Issues of Consensus and Contention
Author: Tilak Pathak/Bhuwan KC Publication Type: Occassional Paper 

It has been seven years since the process of drafting the constitution from the Constituent Assembly started. It has already been 11 months since elections to the Constituent Assembly II following the automatic expiry of the Constituent Assembly I after its failure to draft a constitution. During the elections to the Constituent Assembly II, political parties including Nepali Congress, CPN (UML), UCPN (M), and others had expressed commitment to draft a constitution within one year. The government and the political parties have expressed their commitment to draft the constitution within a year based on the first sitting of the Constituent Assembly on January 22, 2014. Based on this, the constitution should be drafted by January 22, 2015. Though the Constituent Assembly had prepared a schedule based on that, the work has not proceeded according to the schedule.

In the meantime, there have been meetings, discussions, dialogue, consultation for constitution-drafting, yet there is sharp difference of opinion on federalism, forms of government, election system, judicial system, and other important issues. Though the Political Dialogue and Consensus Committee should have resolved all disputed issues by September 6, it failed to do so. The Committee sent the issues of consensus and disputes to the full sitting of the Constituent Assembly without resolving the issues. However, the Constituent Assembly sent back the disputed issues to the Committee for further attempts at consensus giving a timeline of September 18 to 30. After there was no consensus on those issues, the Committee chairperson Baburam  Bhattarai submitted the Committee’s report to the Constituent Assembly on October 8. The  Constituent Assembly again extended the Committee’s deadline by five day (October 11 to 16) and instructed the Committee to present questionnaires on disputed issues to the Constituent Assembly on October 17 if there is no consensus by then. However, the Committee was again unable to find a consensus. Then the meeting of senior leaders of political parties decided to provide one more opportunity to the Committee to seek  consensus. On October 21, the Constituent Assembly has extended the Committee’s deadline for the third and final time for November 1. If there is no consensus by then, it has also instructed the Committee to submit an integrated report with questionnaires.

However, the Committee could not forge a consensus within the deadline. After the Committee could not come to a consensus within the deadline, it indirectly extended the deadline by giving continuity the meeting of the November 2.2 In a way, the Committee has ignored the instructions of the full sitting of the Constituent Assembly.3 In the meantime, on November 17, Congress-UML registered a common seven-state proposal in the Dialogue Committee of the Constituent Assembly.

But UCPN (M) and other opposition parties rejected this proposal. Rejecting the proposal, UCPN (M) chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal said, “The Congress-UML concept cannot be discussed in the Dialogue committee. This is a concept of only a few leaders; therefore, this can only be a reference material, and cannot proceed beyond the Dialogue Committee.”

The next day, after the chairperson of the Dialogue Committee and UCPN (M) leader  Baburam Bhattarai postponed the meetings indefinitely, the process of constitution-drafting  has come to a standstill. Congress and UML have requested Constituent Assembly  chairperson Subash Nemwang to call a full sitting of the Constituent Assembly and finalise  the issue from there. This step by Bhattarai has invited sharp polarisation. The constitution- drafting process is in limbo because this has created antagonism among the parties.

The political parties instead of seeking consensus on disputed issues have of late formed a  high-level political mechanism and brought new proposals on federalism. This article gives an overview of the background of Constituent Assembly II, political development since its  election, and includes the constitution-drafting process until November 4, 2014 and summarises the issues of consensus achieved and the outlines disputed issues that  remained until the last moments of the Constituent Assembly I.