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Crafting a New Constitution in Nepal

Issue 45, November 09, 2008

By Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

The Himalayan nation called Nepal has been a role model for all peace-loving people in the world in general and for those countries where rebels have been waging a war in particular in bringing a civil war to a peaceful conclusion and then begin a new life. After a decade-long deadly conflict starting in 1996 and ending in 2006, Nepal has held a successful election for members of the Constituent Assembly that is for crafting a new constitution and for functioning as a parliament until a new constitution is crafted and held an election for people’s representation. The Constituent Assembly peacefully voted out the 240-year long infamous monarchy.

It has been already seven months since an election was held for electing members of the Constituent Assembly on April 10, 2008 for crafting a new constitution; however, nothing has been done so far to crafting a new constitution. Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala took four solid months to quit the government and turn over the power to the majority seats winning political party after his party called Nepali Congress (NC) suffered defeat in the election for the Constituent Assembly. Then, the newly emerged political party called Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist) formed a government in cooperation with the third and four largest political parties such as Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML) and Madheshi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) respectively leaving the second largest party NC out of the government.

Immediately after the formation of a new government Prime Minister Prachanda went on a foreign tours. First, he visited China, then India and New York, China for attending the concluding day of the Beijing Olympic Game held from August 16 to 24, 2008, then to India to reinforce the bilateral relation with the most important neighbor and then New York to attend the 63rd General Assembly of the UN. Prime Minister Prachanda claimed that all those three foreign visits were highly successful but he missed the most important job of assisting in crafting a new constitution.

Nepal was supposed to craft a people’s constitution even in 1950s. The tripartite agreement reached among the NC leaders, king Tribhuvan and last Rana Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher agreed to hold an election for a Constituent Assembly for crafting a new constitution, to promulgate an Interim Constitution and form a three party-coalition government to be headed by the last Rana Prime Minster. However, the then political stakeholders such as the NC and the then king did not take the election for a Constituent Assembly seriously as a mission beneficial to all parties concerned. The NC was for grabbing power. So, it did not use its energy to influence the then king to hold an election for a Constituent Assembly for crafting a new constitution but continued to indulge in a political game to grab power. The king in turn deliberately did not hold an election for a constituent Assembly fearing that the newly acquired power would go to the people’s representatives; so he rather went on consolidating power in his hands manipulating politicians unscrupulously. The then Prime Minister Mohan Shumsher Rana of the three-party coalition government had suggested the then Home Minister Bisheswor Prasad Koirala representing the NC to hold an election for a constituent Assembly saying that the NC would surely win the majority seats if not overwhelmingly then the NC would have monopoly on crafting a new constitution. However, the then Home Minister Koirala simply brushed off the onetime foe of the NC leaders.

So, the NC did not go for a Constituent Assembly but went on engaging in the power politics game played by the then ailing King Tribhuvan and then putting pressure on the then king Mahendra after the death of Tribhuvan for proclaiming a new constitution and then holding an election for a parliament. The NC launched a non-cooperation movement to this end and succeeded to put sufficient pressure on king Mahendra to issue a constitution in 1958 and to hold an election in 1959. It was a second royal constitution after the first interim constitution issued by King Tribhuvan. In the election for the parliament, the NC won overwhelming number of seats and formed a first elected Government. Bisheswor Prasad Koirala became the first elected Prime Minister of Nepal.

On December 15, 1960, King Mahendra grabbed the power from the elected Prime Minister Bisheswor Prasad Koirala, dissolved the parliament and disbanded all political parties, and run the government handily.

Then the king proclaimed a third constitution in 1962 to show off to the international community his intention of democratically running the administration. However, this constitution was crafted for consolidating all power in the hands of the king keeping away all political parties. Direct elections were held at the local government level only; then the local people’s representatives elected District Assemblies and district committees; they in turn elected zonal assembly and zonal committee ultimately the National Assembly and the government.

In 1979 the students’ movement almost toppled the then-King Birendra’s government and even the monarch. However, the shrewd king saved both the government and the monarchy announcing a referendum on choosing between the multi-party and improving the ongoing no-party system. In 1980, the then-Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa successfully manipulated the referendum results in favor of the no-party system at high cost to the nation and to the monarchy, too. The king amended the constitution making room for directly electing the members of the National Assembly. Then, the disbanded political parties directly participated in the elections weakening the hold of the positions of the pro-monarch politicians in the National Assembly.

In 1990 the NC and the united-left front jointly launched a peaceful movement for restoration of democracy. The then-king Birendra held on to power for 48 days; on the 49th day, the movement reached the climax. Birendra had two options: either to hold on to power putting the monarchy at risk or give the power to the political parties. He opted for the second and gave the power to the political parties.

Then, the committee comprising the representatives of the NC, the united-left front and the king crafted a new constitution in 1990. This fourth constitution of Nepal made two things unalterable: 1) the multi-party system and 2) the monarchy.

