After nearly a decade of political deadlock, Nepal has finally taken steps toward landmark constitutional reform. On June 8, the four main political parties reached a 16-point agreement that charts the next steps of forming an eight-province federal system of governance.
Earthquake and Public Pressure
While the government has worked with the international community to provide disaster relief after the Nepal earthquake, the government’s inability to mobilize aid has fueled public resentment. Public pressure has pushed politicians to reach an agreement to move the country forward.
Nepal was a monarchy until 2006 when massive street protests forced King Gyanendra to reinstate the parliament. Two years later, a Constituent Assembly declared Nepal a federal republic, but the major parties could not agree on a constitution, leading to political deadlock.
If implemented, the 16-point agreement would change the government of Nepal from the interim Constituent Assembly to a bicameral parliament with 275 members in the lower house and 45 members in the upper house. Of the 275 members of the lower house, 60 percent will be elected directly and 40 percent by proportional representation. The largest party or coalition will choose the prime minister, who will have executive powers. A ceremonial president will also be elected, and a constitutional court will be appointed.
Not all of the political parties support the new agreement. On Tuesday, 28 smaller parties gathered in Kathmandu to protest the agreement. Protesters expressed concerns that the new agreement might not sufficiently represent interests of all ethnic groups and social minorities.
A new constitution is set to be drafted and passed by parliament in July. Then, a federal commission will decide the boundaries of the eight provinces, and the assembly of each state will choose the names of the states within six months. It remains to be seen if agreement can be implemented according to this schedule.
Hope for Democracy in Nepal
Although significant hurdles remain to creating a new constitution and system of government, the recent agreement is a hopeful sign that the political leadership is finally taking steps to institutionalize democracy in Nepal. With ratification of the new constitution, Nepal will become what The Wall Street Journal calls as ”a multiparty democracy with a prime minister as executive head of the government and a president as ceremonial head of state.”
Lisa Curtis of The Heritage Foundation has observed:
The announcement marks a major step forward for democracy in Nepal and provides hope for the Nepali people who have suffered tremendously over the last six weeks from the devastating earthquakes. The political leadership must maintain momentum for completing the constitutional agreement with the support of the international community. The earthquakes have added a sense of urgency to ending the political deadlock that has plagued Nepal for so many years as the country needs strong and unified government to lead the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country.