Calls for constitution amendment persist, but can it happen anytime soon?As the charter turns four, voices are growing for ‘correcting the mistakes’ to ensure its wider acceptance.
The Constitution of Nepal turns four on Friday. To observe the occasion, the KP Sharma Oli administration has announced a three-day celebration.
However, there are some sections of society who are pressing for amendments to be made to the constitution. They say the ‘Panchayat-styled’ celebrations are nothing but a ploy to impose that the document has been widely accepted.
These sections of society—which include Madhesis, Tharus and Janajatis—are demanding that corrections be made to the “flawed” document.
The umbrella organisation of the indigenous nationalities—Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN)—has decided to observe Constitution Day as ‘black day’. At a three-day gathering in Tikapur, the Tharu community announced that their fight for equal rights was not over yet.
The Rastriya Janata Party Nepal, a Madhes-based party, who vehemently protested against the constitution promulgation in 2015, has said it would soon launch protests to demand amendments. Another Madhes-based party, Samajbadi Party Nepal, however, seems to be on the horns of a dilemma. Although the party is for constitution amendments, it is part of the Oli administration.
Baburam Bhattarai, who is one of the leaders of the Samajbadi Party Nepal, has been saying the 2015 constitution is flawed and needs amendments.
“If parties wish, the amendment is not a big deal; but the prime minister and the main leadership of the ruling Nepal Communist Party have become reluctant,” said Bhattarai on Friday at an interaction with mediapersons.
Bhattarai was in the Maoist party when the constitution was promulgated. He also chaired the Constitutional Political Dialogue and the Consensus Committee of the Constituent Assembly. However, he severed ties with the Maoist party just 11 days after the Constituent Assembly adopted the new charter.
“But we are already in our mission now. We won’t rest unless we ensure that the constitution is corrected,” said Bhattarai.
But an amendment is not forthcoming anytime soon, say analysts.
Jhalak Subedi, a political commentator who has followed Nepal’s leftist politics for decades, said amendments are not possible even in another 8-10 years.
“The political situation that was in 2015 has not changed,” Subedi told the Post. “It will continue to be an issue.”
After the interim constitution came in place in 2007, squabbling among parties had delayed the formulation of the constitution for eight years. But the charter could not become a document of consensus, as it was pushed through by then major parties—CPN-UML, Nepali Congress and the Maoist. It was largely an outcome in a haste in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake.
Analysts say the situation started to deteriorate just after the second Constituent Assembly elections, as forces who were fighting for identity-based federalism had already been weakened, thus leading to the endorsement of the compromised document.
Today, concerns are growing that the Oli administration and leaders of the ruling Nepal Communist Parrty who are constantly talking about looming threats to the federal republic system could view those who demand constitution amendments as miscreants.
On Thursday, Communication and Information Technology Minister Gokul Baskota, who is also the spokesperson for the government, dismissed any chances of constitution amendment.
“There won’t be any constitution amendment just because somebody is dreaming about it,” said Baskota. He reiterated that the constitution could only be amended on the basis of necessity and significance.
Rajendra Mahato, a leader of the Rastriya Janta Party Nepal which is demanding amendment, however, said that the Oli administration is using phrases like “necessity” and “significance” to divert the public’s attention from the main issue at hand.
“It will refuse to see the significance and necessity of the amendment even if his party gets one more term to lead the government,” said Mahato while speaking in Parliament on Thursday. “Even its coalition partner has refused to celebrate Constitution Day.”
The Oli administration in the past year and a half has been intolerant of dissenting voices. Oli’s Cabinet members and ruling party leaders have not hesitated to heap scorn upon those who are critical of the current government.
Bhattarai said it’s the Khas-Arya people who should be ensuring peace in the country by addressing the concerns of the dissenting voices, as they are the ones who have been ruling the country for years.
“The ruling class should act more responsibly to ensure lasting peace,” said Bhattarai.
There were basically four differences among the political parties when the constitution was promulgated in 2015.
Dissenting groups say the restructuring of the state is flawed as Nepali Congress and then CPN-UML, which had the majority in the second Constituent Assembly, refused to accept the recommendations of the State Restructuring Commission’s four criteria of identity and five criteria of capability.
The agreement on the provinces could not materialise after a group demanded the names right away. Besides, the parties were divided on whether to have a separate constitutional court. Whether to use “religious freedom” instead of “secularism”, which was used in the interim constitution, was yet another bone of contention.
According to Bhattarai, the federalism the country has adopted itself is half-baked.
“It’s just an extended form of the five development regions loaded with political rights,” said Bhattarai. “But there is hardly any room for different marginalised groups when it comes to their rights.”
But CK Lal, also a political analyst who writes regular columns for the Post and its sister-publication Kantipur, says the state does not need to address outstanding issues, but it’s not going to happen anytime soon.
“An amendment is not possible without a movement stronger than the previous one,” Lal told the Post. “This constitution is an outcome of a big conspiracy. So it’s not going to be amended easily as the majority is against any change.”
Advocate Chandra Kanta Gyawali, who writes on constitutional matters, however, said since the constitution is a living document, it has to be dynamic.
“A constitution is not a rigid document and it needs amendments as per the peoples’ aspirations to make it acceptable to all,” said Gyawali. “Timely amendments as per the expectations of the people prolong the life of a constitution.”