Sunday, October 16, 2011

Nepal's Constituent Assembly Process Continues

To appreciate why the current constitution drafting process in Nepal is so complicated and time-consuming, it is essential to locate this process in the context of three decades (1960-1990) of single party royal rule followed by two decades (1990-2008) of troubled liberal economic, democratic experience.

The 1990 Constitution drafting process, the first to write a truly democratic constitution, was led by respected lawyers, judges and political leaders, all men, who had to balance the continuing historical and cultural authority of the Shah kings with the popular demand for a multi-party democratic structure.

But, by 2006-8, after the close of the worst years of the Maoist civil conflict and the collapse of a feudal royal regime that had lasted for over 200 years, the major political parties, the Congress, UML and Maoist, agreed to a peace process that included the drafting of a new people's constitution through the election, for the first time, of a truly inclusive Constituent Assembly (CA).

The creation of a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution had been one of the 40 demands of the Communist Party of Nepal/Maoist (CPN/M) when they launched their People’s War in February 1996. This realization of this commitment was an important component of the 2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) that brought the ten year old civil conflict to an end.

Although the actual details and implementation procedures to adhere to the many commitments in the 2006 CPA are still being negotiated five years later, particularly with regard to the peace process, the Maoist cantonments, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Disappearances Commission, in comparison, the CA constitution drafting process -- although not yet complete -- has made much more substantial progress over the past three years than most other aspects of the CPA.

For example, the UNDP “Support to Participatory Constitution Building in Nepal’ (SPCBN) project, funded by DFID, Danida, the Norwegian Embassy and UNDP, has worked closely with the CA and the CA Secretariat to ensure the inclusion of historically marginalized communities in the drafting this secular, democratic, federal constitution for Nepal. The effort to achieve a national outreach was originally approved by the Government of Nepal (GoN) with the CA Secretariat appointed the  representative for the project just after the CA elections.

This UNDP managed civil society outreach initiative began in early 2009 targeting historically disadvantaged communities as specifically identified in the 2007 Interim Constitution, e.g. the Madhesi, Indigenous Peoples, Dalits, women and remote area communities. The distinct objective was to bring these traditionally marginalized communities, who were less represented in the government or the upper echelon of the major political parties, into closer contact with the political leadership of the country who would be implementing the consultative constitution drafting process.

At that time, 18 Nepali NGO federations were selected from over 150 applicants through a competitive proposal review process. These 18 NGO federations represented an exceptionally wide vareity of Nepali ethnic, caste, geographic, linguistic and remote regions, as well as included over 90 local-based Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) from across Nepal.  These CSOs were trained and tasked with reaching the most remote villages with civic education on the formal CA drafting process (using flip charts, trained local facilitators and training modules), as well as to collect and collate community level submissions for presentation to the CA Thematic Committees in Kathmandu.

A second phase of this civil society participation (CSO 2) was initiated in 2010 by 15 NGO Federatons through a similarly detailed selection process.  It was specifically designed to reach all 3,915 Village Development Committees (VDCs) and municipalities across the 75 districts of Nepal.  Due to their fine performance, over half of the NGO federations that participated in the first phase of civil society outreach were selected again in the second competitive selection process to continue their field work, while other NGO federations with more experience in other geographic regions and communities of the country were selected to ensure that all parts and communities of Nepal were covered.

Over a four month 2010 period, these NGOs and their over CSO 100 partners conducted ‘Democracy Dialogues’ (Loktantric Sambad) to inform people on the contents of the eleven CA Thematic Committee reports.  Using new training modules on the contents of the CA Committee reports and detailed summaries to update the people of the CA work, the 15 NGO federations and their CSO partners documented the contents of the public feedback and actual individual attendance from across Nepal.

After these field consultations, the village-level submissions were collated and presented at one public ‘Constituency Dialogue’ for each of the 240 electoral constituencies with selected local Constituent Assembly (CA) members in attendance. Then, after completion of the process, all 240 Constituency reports (including the VDCs reports from that constituency) were collected, bound and submitted to the Chair of the Constituent Assemblywith a written summary in Nepali (and English).

Over 400,000 people participated in this two year civil society outreach initiative from nearly every walk of life, including the rich divesity of caste, ethnic, religious and linguistic communities across the high mountains, middle hills and the low-laying terai of Nepal.

In addition, over 120,000 copies of a 60 page summary overview of the eleven Constituent Assembly Thematic Committee reports, including a 10 page Q&A, was prepared by the SPCBN legal team.  This booklet was translated and distributed in five national languages (Nepali, Maithali, Bhojpuri, Urdu and Bhote) to support the civil society outreach.

Nonetheless, the draft constitution has not yet been finalized by the CA, even after three extensions to May 2011, August 2011 and soon November 2011.  Although there is much agreement on many components and aspects of the future constitution, there are still contentious issues, especially with regard to the form of government, the electoral system and the structure of a federal republic.

In this regard, the political parties continue their negotiations, both on the peace process, which some parties state must be completed before the new draft constitution can be finalized, as well as these outstanding core issues for the new constitution.

Therefore, through our UNDP SPCBN project, this inclusive, consultative process continues in 2011.  Building on the 14 provincial level Federalism Dialogues that the project implemented in 2010 with the assistance of Professors Krishna Khanal and Krishna Hachhethu, a series of Inter-Provincial Dialogues were organized earlier this year that sought to address specific contentious issues related to federalism and state restructuring that affected adjacent proposed provinces.

Now the project is sponsoring a new series of Federalism Dialogues that concentrate on important administrative issues related to the division of state power in a new federal Nepal.   In selected regional sites around the country, these workshops seek to discuss and clarify the state powers that should be allocated to the federal government, which to the new provinces and which to the local governments -- the three primary tiers of government that have been proposed by the CA State Restructuring Commitee  for the new constitution.

In addition, a media monitoring initiative has just begun with the same 15 NGO federations that conducted the CSO 2 across the country in 2010.  These NGO federations are working with ACORAB, a respected national community radio organization, to conduct weekly 30 minute radio programs weekly until the end of the year reporting on the specific progress of the CA and political parties with regard to finalizing the draft constitution.  Half of the weekly program will be produced centrally  in Kathmandu by ACORAB while the other half will be produced by the local FM stations around the country on constitutional issues raised in the local community.  In addition, the NGOs will invite their CA members out to their constituency to participate in the local radio program a town hall meeting to discuss the issues holding back the completion of the constitution.

Hopefully these latest activities will assist in putting community pressure on their CA representatives to bring the constitution drafting phase to a completion by the end of the year, at the latest.

We hope...

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