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Nepal: Assembly Begins discussion on Contentious Issues: Update No. 297

Note No. 719                          Dated 9-Jun-2014
By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan
On 27 May 2014, the Interim Constituent Assembly formally started deliberations on the modalities of state structuring and the distribution of State power- two of the most contentious issues to be defined under the new constitution.
The Assembly considered two reports- one prepared by the committee set up to study and determine the constitution records and the other of the High Level State Restructuring Commission.
There are several issues that need to be considered in determining the nature of federalism.  These relate to number, name and demarcation of the provinces.  These were the issues that led to delay and remained unresolved in the now dissolved first constitutional assembly.
This is going to be a marathon session and I am doubtful whether in the end Koirala will be able to manage a decision in the assembly anywhere in the near future.  
So far 139 CA members have spoken on the subject in the Assembly and 270 more are waiting to speak!
Prime Minister Koirala again talked of reaching a consensus (which may not  occur) and added that he may put the issue to vote in the assembly.  This was strongly opposed by the Maoist chief Dahal who reminded the government of the 12 point agreement and the need for a consensus. The unresolved issue is being suggested for being taken to the “Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee for - consensus again!  This is not going to work and there will only be further delay.  What is needed is for Koirala to put to vote some of the issues in the assembly and show his determination to meet the dead line of promulgating the constitution.
The fundamental issue of the number of provinces and the nature of the provinces is yet to be discussed.  Both the Nepali Congress and the UML are for a small number of provinces say seven while the Maoists are still insisting on an “identity based” provinces and this may take to fourteen or even more.  Bhattarai of Maoist Group and Ramchandra Paudel of Nepali Congress openly clashed on this issue of division of provinces in the Assembly.
At last, on 30 May, the Constitutional Committee on drafting started its work in right earnest.  K.P. Situala of the Nepali Congress is the chairman of the committee and he has formed several sub committees to deal with specific issues like, preamble, fundamental rights, division of powers etc.  The problem here again will be “on the quest for consensus” which may not be possible.  At some point and after a decent interval the issues should be put for vote in the assembly.
The seventh Republic day celebrations were held with all the fanfare on 29th May. President Ram Baran Yadav presided over the function.  Almost all the political leaders, the Vice President and the Speaker were present.  Prime Minister Koirala in his speech reiterated his government’s commitment to promulgate the new constitution before January 22, 2015.  
In actual fact, in its seven years of existence, no worthwhile progress has been made towards federalism.  The new government is yet to nominate 26 members to the Assembly and the deadline issued by the court has also passed.  The appointment of judges is still pending and is mired in another controversy. ( Pl. see earlier update 296)
Having failed to reach a consensus on the nomination of 26 members to the assembly and having passed the dead line of fifteen days given by the Supreme Court, the Government has approached the court now  for a judicial review of the orders given.  
In the plea the government has politely reminded the court of its earlier verdict on the reinstatement of Shyam Saran Gupta to the assembly wherein it said that it was purely under the jurisdiction of the council of ministers as the constitution has not defined who else to nominate and who to consult in nominating a member to the constituent assembly.  
There is some truth in what the government has said now as the nomination and criteria for nomination come under the domain of the government and Court cannot interfere.  But this should have been done soon after the court declared the guiding principles and not after the deadline of fifteen days (expiring on 28th May) was over and government could not come to a consensus even after so many days -in fact months on the nomination of individuals to the Assembly.