Nepal’s Constitution: The Political Impasse
27 Aug 2012
Nepal’s major political parties must urgently agree on a roadmap to negotiate on federalism and write the new constitution, whether by holding elections to a new Constituent Assembly or reviving the previous body.
Nepal's Constitution (I): Evolution not Revolution and Nepal’s Constitution (II): The Expanding Political Matrix, two new reports from the International Crisis Group, describe the interplay of issues, political behaviours and the shifting balance between actors that will determine how Nepal will get a constitution and what it might look like. The papers examine the reasons for the current political deadlock and the options the parties have to improve negotiations and deliver the new constitution. They describe the significant changes in the political landscape, the schisms in major parties and the emergence of new alliances and new actors, and how these affect discussions on federalism.
“To get the constitution-writing process back on track, mainstream politicians have to manage their parties better, listen to diverse opinions, and clarify their own agendas”, says Anagha Neelakantan, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst for South Asia. “Otherwise they risk ceding political space to extremists who might appear more action-oriented or sympathetic to a frustrated polity”.
Nepali actors are deeply divided on the role of identity politics in the proposed federal set-up. Their differences reflect divergences within Nepali society. The parties have often not listened to their own members and done very little to explain their sometimes haphazard proposals for federalism to the general public. This has given rise to deep anxieties as well as high expectations. They also made secretive and top-down decisions that went over badly with smaller interest groups.
In the lead-up to the Constituent Assembly’s May 2012 deadline, a sharp social polarisation appeared between groups that demand a federal model based on identity and those that feel they will lose out in the new system. There were also instances of communally tinged violence. Although things are calm now, triggers remain.
The parties must urgently start discussing how to agree on a roadmap. Both options currently on the table, reviving the last Constituent Assembly and holding elections to a new one, contain risks if they are not managed well. How to accommodate the ambitions of parties to lead government should be part of this discussion, but cannot dominate, as it currently does. The absence of a legislature could worsen tensions between parties. The constitutional ambiguity could also pose a challenge to relations between the prime minister and the president, and the executive and the judiciary. Negotiations on the way ahead and on constitutional issues need to be more transparent and inclusive. There are many groups that want to be heard. Nepal’s parties need to take them into confidence, or risk creating conditions in which violence could become an option.
“Nepal is undergoing a democratic transition and its political parties must use this to enhance the practice of participatory democracy at all levels”, says Paul Quinn-Judge, Crisis Group’s Acting Asia Program Director. “Negotiating a broadly acceptable constitution is at the heart of this process. Difficult as it might be, this project cannot be abandoned”.