Constituent Assembly : Keeping the House in order

It is already two months since the historic Constituent Assembly (CA) polls. Nepalis sent their representatives to CA to write a new constitution. But soon as election results started coming out, major parties started focusing all their energies on who will be the next PM and who the President. The first CA meet was called on 11 am on May 28, but major parties were as yet undecided over the president. The 2/3rd majority requirement under the Interim Constitution for government formation and dissolution was also heavily discussed but the issue was not resolved. On May 28, the CA meeting held almost 10 hours late, declared Nepal a Republic, and the King was asked to leave the palace within 15 days. Since then, two more CA meetings have been conducted, again after lengthy delays, but without any significant proposal being debated.

The three-party row is already weakening the authority of the CA and processes, as without their agreement, no proposal is tabled at assembly meetings. The Assembly shamefully changed the meaning of punctuality: 11 am can now mean 11 pm. We have two years to write the new constitution. Over the past two weeks, the CA has met only three times, and only briefly. With 601 CA members, if we are a minute late, it is 10 hours wasted altogether. In total, we have already lost several months by starting CA meetings several hours late.

The majority of CA members come on time and wait for a few leaders — those few busy negotiating in closed rooms. Because of a few leaders, the CA is unable to conduct its regular business. The expensive jumbo CA is taking its toll on the national budget, which is comprised of the taxpayers’ hard-earned money. We must introduce an electronic attendance system so that everyone is accountable and earns h/her salary as a CA member or occupant of any other CA post. The salary and benefits should be paid according to the time each devotes to CA business, not just because they are CA members.

Meetings start late and are held only once in a while. Many issues must be discussed, but debates cannot be held as only two minutes is allowed and again only to a few vocal CA members. The proposals also are not tabled in a transparent manner, as they come only after the three big parties have agreed. The discussion is not open. On many occasions, opinions are not allowed expression at the CA meetings, maybe as the chairman of the House believes the issues already resolved by the three parties. And the way decisions are made has breached international practice: Honourable House Chairman says “If you agree say Yes; if you disagree, say No”; or, “If you are voting for Yes, go to my right; and if you are voting for No, go to my left “. The majority of CA members are being used as rubberstamps of the three big parties.

An Electronic Voting system must be put in place to guarantee secret votes, ensure each and every CA member votes according to h/her choice and does not toe the line of the party whip. Ultimately, the electronic attendance and voting system will save a lot of time and money.

Breaking rules at CA meetings is already a norm and no discipline is maintained: some CA members speak for much longer than their allocated two minutes because they are loud. Some get the chance to speak at every meeting because they refuse to keep quiet and the Honourable Chairman seems unable to keep order. If this trend continues, there will be no civilised CA meeting in coming days.

Some CA members don’t realise they are speaking when the microphone is on and the loud-speakers blare out all kinds of personal conversations. A lot of money has been spent so that no CA member has to shout when they speak but some cry themselves hoarse by habit. It seems many CA members desperately need orientation on civilised behaviour.

The tradition of marginalisation is clearly reflected in the CA hall. Parties that have large numbers of representatives occupy the entire front row. Parties who have few representatives are pushed to the back seats, where there are no desks and five people share a microphone. One of the three pillars of the CA is the nomination of 26 CA members. These members are yet to be nominated. How long will the incomplete CA meetings go on?

I respect the right to express one’s views and opinions in one’s own language but there is no point in sharing these views in a language no one else understands. So, simultaneous translation is required for the effective functioning of CA. Accepting the people’s verdict, the ex-King has left Narayanhity saying he respects people’s will. Now the King has learned the lesson — albeit a little late. The political leaders will learn their lessons, too, if they continue to act in autocratic and selfish ways. The people will throw them out. The time is ripe to focus on a new constitution for Nepal. The political parties must not spending all their energy fighting for power/positions.

Pant is CA member from CPN-United