Grassroots people and new constitution

The international community admires Nepal’s progress on the road to peace and democracy.

The admiration is not, however, devoid of concerns with regard to human rights and peace. The Constituent Assembly election was an important milestone in political transformation, but there are huge challenges ahead.

Five most crucial challenges are: army integration and security sector reform, return of seized properties, restructuring of the state, land reform and public sector reform, and improved governance at all levels. The long-cherished dream of Nepalis appears to be coming true with the formation of Constituent Assembly (CA) characterised by unprecedented representation of traditionally excluded groups and geographical areas. The increase in female representation (from less than 5 per cent in the legislature in 1994 to 33 per cent in the current CA) is a significant achievement.

Such an inclusive constitution making body provides a historic opportunity to draft a constitution that reflects the unique diversity of Nepal and accommodates the diverse aspirations, values and concerns of all Nepalis.

The international community is willing to extend support to Nepal to consolidate peace, deepen inclusive democracy and promote human rights. However, political management of many concerns and aspirations of the various political groups involved is an important issue. Proper process and mechanisms are crucial so that the political transformation does not revert back to a situation where there is little respect for human rights and democratic values, and where efforts to promote pluralism lead to fragmentation, which could lead to disintegration. Another crucial question is how much the people of Nepal and members of the CA are educated about the present political transformation and critical issues involved.

The CA should be a forum where people of diverse or even quite opposite views, beliefs and cultures meet and interact without resorting to violence. Needless to say, openness and transparency can facilitate free flow of information and unrestricted participation of people at all stages of the constitution making process. This might require agreement on a number of operating principals, procedures and standards, which may be defined in a Code of Conduct for the Assembly and its individual members.

Citizens should continue to put non-violent pressure on lead actors in the constitution-making process.

Political parties have an important role to play in ensuring that citizens and voters voice their opinions on critical issues. Equally important is the role of experts in the process so long as they do not insist on deciding the content of the constitution. They should rather serve as advisers and facilitate consensus-seeking processes.

Danida has been a partner in Nepal’s development in sectors of education, energy, and natural resource management for more than two decades. It is currently supporting more than 60 state and non-state partners, including Media Initiative for Rights, Equity and Social Transformation (MIREST Nepal) — which is involved in grassroots intervention for fostering dialogues and participation in political processes in remote areas.

Christensen is Programme Coordinator, Danida HUGOU