Fast and furious

  • Constitutional process needs to be participatory for the new constitution to last

Jun 14, 2015-

After years of failing to reach an agreement on the constitution, the major political parties are suddenly displaying a high degree of urgency. Senior party leaders have even said that the constitution will be promulgated through a ‘super fast-track’ process. On one level, the commitment towards the promulgation of a constitution is appreciable. The parties say they intend to do so within a month. If the parties move too swiftly without adequate political consultation, it could lead to serious problems in the future. The intentions behind the ‘super fast-track’ process could also create new problems.  

It seems that rather than a well-thought-out plan on issues that have divided them for a number of years, the parties seem desperate to promulgate a new constitution as soon as possible. The CPN-UML and UCPN (Maoist) seem keen to replace this government and they are pushing for speedy promulgation of the new constitution. Gaining access to state power at the cost of larger political commitment to a broad range of constituencies could prove to be a recipe for disaster.

Parties should be mindful of the fact that large sections of society already feel alienated from the constitution-drafting process. Madhesi parties, though small in number, are critical of the four-party deal. They are concerned that the agreement does not address the basic parameters of what the federal structure will look like. They also fear that the federalism debate will be perennially postponed and federalism will never be implemented.

And it is not just Madhesis who are disappointed with the deal. Many others see that the fast-track approach taken by the political leadership conveniently sidelines broader issues that will be critical for a lasting constitution. Women rights activists, for example, are deeply concerned about the parties’ utter disregard for gender equality as reflected in the provisions on citizenship that have been decided upon in the Constitutional Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee. In essence, the provisions require both parents to be Nepali citizens for their child to get Nepali citizenship. In addition, there are naturalisation clauses in place that discriminate against Nepali women marrying foreign men.

 Now party leaders are arguing that the time allotted for public consultation in the constitution should be significantly shortened so that they can promulgate the statute as soon as possible. This could prevent diverse sections of the population from voicing their concerns about the constitutional agreement. Some party leaders argue that consultation is not necessary as the vast majority of Constituent Assembly members, who represent the people, are in favour of the new four-party agreement. But it could also be argued that the four-party leadership is dominated by a few hill, upper-caste men. They thus represent a tiny sliver of the population.

This fact alone can be used to discredit the constitution they promulgate. And for this, among other reasons, the draft constitution should be allowed to be publicly debated and criticised for at least a certain period of time so that the process embodies and hence gives a sense of ownership to broad sections of the population. 

Published: 15-06-2015 08:26

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