Civil society and Nepal’s constitution making process
July 18 2012: Six years after the end of the conflict in Nepal, political parties have failed to reach a consensus on a new constitution. There have been huge efforts by Nepalese civil society to put pressure on Nepal's politicians. Ambika Pokhrel, Insight on Conflict's local correspondent for Nepal, looks at some examples.
Ten years of armed conflict in Nepal ended with signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in 2006 that open the road for elections to a Constituent Assembly (CA). Under Article 3.2 of the CPA, elections to the CA would happen within six months. However, it was a year and a half before elections were finally held.
The Nepalese people had high hopes and expectations of improve standard of living, without fear and threats of violence. Nepalese people actively and enthusiastically participated in the CA election.
They had expected a new constitution to be written by May 28, 2010 – two years after these elections. However, four years later, they are still waiting.
Intervention of Civil Society
Collective Campaign for Peace (COCAP) has been organising many activities on the process and the contents of the new constitution. Signature campaigns and sit-ins were organised to create pressure to promulgate the new constitution on time. Around 500,000 people from across Nepal signed a the 601 metre piece of white cotton and which was handed over to the chairman of the CA. A sit-in was organized in front of the CA building to pressurize CA members to allocate their full time for writing the constitution.
COCAP has also organised workshops, interactions and discussions around issues such as forms of governance, elections, federalism and state restructuring. Such programs sought to create pressure by raising public awareness. COCAP prepared a memorandum including public opinions on these issues and handed it over to the chairperson of the CA, and the chief of UCPN-M, NC, CPN-UML and the United Madhesi Democratic Front.
The National Peace Campaign (NPC) has been intensively organising programs and activities. Some programs were organised in collaboration between the thematic committees and NPC. NPC has been also providing expert opinions on the constitutional issues, and inviting CA members to workshops with the different thematic committees.
NPC has also conducted research on the state restructure and federalism. The research incorporated major issues to be under considered while restructuring the state into federal structure. The two publications – “Federal Structure in Nepal: Challenges and Opportunity” and Federal Structure in Nepal: Management and Implementation” – were widely distributed it to CA members, political leaders and the concerned stakeholders.
A number of workshops, interactions and discussions were conducted on state restructuring and federalism with the CA State Restructuring Committee and other concerned stakeholders. Despite, numerous efforts from both inside and outside of the CA, the issues of federalism, the number of federal provinces and demarcation of the provinces are not yet solved. Indeed, these issues are major obstacles for agreeing a new constitution.
NPC has also worked with the CA committees responsible for fundamental rights and rights of the minorities and disadvantaged communities. NPC organised a number of workshops on the provision of fundamental rights and rights of minority and marginalised communities. NPC has also published “Fundamental Rights” incorporating issues of fundamental rights and rights of minority groups and best practices from other countries. The publication was widely distributed to the CA members, political leaders and others.
It is not only organisations based in the capital which have been supporting the constitution making process. Often lacking sufficient funds and facing other obstacles, they have been regularly organizing either for supporting or creating pressure for writing the new constitution on time. For example, Human Rights and Peace Action Group (PAG), based in the eastern part of Nepal, organised a signature campaign to create pressure to promulgate the new constitution on time. The signature was handed to the government through the Chief District Officer of Ilam.
What happens now?
The Supreme Court determined that the CA should not be extended passed 27 May 2012. The verdict was criticized by the almost all political leaders and the parties. But the verdict was overwhelmingly welcomed by the Nepalese people, creating a thin ray of hope for the Nepalese people to have the new constitution by this date. Despite the deadline creating tremendous pressure for the CA to finally reach consensus, the deadline passed without a constitution. The CA has now been dissolved and Nepalese people are still waiting for a constitution.