In 2005 the then freaky King Gyanendra scrapped the Constitution of Nepal of 1990, uprooted the multi-party democracy and the monarchy: the two things the Constitution of Nepal of 1990 had made unalterable. Nepalis on the call of the political parties including the rebels revolted against the king and restored the multi-party democracy but not the monarchy in 2006.

The restored House of Representatives proclaimed an Interim Constitution of Nepal of 2007 that in turn set up a legislative-parliament dissolving the House of Representatives and the National Assembly, formed an interim government and brought the monarchy into question. The Interim Constitution of Nepal of 2007 was the fifth Constitution of Nepal made in more than 50 years of democratic innovation in Nepal.

On April 10, 2008, the Interim Government held an election for a Constituent Assembly pursuant to the Interim Constitution of Nepal of 2007. On May 28, 2008, the first session of the Constituent Assembly declared Nepal a federal democratic republic peacefully removing the 240-year old monarchy and giving 15 days to former king Gyanendra to leave the palace. On June 11, 2008, former King Gyanendra left the palace.

It has been more than five months since the first session of the Constituent Assembly was held but it has done nothing for crafting a new constitution. Pursuant to the Interim Constitution of Nepal of 2007, the Constituent Assembly needed to complete the crafting of a new constitution of Nepal within two years. It has been already more than six months since the election for a Constituent Assembly was held in April 2008 but the Constituent Assembly has been sitting mute.

Chairman of the Constituent Assembly said that the failure of the political parties to agree on finalizing the Constituent Assembly rules and regulations has been a stumbling block to crafting a new constitution. The political leaders have been discussing whether the political parties needed to be authorized to issue whip to the members of the Constituent Assembly or not. On November 05, 2008, leaders of the four major political parties such as the Communist of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist), Nepali Congress (NC), Communist of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML), Madheshi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) agree on not mentioning anything about whip.

On October 27, 2008, speaking at a face-to-face program held in Kathmandu, former Prime Minister and President of NC and currently the main opposition leader Girija Prasad Koirala said that the NC would not be a hindrance to crafting a new constitution.

It was hard to believe that Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala was speaking out his mind. If it were his sincere intention he would not have delayed in transferring the power to the newly elected majority party leader. He took four months to transfer the power. He held on to power until the last minute of the possibility of making delay in relinquishing power.

With his political standing, Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala could have contributed significantly to crating a new constitution if he had engaged sincerely in putting pressure on the political leaders and the members of Constituent Assembly to engage in constitution–making business but unfortunately for him and the nation he had been busy with attempting to tearing down the government ignoring the most important business of crafting a new constitution. He had been stepping on the footprints left by his senior brother and first elected Prime Minister of Nepal Bisheswor Prasad Koirala that did not engage in holding even an election for a Constituent Assembly but used his entire energy in grabbing power in mid 1950s. However, we need to appreciate junior Koirala for holding an election for a Constituent Assembly in April 2008 even though it was entirely under the pressure of other political leaders.

Recently, General Secretary of CPN-UML Jhalanath Khanal condemned the NC leaders for conspiring against the democracy in the name of launching a movement against the so-called “Maoists’ authoritarian Rule”. He said that any political party was free to launch any movement; however, the NC wanted to impose an authoritarian rule in the name of preserving democracy in the past. He urged all political leaders to be serious in crafting a new constitution instead of indulging in other activities that would harm democracy. He also said that the NC leaders needed to play an active and constructive role in crating a new constitution.

On October 26, speaking to the local chapter of Press Union in Biratnagar, Senior NC leader and former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba charged the CPN-Maoist of poised to impose an one-party authoritarian rule similar to that of Cuba in the name of People's Republic in Nepal. He said that the NC would launch a campaign to protect democracy and the country from any sorts of authoritarian rulers.

Any rational-thinking political leader would be talking about crafting a new constitution rather than talking about such irrational probability of one political party imposing any sorts of an authoritarian rule. Let us talk about crafting a new constitution rather than talking nonsense. Let us not disturb peace and the political stability in the name of launching any protest against anything, as any protest launch by the political party such as the NC might be an excuse for anybody anticipating an opportunity of grabbing power and really imposing an authoritarian rule.

Let us be a role model to the world in stabilizing democracy and building a prosperous nation rather than just attempting to grab power. Political leaders needed to sacrifice many things including the most attractive lucrative and prestigious ministerial positions to this end. The NC leaders needed to act rationally and practically if they wanted to protect the NC from extinction. We have seen the death of the monarchy because of the irrational actions of the former King Gyanendra and his predecessors particularly Tribhuvan and his son Mahendra. In fact Tribhuvan sowed the seed of the death of the monarchy in Nepal. Then, his son Mahendra nurtured it. Former King Birendra slowed its growth agreeing to the people’s power for which he probably paid by his life. So, let us not sow the seed of the death of the NC but nurture it participating in crafting a new constitution for sustainable development of democracy in Nepal.

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