Understanding the Nepal Constitutional Crisis: What lies ahead?
Nepal has plunged into yet another political crisis after the Prime Minister has dissolved the lower house of the country's parliament. The experts are of the opinion that without some sort of settlement, the country cannot be rescued from the said chaos. This article seeks to understand what was the sequence of events that led to the current imbroglio in Nepal and what all lies ahead of the blurry path.
How did the new constitution come about?
The demand for a new constitution was raised by Maoists rebels, who waged a 10-year civil war which ended with a 2006 peace deal. The Maoists won elections to a constituent assembly two years later, leading to the abolition of the 240-year-old monarchy. The new House of Representatives, with a Maoist majority, abolished the monarchy less than a month after convening and adopted an Interim Constitution January 15, 2007.
In June 2010, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal agreed to resign in exchange for a deal with the Maoists to extend the deadline for finalising a new constitution by another year when the CA missed its two-year deadline.
The CA was unable to elect a new Prime Minister until months later, in February 2011, after 17 unsuccessful attempts to reach a political consensus. On 29 May 2011, a day after the expiration of the extended deadline, the Nepalese government extended the deadline by another three months to August 29 and then to November 2011.
Unfortunately, none of these extensions resulted in a new constitution and another deadline was set for May 27, 2012. With the Nepalese beginning to protest over lack of progress on the process, the Supreme Court ruled that the CA could not be extended again if it did not meet the May 2012 deadline. The CA was unable to meet this deadline, and in line with the Supreme Court decision, was automatically disbanded with lapse of its last extended tenure on 27 May 2012.
A new assembly elected in 2013 is once more dominated by the traditional parties. They and the Maoists, working together, pushed through the new draft charter.
The country adopted the new post-monarchy Constitution in 2015, replacing the interim Constitution of 2007. The Constitution was drafted by the Second Constituent Assembly following the failure of the First Constituent Assembly.
What does the new constitution say?
The new republic will become a federal one. The Maoists' proposal of federalism was later adopted by many more mainstream parties because of the diversity of Nepal. Its people speak over 100 languages. They're split by divisions such as high- and low-caste, Nepali-speaking v speakers of indigenous languages, hill ethnicities v lowland ethnicities, and gender divisions, with high-caste men from the hills almost supremely dominant up to now.
The new document has drawn up provisional boundaries for seven states but their names are to be decided by their eventual assemblies and a commission has yet to fix their final boundaries. Nepali society has become deeply polarised on whether the states should be ethnically delineated.
Issues and Challenges
Many members of traditionally marginalised groups fear that the constitution will still work against them.They fear that the changes are rushed through by established parties which, including the Maoists, are dominated by high-caste, mostly male, leaders. Madhesi, a minority group residing in the Terai of Nepal, have been demanding a redrawing of federal boundaries.They expect it to reflect the fact that the community residents of the Terai area, and other minority groups are in a majority in some new provinces.
The government had also initiated amendments that went some way in addressing Madhesi concerns. These include the formation of a federal commission to look into a redrawing of federal boundaries, and the recognition of local languages as national ones. These amendments were, however, rejected by Madhesi parties, who are uncompromising in their extreme demands. The opposition Communist Party of Nepal (Unified-Marxist-Leninist) has also rejected them. The Madhesi parties and ethnic forces saw Nepal’s problem as one rooted in an exclusionary and unitary state and wanted to redefine Nepali nationalism to make it more inclusive and federal.
Also, Women's groups and campaigners on women's issues say the new constitution discriminates against Nepalese women in what is already a patriarchal society. According to the Kathmandu Post, under the new constitution it will be difficult for a single mother to pass her citizenship to her child. And if a Nepali woman marries a foreign man, their children cannot become Nepali unless the man first takes Nepali citizenship; whereas if the father is Nepali, his children can also be Nepali regardless of the wife's nationality.
Further, Hindu groups that want the restoration of the country's officially Hindu status (abolished nine years ago) are not happy. The new draft enshrines secularism - although it is a moderate secularism, which says the state is responsible for protecting ancient religious practices, and also makes the cow, sacred to Hindus, the national animal.
These conflicting visions are wrecking havoc in constitution finalisation.
What is the current situation and the way ahead?
In 2020, Nepal Prime Minister K P Oli recommended, Dissolution of the House of Representatives, the lower of Parliament, a move promptly approved by President Bidhya Devi Bhandari. This effectively ended the unity forced among the left forces that had led to the creation of the single, grand Nepal Communist Party three years ago. It plunged national politics into turmoil and the five-year-old Constitution into uncertainty, and raised questions about the haste with which the President approved Oli’s recommendation and and announced elections to be held during April 30th and 10th of May next year
As for its immediate fallout, Kathmandu saw street protests, resignations of seven ministers of the Prachanda faction of NCP and experts raising questions on the constitutional validity of Oli's decision.
Nepal's Supreme Court has also admitted several petitions and started hearing them. As the Supreme Court hearings drag on and the Election Commission remains undecided over the legitimacy claims made by the two factions of the Nepal Communist Party, the possibility of holding the elections is getting remote. As per the constitution, elections must be held within six months from the date of the dissolution of Parliament. So, if the planned elections cannot take place by June 20, Nepal will plunge into a constitutional crisis.