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Publication Date : 10-09-2012
The political parties of Nepal are again engaged in negotiating the details of the new constitution. It appears that they are at a stage of negotiation where the details of federalism are being discussed in earnest. All sides seem keen to extricate the nation from the current crisis. As such, they have decided not to reopen issues that have been resolved in the past—such as form of government, the judiciary and the electoral system. The discussions are focussed on the core issue of disagreement, over which the Constituent Assembly (CA) was dissolved: the number and names of states. The idea appears to be that if the parties are able to reach an agreement on the number of states, the precise delineation of boundaries and names can be left for the parliament that will be elected after negotiations. But before elections are held, the CA will be reinstated for a short period of time and the constitution will be promulgated.
There are those who argue that CA reinstatement is a bad idea as it reinforces the domination of the major political parties and does not take into account the various democratic demands that have recently arisen. This is true. But there is a case to be made for reinstatement of the CA. The above roadmap outlined by the parties, if agreed upon, will succeed in salvaging all the accomplishments of the dissolved CA. It will avoid the tremendous costs involved in electing a new CA. Besides, if a new CA is elected, there is also the possibility that all the hard-won agreements so far will unravel and that all resolved issues will once again come up for negotiation. This will make it exceedingly hard to write a new constitution. For these reasons, there is merit in the argument that a short-term revival of the CA, on the condition that substantial differences between parties are resolved, is a good step forward.
In the course of the negotiations, however, the parties have to be very careful regarding the inclusion of Janajati and Madhesi groups. It should be remembered that a major reason why the CA was dissolved was because these groups felt their demands were not properly addressed until the last minute, and so it became difficult to reach an agreement with them. A deeper, more sustained consultation with these groups could perhaps have avoided the CA dissolution. The idea of postponing the delineation of boundaries and names of states is a sensitive one. Madhesi and Janajati (indigenous) groups have rejected this idea in the past. If the roadmap outlined by the larger political parties is to work this time, there has to be buy-in from the major Madhesi and Janajati political outfits.