Nepal edges towards constitution but splits remain

Nepal's diverse marginalized and minority groups clamor for their rights to be protected in constitution

Nepal edges towards constitution but splits remain

World Bulletin / News Desk

It has taken seven years, repeated political disputes and the shock of a disastrous earthquake but Nepal appears to finally be on the cusp of having its own republic constitution. 

But the rush to finish the draft constitution has also been met with opposition from marginalized groups, minorities and regional political outfits who have complained it fails to meet their demands.

On June 30, a ruling party lawmaker tabled the draft constitution at the constituent assembly, a 601-member body tasked with writing the post-war charter following the end of a 10-year Maoist insurgency in 2006.

Immediately after it was tabled, a group of disgruntled opposition lawmakers tore up copies of the draft charter, launching a protest that was followed by burning copies of the document the next day in Kathmandu and a handful of districts in southern Nepal.

On Monday, the minority Christian and Muslim communities called for their rights to be protected in a secular constitution but earlier, the country's fourth-largest party, the pro-Hindu and pro-monarchy Ratriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, had disrupted deliberations on the draft, with some MPs picketing the rostrum, throwing chairs and smashing microphones.

While the first protests came from parties angry with the postponement of delineating and naming the federal states, the latter resented provisions such as secularism.

The four political parties—the ruling Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist-Leninist and the opposition, the Maoists and Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (Democratic)—last month agreed to divide the country into eight federal states in the wake of a series of earthquakes that left over 8,700 people dead, injured more than 20,000 and made half a million homeless.

The deal agreed on the contentious issue of federalism that has occupied the parties for much of the last seven years but analysts say there was little to be optimistic about, as the draft was essentially a document of compromise.

“This was bound to happen where you have two major political forces who are poles apart as far as their vision is concerned. Thus, the issue of rights for the marginalized has been pushed to a backburner,” said Tilak Pathak, an opinion editor for the daily Kantipur newspaper.

“The Nepali Congress and the Maoists represent two opposite political ideologies in Nepal. This was apparent in their positions during the discussions on the draft. While the Nepali Congress was keen on retaining the parliamentary system, the Maoists opposed using the word ‘pluralism’ that the Nepali Congress leaders were so fond of,” Pathak told Anadolu Agency.

“Constituent Assembly should have settled everything related to federalism. Yet the four parties that signed the deal last month kept tight control over the draft. Their acts have further marginalized the groups already suffering from the discriminatory state,” said Ajambar Rai Kangbang, a central committee member of the Federal Socialist Forum.

“Certain ethnic groups are concentrated in certain regions. The idea was to bring them into political mainstream. But the draft [of the constitution] has only focused on physical geography and not on human geography,” said Kangbang, whose party is a newly formed coalition of ethnic groups based in the eastern hills and Madhesis from the southern plains.

An indigenous Tharu lawmaker from the Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (Democratic), however, said last month’s deal was necessary to preserve the provisions of secularism and inclusion.

“There are doubts and confusion (about the draft), but if we hadn’t struck the deal, we would have lost the gains we made on secularism and inclusion,” said Yogendra Chaudhary, a lawmaker representing the Tharus, who are scattered around districts in Western half of the country’s southern plains.

“The draft is not according to our expectations. But we are optimistic that we can push for more. We have taken a huge risk,” said Chaudhary, whose party is one of four signatories of the deal.

Chaudhary’s political trajectory, from a cadre of the Nepali Congress to a prominent member of a coalition vying for federal states based on ethnicity, shows how Nepal’s identity politics have evolved over the years.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 07 Temmuz 2015, 13:01