An Opportunity Squandered
NEPAL’S ambitious political transformation suffered its most serious setback Sunday night when its popularly elected and inclusive Constituent Assembly (CA) collapsed without delivering a constitution. Judicial strictures and deep political divisions prevented a further extension but history will judge the current political leadership harshly for failing to meet the long-standing aspiration of citizens to draw their own social contract. The parties spent far too much energy squabbling over government formation and power-sharing. The issue of integration of Maoist combatants dragged on for years. Senior politicians did not engage intensively in constitutional debates till very late. The CA itself was reduced to a mere rubber-stamp, and contentious issues were never put to vote. The breaking point was the issue of federalism.
The Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) were keen on postponing the issue for a future parliament. But a constitution without specific agreement on identitybased federalism was unacceptable to the Maoists, Madhesis, and ethnic communities.
The Baburam Bhattarai-led government has now declared elections for a new CA in November. The NC and UML have opposed the move. As unpalatable as elections may be to the NC and UML, there is no other alternative but to go back to the people. The interim Constitution is based on the principle of political consensus. An agreement is needed to decide on the new election framework. All parties should also reaffirm their commitment to basic principles like republicanism, secularism, federalism, democracy and inclusion.