Nepal has been at a deadlock for months in its constitutional process. When yet another of numerous deadlines for a new comnstiution was missed on 27 May, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai dissolved the constituent assembly and set new elections for November. However, last week, the Election Commission advised that the elections can not be held, for reasons that include lack of political consensus. The opposition parties had protested the dissolution and announced a boycott of new elections.
Constitution Net published an interview that offers an “insider’s perspective” on the impasse.
Thus Nepal remains in a serious deadlock. Among the contentious issues is a classic one in the debates over federalism. While all the parties agreed early on to define Nepal as a “federal” republic, they disagree on a fundamental question of federal design for ethnically plural societies: should the sub-units be designed to be themselves multi-ethnic, or should their boundaries follow (as much as possible) the regional concentrations of various groups? The latter option, which seems to be what most experts on federalism advise, obviously requires delicate compromises on where new boundaries should be drawn and how many sub-units to have, which in turn shapes the number of minorities that can be local majorities in at least one unit.
Notwithstanding the breakdown–which may yet prove temporary–the assembly had made considerable progress. It apparently had reached a consensus on a semi-presidential system. In fact, Nepal may be one of the few countries ever to have had a full debate over all three major types of executive-legislative structure: parliamentary, presidential, and semi-presidential. Nepal has been previously parliamentary–largely because it was also a monarchy. In most constitutional-design processes that I know of, the debate is either between presidential and semi-presidential or between parliamentary and semi-presidential (if there is any such debate at all).
According to Jan Sharma (who also covers several other aspects of the process and its deadlock), the parties divided over the executive-legislative type. The old parties, the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist initially wanted a Westminster parliamentary system, while the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist favored a strong directly elected presidency (presumably a presidential system). Guess who must be confident about having a popular individual leader who could win a presidential election, and who isn’t?
From various subsequent news items I saw back in May (and which I don’t have immediate access to now) suggest that they had compromised on a semi-presidential system, and evidently of the premier-presidential sub-type.
But federalism? That’s another matter.