Nepali Times
Constitution Supplement
Discord, and more discord

The deadline for writing the new constitution is now only seven months away but five thematic committees haven't submitted their draft reports and concept papers to the CA.

To make matters worse, the six thematic committees that have submitted their drafts haven't patched up differences on key points. Only the Committee for Rights of Minority and Marginalised Communities passed its draft unanimously.

But instead of forging ahead and settling their differences the political parties want to extend the drafting period, which was initially two years, by a further six months.

Constitutional Committee Chairman Nilambar Acharya feels the problem is a lack of commitment, not necessarily the disagreements themselves. He says, "The parties should understand that the constitution is a document of consensus."

The National Interests Preservation Committee was the first committee to submit a draft concept to the CA but papered over differences on state structure, national defence policy, border issues and on whether to call the civil war a 'people's war' or an 'armed insurgency.' The NC and UML have also strongly opposed the provision of conscription for all adults.

The draft of the Judiciary System Committee has been the most controversial, as the Maoists want to invest parliament with the power to hire and sack judges, and to allow non-Supreme Court justices to become chief justice. The other parties have criticised this as an undue violation of the separation of powers.

The Committee for Determining the Bases of Cultural and Social Unity proposed Nepali as the official language but Madhesi parties want Hindi instead, while the Maoists say any language spoken by at least one per cent of the population should be given the status.

The Committee for Determining Legislative Bodies has already prepared a draft paper without Maoist backing which proposes a bicameral Parliament: a 151-member House of Representatives and a 51-member National Assembly, with separate houses in each province. The Maoists have proposed an all-powerful 245-member unicameral Parliament. The MJF wants the chair of the proposed national assembly to be made vice president.

There are differences over what to name constitutional commission in the draft prepared by the Committee for Determining Legislative Bodies. 'National Commission' is preferred to 'Federal Commission'.

The Economic Rights and Sharing of Natural Resources and Public Revenue Committee has finalised its draft but there are disagreements about whether to compensate landowners for land taken from them during land reform. The Maoists object to any compensation.

The Committee for Determining the Form of Governance System has been debating the merits of the presidential and prime ministerial systems, which is important since it has implications for the entire political system.

The State Restructuring and Sharing of State Power Committee has perhaps the most difficult task of all in deciding on a federal system. It hasn't been able to start work because the political parties haven't even submitted their concept papers.

The CA calendar has already been rescheduled six times and the public doesn't expect the November deadline to be met. Once deliberations finish, the public will be invited to comment on the drafts.

Acharya is still hopeful: "If the parties consider the national interest, the constitution will be written on time."

Committees that have completed drafts:
Committee for Rights of Minority and Marginalized Communities
National Interests Preservation Committee
Committee for Determining the Bases of Cultural and Social Unity
Committee for Determining Legislative Bodies
Committee for Determining the Form of Governance System
Judiciary System Committee

Committees yet to complete drafts:
State Restructuring and Sharing of State Power Committee
Committee for Determining the Form of Governance System
Fundamental Rights and Directive Principles Committee
Economic Rights and Sharing of Natural Resources and Public Revenue Committee
Constitutional Committee

Way out

We need a high-level political mechanism to resolve differences over committee drafts

Girirajmani Pokharel, CA member, UCPN (Maoist)

The ongoing conflict between status-quoist and progressive forces has held back the constitution writing process at its most crucial time.

The constitution writing process was slow from the outset. It took 3 months after the historic CA elections to form the Maoist-led government, and CA committees were established to facilitate agreement on constitutional issues. CA regulations eased the challenge by forbidding party whips from becoming too meddlesome so, if all had gone well, there wouldn't be opposition in the CA. Committee members collected public suggestions for the constitution, which have been investigated in a report that has been submitted to the Study and Suggestion Committee.

But things haven't gone well, and the draft reports don't reconcile basic ideological differences. The UML and NC are happy with the status quo and the parliamentary system, the Madhesi parties hanker for more inclusion, while the Maoists want a wholly new federal system.

Despite these difficulties I'm optimistic and take inspiration from Jawaharlal Nehru who wrote his daughter Indira Gandhi thus: "If you come across problems in your life, look back at history. Human beings have already resolved problems bigger than yours."

The 12-point agreement was signed amid persistent political hostilities that have brought Nepali politics to its knees today. The country needs a revised agreement that implements the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, integrates the two armies to make a national army, establishes civilian supremacy instead of military supremacy in a real sense so we can make decisions on our internal affairs on our own.

I have no doubt that if we have such a high-level understanding, the current obstacles in writing the constitution can be overcome and will lead to a common political agreement for the constitution writing process. A special political mechanism is the need of the hour.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)