Nepal leaders vow to draft constitution within a year

Kathmandu, Jan 21: Top leaders of Nepal’s political parties Tuesday publicly vowed that they will give a new constitution within a year to the Himalayan nation that is being run on an interim constitution since 2007.

They made this commitment while being sworn in as lawmakers by the oldest lawmaker, Surya Bahadur Thapa, at the International Convention Centre in Kathmandu. They also promised that they would not repeat past mistakes.

The former Constituent Assembly elected in 2008 was dissolved in 2012 after the major political parties developed differences over the issue of federalism and the form of government Nepal should adopt following the promulgation of the new constitution.

Had there been a political agreement, Nepal would have got a full-fledged constitution by now and the nation would have had a federal structure with mutual agreement.

“We will promulgate the new constitution as assured to the people during the Nov 19 elections. We are going to build a new nation which will take place according to the understanding between the parties,” said Sushil Koirala, president of the Nepali Congress and who is widely seen as a future Prime Minister of the country.

All the major political parties promised in their manifestos that they would deliver a democratic, inclusive republic and federal constitution for Nepal within one year.

The Nepali Congress emerged as the largest party after the Nov 19 Constituent Assembly elections while the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the United Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-Ma) came second and third respectively.

The bone of contention during the former assembly was federalism and the form of government that has to be adopted.

This time too, these two issues will be dominating the house.

“If we could not reach an understanding or consensus over the issue of federalism and forms of government we will sort them out from inside the assembly,” said Koirala.

In the former assembly too, the issue of voting to determine contentious issues was tabled but political parties were divided and the assembly was dissolved after the expiry of its term and tenure.

Jhalanath Khanal, chairman of the CPN-UML, said that the commitment to draft a democratic constitution within a year was there and the parties are not shirking their responsibility.

Another CPN-UML leader, K.P. Oli, while casting doubts over the timetable for promulgating the new constitution, said that the timeline would be flexible for drafting a new constitution.

“The term and tenure of the assembly is set for four years so that if we cannot complete the responsibility by one year, it could be pushed for further sometime,” he said.

Leaders from all parties said they have learned lessons from the former Constituent Assembly.

A senior UCPN-M leader, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, made it clear that the Maoists would play a constructive and active role in the constitution drafting process.

A total of 575 lawmakers, elected directly under the first-past-the post system and nominated under the proportional representation electoral system, were being administered the oath by Thapa, a former prime minister, Tuesday. Five lawmakers were absent, according to the parliament secretariat.

New faces form around 80 percent of the new Constituent Assembly. Though there was no dress code, lawmakers representing the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP-N) wore the national dress.

(Anil Giri can be reached at girianil@gmail.com)

IANS