The right approach
Today has been scheduled, on the calendar of the Constituent Assembly, as the commencement of the constitution-writing process, as yesterday (Dec. 15) was the deadline for filling all the vacancies of the 14 CA committees. But the process has been delayed, because the political parties, particularly the NC, delayed sending the names of their representatives. Though a flurry of last-minute exercises made the deadline as regards the nomination of committee members, as for the chairpersons, the political parties have taken more time to work out an understanding. This threatens to push back the CA timetables. However, the CA may make do with having the eldest member of each committee chair committee meetings. The political parties have agreed to promulgate the new constitution in eighteen months.
One major weakness of this jumbo (601-seat) assembly is the shortage of constitutional experts. The political parties, during the direct election, did not pay attention to this need, perhaps for electoral reasons. But none of them seemed to make it a point of making up for this while deciding on their nominees during proportional representation, either. Every committee member has to be a CA member. This makes the need for outside expertise all the
greater. But almost all parties have rightly chosen their top leaders to represent them on the various committees — for instance Prachanda and Girija Prasad Koirala sit on the main Constitutional Committee (CC), whereas Jhala Nath Khanal represents the CPN-UML on the Committee on Outlining the Structure of Constitutional Organs.
It is highly desirable that the nominees possess sound professional credentials whichever party they may belong to. And the experts’ committee should have the best constitutional brains of the country. The major political parties are jockeying for chairpersons of some of the vital committees, for instance, the Constitutional Committee (CC) and the Committee on State Restructuring and Division of State Power. However, they would do well to settle this issue through discussion and understanding, based not the least on the magnitude of the people’s mandate for each of them. The Nepali Congress is reported likely to propose former chief justice Bishwonath Upadhyaya for CC chief. Nobody will dispute his professional knowledge and experience. However, at least three factors tend to militate against him. First, he is seen to have shown disrespect for the CA by not taking CA member’s oath of secrecy for months. Secondly, for ethical reasons, it is a moot point whether he should accept the post in the first place, because the 1990 constitution that the committee he headed had prepared has been discarded as a ‘failure’. Thirdly, his opposing stands as chief justice on two separate occasions in the 1990s on whether it was the prime minister’s prerogative to dissolve the parliament. What is, however, of vital importance is that the major parties show great receptiveness to the sound ideas not only of each other but also of the tiny political parties, and, for that matter, of everybody else. This is the right way to give the country the best possible constitution.