A new constitution has finally been ratified after years of disputes and delays in Nepal. It will be divided into seven federal provinces, a move aimed at devolving power from the capital Kathmandu. But some ethnic groups say the division leaves them under-represented in parliament. They include the Madhesi and Tharu ethnic minorities, who mainly live in the southern plains along the border with India. Its the first constitution drafted by representatives of the people. In the past, constitutions were either written by the monarch or by a committee selected by the king or queen.
Letz analyse it !!!
Some Features of the Nepali Constitution !!
In terms of its letter and rhetoric, the new constitution embraces principles such as federalism, secularism, inclusiveness and republicanism. The charter also addresses key concerns of almost all political actors. From that point of view, it is a more modern constitution, which, in principle, aims to promote the participation of all Nepalis in governing the country.
- It has the provision of a bicameral legislation.
- The lower house or the house of representatives will have 375 members and the upper house has 60 members.
- The constitution has 37 divisions, 304 articles and 7 annexes.
- The seven provinces will be finalised by a high-level commission within a year.
- It has incorporated a radical provision Article 18 that states: "All citizens shall be equal before the law. No person shall be denied the equal protection and benefit of the laws. There shall be no discrimination in the application of general laws on grounds of religion, race, origin, caste, tribe, gender, sexual orientation, physical conditions, health conditions, physical impairment, matrimonial status, pregnancy, economic condition, language or geographical region or ideology and such other matters." Thus becoming first constitution in South Asia, speaking about rights of sexual minorities.
- Article 42, titled Right to Social Justice, specifically includes "gender and sexual minorities."
- Article 12 addresses citizenship "based on lineage and gender identity." "Each citizen shall be provided with (a) Nepali citizenship certificate based on lineage of the mother or father along with gender identity,"
What are the flaws?
- There are specifics in the charter which are either regressive or have not been fully thrashed out. For example, it privileges men when it comes to conferring citizenship and further restricts the rights of women, including those granted by previous constitutions.
- It also lacks specifics in terms of local elections and federal demarcation.
- These are very critical issues that will resurface once the constitution is promulgated. And we can only hope that critics will resort to peaceful means of dissent in both instances such as using the courts for remedies.
Why this second- class treatment to Nepali women?
- The main argument the three main political parties use is that they don't want men from neighboring countries such as India and China marrying Nepali women and causing unwanted population growth which they view as some sort of threat to national security.
Smaller opposition parties rejected the new constitution in a joint statement, and announced a nationwide general strike on Sunday. Why do they object to the document?
- 25 members of the Constituent Assembly (CA) voted against the charter, and 66 abstained out of a total of 598 CA members. This means that 507 members supported the adoption of the bill.
- The 25 members who voted against the charter represent the Hindu extremist right wing that wants Nepal to become a Hindu nation and not a secular one.
- Those who abstained, on the other hand, did not want to participate in a constitutional process which failed to give a voice to the Tharu and the Madhesi ethnic communities who predominantly reside in the country's southern plains bordering India. These small parties demand either a separate province for these groups or recognition in the form of certain privileges awarded to them in the federal provinces or in the south.
- Given the amount of people this 66 CA members represent, their abstention means that a very significant block of Nepalis chose not to take part in the vote.
Why are the Madhesis and Tharus protesting ?
- Minority Madhesi and Tharus groups, living in plains – the Terai region -- just across the borders of UP and Bihar are protesting, over making country a seven-province federal structure.
What are India's concerns ?
- Urging Kathmandu to address differences and concerns of a section of its population through dialogue free from violence and intimidation and in an institutionalised manner, the MEA statement said only that process would enable a broad-based ownership and acceptance of the constitution.
- India believes that the Nepali political leaders didn't exercise the flexibility to bring on board all regions and sections of society.
- Therefore, the assessment in the security establishment in Delhi is that the process could sow the seeds for future instability, right across the open border.
- Last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Constituent Assembly in Kathmandu, he said the constitution should be such that people from Himal, Pahad and Terai can own it. He reiterated this message during a second visit, and categorically gave a call for a consensus-based constitution.
- Another factor upsetting New Delhi is the disinformation campaign under way in Nepal that India had instigated the Madhes movement.
Moral of the Story :-
I think Nepal will remain at a crossroads. I don't see how the new charter will bring stability in the near term as this will depend on getting the Tharu and the Madhesi politicians and their constituencies on board - probably with promises that the very first amendment of the constitution will address their demands.