Constitutional Crisis over federalism in Nepal – Shulav Neupane, Nepal

As of now, Nepal has no permanent constitution. On February 13, the time allocated to the Constitutional Assembly (CA) ended, and they postponed meeting indefinitely, citing the failure of political parties (mainly the opposition and ruling blocks) to come into consensus.

Nepalcontituentassemblyvote1

It is not the first time this has happened. Ever since the People’s Movement II, a massive uprising to overthrow monarchy in 2006, the Nepalese people have voted twice for a CA and have seen quite a few deadline extensions. In 2008, an election was held to elect the members of a Constituent Assembly – the first of its kind. But now that it has been eight years since political parties promised a timely constitution and seven years since the first CA election, lawmakers and Constitutional experts view this as a period of massive political insurgency.

Overarchingly, the major issues hindering the formation of a Nepali constitution are federalism and the identification of federal units. The Nepalese had decided that Nepal would be a federal state, and it was recognised as the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal by the Interim Constitution of 2063 (in the Nepali calendar – corresponding to 2006/07). But since this was still a contentious issue in the Nepali Congress between the UCPN-Maoist (the current opposition) and UML (the current proposition), it caused the failure of the CA twice – in 2012 and 2015.

It is understood that the proposition front of the parliament wishes to divide Nepal from north to south, not on a racial identity basis, whereas the opposition (along with several Madhesi parties that represent the Terai region, and several ethnic parties) are trying hard to create federal units on the basis of the population’s caste and ethnicity. They also disagree on the number of states into which Nepal should be divided. Even though much progress has been made on other disputed issues in the three years that have passed since 2012 (when the CA was first dissolved for these conflicts in ideology), federalism has not taken a leap forward, making the idea of federalism a topic of major debate even to the common man in Nepal.

Federal units based on ethnicity may have their pros and cons,  but the UCPN-Maoist and CPN-Maoist parties (originally the same party) will not give up the idea, seeing as the decade-long People’s War, that lasted until the People’s Movement brought political uprising against the king from the grassroots level, advocated the personal identities of Nepalis.

However, the proposition is also unwilling to consider ethnic division, as they wish to avoid conflicts between ethnic-federal units. In such a scenario, it would seem that Nepal is a long way away from getting its sixth constitution.

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