEOPLE PRESSURE: the seven party victory rally at Tundikhel on Thursday before the audience stormed the stage.

So far so good. The parties have their parliament, the king gets to keep his throne for now. But the Maoists need something to show their cadre that the last 10 years were worth it: and that something is a constituent assembly.

Under the 12-point roadmap agreed by the party leaders and the comrades in the New Delhi suburb of Noida in November, the Maoists said they were ready to begin the process of re-entering peaceful multiparty democracy as long as their demand for a new constitution was met.

Shunned by the king and tugged by a republican rank-and-file, the parties had already agreed in principle to a constituent assembly. Since the parties and the Maoists now had the same goal there was no more need for armed struggle, which is probably the reason for the three-month ceasefire announced Wednesday night.

The astonishing success of the Peoples Movement II surprised everyone, most of all the parties. Having sidelined the king, it is now crunch time for the parties to deliver the pound of flesh to the Maoists. They have put a resolution supporting a constituent assembly as the number one point in the agenda for the reconvened parliament on Friday.

If it is passed, it will be the first time in Nepal's 237 year history that the people will get to craft their own constitution. Commissions set up by the king were responsible for drafting the post-Rana 1949 constitution, the multiparty constitution of 1957, the partyless Panchayat statute of 1962 and the constitution of 1990.

Except for 1949, all three constitutions were made to legalise a political need. This time, it will be the constitution that will have to come up with new state and governance structures.

"We will not repeat past mistakes," the political party leaders have said publicly, vowing not to be distracted by infighting and corruption. But the delays this week in selecting a new speaker, the tug-o-war over ministerial portfolios and the inability of the NC and the NC-D to reunite even now show the parties may be afflicted by an old malaise.

Even greater hurdles lie ahead. The Maoists are trying to exert pressure on the parties by holding a public meeting at Tundikhel on Friday even while parliament is in session and even without their terrorism tag being lifted. Their demand is an unequivocal resolution on an unconditional constituent assembly by the house. But going for an open-ended constituent assembly without agreement on broad parameters of a new state structure first may open a can of worms.

The Maoists want the election to a constituent assembly to bring in all groups that have so far been excluded from the nation's political mainstream, including women, janjatis, dalits and regional groupings. What will this do to the political side of the debate? How are the constituencies going to be demarcated and who will do it?

Elections could be divisive and contentious because ethnic and regional demands may overshadow the need for national unity. Some expect the campaigning for constituent assembly elections will be reduced to its bottomline: republic versus monarchy.

That may not necessarily be a bad thing but the political manifestos may be so polarised that moderates are squeezed and the people may be forced to chose only between two extremes. The other issue may be federalism, and if so what kind.

Then there are the practical aspects of explaining complicated manifestos to people many of whom haven't even heard about a constituent assembly and if they have can't really explain what it is for (See box). It is obvious that the elections must be preceded by a neutral information campaign.


CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY

Direct participation of the people in framing a new constitution, first mooted in 1949 after the overthrow of the Ranas but never revisited.

Mechanism: A nationwide election based on proportional representation of gender, caste, ethnicity and regions is held and people vote for candidates with manifestos that lay out their vision for a new constitution. For example: republican, constitutional monarchy, civil control of the army, etc. A constituent assembly made up of elected candidates is then formed to draft a new constitution.

Advantages: Earlier constitutions have been 'given' by the kings of Nepal to the people. With a constituent assembly, the people will have a direct say in the new statute.

Problems: Not all parties and not everyone within parties agrees on the technicalities, for example on how the candidates should be weighted in proportion to the population. There is also divergence on whether there should be guarantees that the new constitution retain the monarchy and how the constituent assembly will decide.

There are also doubts about whether a constituent assembly election should be held without demobilisation of the warring sides and whether there should be international supervision.


HOW IT MAY GO

If you have heard of the Constituent Assembly, do you understandwhat it is?
(Of the 57 percent who said they had heard of it.)

The main platform in a future election for a Constituent Assembly will be the future of the monarchy.

Straw polls done recently among young pro-democracy protesters in Pokhara and Kathmandu showed an overwhelming swing towards a republic. But a nationwide Himalmedia poll taken last month is less clearcut (See 'Poll', #292). It showed that although the king is personally unpopular, nearly half the 5,066 respondents said they wanted a constitutional monarchy and a quarter said a monarchy in some form is still necessary. Fourteen percent wanted the monarchy abolished and only one percent supported absolute monarchy. The brutal suppression of the pro-democracy movement of the past three weeks could have increased the number of those in favour of abolishing the monarchy altogether.

However, the Himalmedia poll also proved that a future constituent assembly election must be explained clearly to the people. In last month's poll 57 percent said they had heard of a constituent assembly and when asked if they understood what it stood for, 40 percent replied 'heard but not understood' and 15 percent said they 'didn't understand'.



LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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