A.8 Nepal [ongoing process]

In 1951 the king promised a constituent assembly. An interim constitution was introduced, but the king reneged and the interim constitution was amended to become a regular constitution. Other constitutions were adopted in 1959 and 1962, the latter a charter for royal power. In 1990, after the first People’s Movement, a good constitution was adopted, but there was never a really participatory constitution-making process.

A ten-year Maoist insurgency, and royal autocracy, led to a demand for a new constitution. A second People’s Movement in 2006 led to the restoration of democracy, with the promise of a constituent assembly. The Maoists, part of the peace process, refused to work with any version of the 1990 constitution, so the major parties set up a committee to draft an interim constitution. This was adopted in January 2007, and the parliament was restructured under that constitution, without an election, to bring in the Maoists and various party nominees to form a more inclusive legislature.

The interim constitution required elections for a constituent assembly. Outside the government, various groups were agitating, and several amendments were made to the interim constitution to accommodate their demands, including involvement in the constituent assembly and formally declaring Nepal a federal state. An elaborate parallel voting system was set up for the assembly (240 geographical constituencies and 335 party list members—with complex provisions to ensure that the latter were inclusive in terms of gender, ethnicity, caste, and region). Elections were held in April 2008. The Maoists were the largest party and headed the new government, though they have since left it.

The constituent assembly was formed and adopted its rules. It set its own road map within the overall two-year timetable set forth in the interim constitution. It formed various committees, including ten on substantive issues. The committees presented to the public long lists of questions about the constitution, and received a large number of responses. The committees have worked on “concept papers” on their remits, with draft provisions. A constitutional committee of the constituent assembly is charged with putting these into a harmonious whole. Political wrangling held the process up, and just before its two-year timetable ended, the constituent assembly, as legislature, amended the interim constitution to give itself one more year. At the time of writing (early 2011), that year will expire in four months, and there has been limited progress in the past eight months.

The constituent assembly carried out little civic education, but many local and international NGOs and agencies have done so, often with target groups such as women, Dalits, and indigenous peoples. Almost every imaginable United Nations agency and international NGO is present.

In terms of process: politics is tending to take precedence over constitution-making. The demands of various groups were addressed in an unsystematic fashion—with consequences for expectations of the process. Poverty, illiteracy, and poor communications make public involvement difficult. There is a good deal of ambivalence about international contributions to the official process.

In terms of issues: federalism is a major one, with inclusion in the electoral system and other aspects of public life quite important. The system of government seems likely to remain parliamentary, though there is some discussion about that.