Like 2008, 2014 has been a culmination of some years of frustration. In 2008, the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won majority seats in the first Constituent Aseembly, relying on the success of the Loktantrik Andolan and the popular dissatisfaction with monarchical rule. The failure to deliver the constitution on time led to the Congress gaining majority seats in the second Constituent Assembly. With the second CA holding its first session in January this year and the Congress coming to office in February, the government has made a number of promises that the constitution will be signed, sealed and delivered by January next year. But are these promises just lip service?
Because the Congress was voted into office with a majority, there is some semblance of stability in the government. This is reflected in the fact that the government has presented the full budget for the first time in three years this July. Despite the UCPN claims of electoral fraud in November, there has since been concerted effort on the part of all parties to come to a compromise despite factionalism. The collapse of the previous CA has made all political parties wary of a second failure due to infighting.
Many have voiced their agreement that the constitution could be passed by the end of the next fiscal year. Madhav Nepal, a senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Lenist, has claimed that it is possible to complete the constitution by next year by building on the work done by the former CA.
Despite this, there are doubts that CA-II will be able to deliver.
After extending its lifespan from two years to four, the first CA could not come to a consensus on some significant issues like that of federalism. The specter of the first CA’s failure continues to haunt the current assembly. Even though the Constitutional-Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee (CPDCC) has endorsed 11 of 48 contentious issues already settled by the previous CA, federalism has remained unresolved. While older parties, like the Congress and CPN-UML, are of the perspective that the federal units should be based on economic viability, the newer parties like the various Maoist factions, Madhesi parties and so on are pushing for an identity-based federalism. It is clear that a federal state structure that does not address both economic viability or social issues like identity politics and historically marginalized groups will lead to another deadlock.
Bipin Adhikari, a political commentator, believes that the timely completion of the constitution will be determined by the resolution of the federalism question. He claims that there has not been enough dialogue in the CA about the structure of the federal state.
Without determining basic structural issues like that of federalism, there can be no clear headway in making the constitution more inclusive, in managing different identity based interest groups, and on peace-building and nation-building processes.
For those who are still as confused as I am, here’s the summary. The first Constituent Assembly was elected in 2008 and is now largely remembered for its failure to pass a constitution. If the question of federalism is not adequately resolved, come January next year this could be the story of the second Constituent Assembly too.