The devil is in the details -BY UTPAL PARASHAR
As Nepal races to the May 27 deadline of giving itself a new constitution, there’s a positive note in the air with political parties who had been at loggerheads for four years reaching agreement on several contentious issues to complete the task on time.
Marathon deliberations in the past few days have resulted in understanding on setting up a constitutional court to settle federalism related issues. There was also agreement on the question of citizenship and who is eligible to become a citizen.
Parties have agreed on amending the interim constitution for the 12th time to shorten the process of endorsing the preamble and all articles of the new statute one-by-one by a two-third majority of Constituent Assembly members—to end on schedule.
However, there’s no consensus yet on more crucial issues like forms of government, restructuring of the country into federal units and election system. Leaders across the spectrum are expected to find common ground on these as well in the coming days.
But since details of the issues agreed upon are yet to be finalized, there could be friction among the parties involved and even opposition from outside by sections who are opposed to the finer points.
Take for instance the subject of having a constitutional court headed by the chief justice that would arbitrate disputes regarding rights of federal units, relations among federal units and between such units and the centre. It would have five-year tenure.
Though there’s agreement that it would not act as a parallel body to the Supreme Court or infringe on the apex court’s rights, Nepal’s higher judiciary is opposed to it. Now, even lawyers associations have demanded that it shouldn’t be constituted.
Significantly, the parties are yet to finalize the procedure of setting up the constitutional court.
Likewise on the issue of citizenship, despite agreement on grant of citizenship to children born to Nepali parents or where one parent is Nepali, there’s still disagreement on details of granting citizenship to foreigners married to Nepalis.
Parties are stated to be closer to agreement on a mixed form of governance where executive powers will be shared between a directly-elected president and a prime minister elected by parliament. But differences on the particulars of division of powers still persist.
Maoists, the biggest political party, want more powers to the president while the second largest party, Nepali Congress is in favour of restricting his sphere of influence to minimum. There’s no clarity yet on how this issue will get resolved.
Dividing the country into smaller federal units is not an easy task and expectedly there are differences on this issue as well. The parties seem to agree that the number of states would be between six and nine.
But the main bone of contention is on the method to be used to draw their boundaries. Maoists favour ethnicity-based restructuring while Nepali Congress is opposed to it.
There are also opinions on carving these units based on their economic viability and administrative efficiency. Some suggest demarcation from north to south linking them to China at the top and India at the bottom.
And finally on the election system, there’s no consensus yet on what should be the size of the next legislature and how many of that figure (not agreed upon yet) would comprise of directly elected legislators and how many would enter through proportional representation.