A New Nepal
Since 2008, after abolishing monarchy, Nepal has gone through a rapid and unprecedented transformation in its political history. For the first time, the Himalayan nation of about 28 million has turned into a secular democratic Republic. The total image and standing of Nepal has dramatically changed as people have struggled for democracy, sacrificed their lives and eventually succeeded through their determination and courage.
Nepal needed a new Constitution after it abolished monarchy. However, the framing of the Constitution has been difficult because the parties had to (a) agree with the type of government (presidential or parliamentary) (b) find out whether the president should be directly elected by people or by members of the parliament (c) consider whether the parliamentary system should decide how much power would be vested to the prime minister and president and (d) focus on the creation of provinces in the country turning it into a federal system from the current unitary one.
In 2006, Nepal's Maoist rebels agreed to put down their arms and join a democratic political process. The Constituent Assembly was elected to a two-year term for framing a constitution but that term was extended for several years. Despite the extension, rival parties failed to cut a deal on a new Constitution. The Nepalese people had been bitterly disappointed. Some journalists thought that "anarchy" was established in the country after abolishing "monarchy".
Finally, on June 8, after almost a decade, Nepal's major political parties (the Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and the Terai-based Madhesi Front) reached an accord, agreeing to a federal model with eight provinces that would allow them to form a government involving all major parties. The former Maoist rebels dropped their longstanding demand for a directly elected president, and agreed to a parliamentary system.
As agreed, the lower house of the Parliament will have 275 seats with 60 percent (165 seats) directly elected and 40 percent (110 seats) elected through the proportional representation system, while the upper house will have 35 members elected through the proportional representation system. A constitutional court will also be set up for 10 years to resolve constitutional disputes.
The elections for the president, vice president, prime minister, speaker and deputy speaker would be held after the declaration of the new Constitution. The compromise cleared the way for elections of village, municipal and district government bodies, which have been functioning without elected representatives for more than a decade.
The agreed pact will be passed on to committees in the Constituent Assembly to be formalised and drafted. The Assembly will open a process for public comment, and then vote on the draft. K. P. Sharma Oli, chairman of the country's largest communist party, said the vote could come as soon as mid-July.
The boundaries of eight provinces, which have not been named, have to be delineated, leaving unclear how much power will be accrued to small, marginalised ethnic groups of the eight provinces. A federal commission would take up the task of mapping the provinces, a process that could last years, according to informed observers.
The political parties had to agree to a constitution after the deadly quakes that claimed nearly 9,000 lives in the country in April. Analysts say that the disaster put pressure on the parties to come to a deal.
Political leaders, the civil society and armed forces in Nepal are required to take into account that they face a new challenge where cooperation and unity of purpose will be required at all levels to restore confidence of the public on the new political system.
The country is unfolding a new environment and South Asian nations must be ready to ensure that a new Nepal is a positive factor within its political, economic and social environment at a time when the sub-region is going through a dramatic phase of cooperation, including connectivity, ushering in a new era of relationships.
The writer is a former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.