If 2014 ended without Nepal’s promised constitution, 2015 dawned with a clearer warning of chaos.
As Nepal’s top political leaders stopped saying they would meet the January 22 deadline for the new constitution, the Constituent Assembly’s chairman, Subash Nembang, claimed he could still do it, provided he was vested with all discretionary powers. Nepal has been a political laboratory for all sorts of agreements over the last nine years.
The parties that promised a constitution by 2010 and an atmosphere for economic development are discredited and fragmented. The deadline is likely to be missed.
But can the House afford to give all powers to its chairman, and would the draft he prepares be accepted by the people and parties as their constitution? Nembang also wants the right to suspend rules that require the distribution of drafts to all members, giving them time to suggest amendments and vote accordingly.
This would defeat the purpose of electing the Constituent Assembly. At the same time, many young parliamentarians from the ruling Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist coalition have threatened to gherao the House and fast from January 9 to put pressure on the House to meet the deadline. There are several protests across the country organised by political, ethnic and religious groups to have their demands, some contradictory, included in the constitution.
The president’s crucial response to Nembang’s proposal, based on the coalition’s recommendation, is yet to come. But going by the silence of most parties, Nembang is unlikely to become the sole author of the constitution.
Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on a visit to prepare for President Xi Jinping’s trip, sent a clear message to three top leaders by cancelling the meeting at the last minute. The explanation was that such a meeting would send across a message of interference. But in Kathmandu, it was taken as a message that the actors supported by the international community, including India, have failed, and China no longer wants to be seen on the same boat.
Beijing has made known its reservations on ethnicity-based federalism and a “secularism with the right to change one’s religion”. It has declared that Nepal’s unity and integrity should be uppermost in making the constitution. China has clearly felt uncomfortable with the current players monopolising power and the constitution-making process.
However, quietly, China and India have engaged bilaterally on how to encourage Nepal’s leaders to work together. But more people questioning the CA’s legitimacy is likely to drive home the message that Nepal’s political experiment has failed.