Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Nepal is at a turning point. “We have endorsed a federal democratic republic. This is no ordinary event; it is an historic event,” said Pushpa Kamal Dahal, leader of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the country’s third largest party, as he greeted the final approval of the country’s new constitution after many years of discussion and delays.
With 507 votes in favour and 25 against, the Constituent Assembly approved the draft proposal, the first by elected representatives. Nepal’s long and tortuous journey towards a new constitution began in 2006 when a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed under the auspices of the United Nations ending a decade-long civil war between the regular army and Maoist guerrillas.
The first constituent assembly was elected in 2007 after 240 years of absolute Hindu monarchy but ended in 2012 in a stalemate. A second Assembly came into being in November 2013 but it too failed to come up with a constitution by the January 2015 deadline.
The tragic earthquake on 25 April (which killed more than 9,000 people) speeded up the reform process, which is set to end this Saturday, 20 September, with the promulgation of the constitution by the president of Nepal, Ram Baran Yadav. This will be followed by two days (Sunday and Monday) of celebrations across the country.
The new constitution is divided in 37 parts, 302 articles and 9 annexes. Its key aspects are a republican form of government, federalism, secularism, inclusiveness and proportional representation of disadvantaged minorities, as well as policies of social justice.
For Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, head of the Nepali Congress, this was a “moment of pride,” the happiest day of his political career. “We have made our dream come true,” he said. The demands of those who are dissatisfied “will be met through dialogue” and amendments.
Parties representing the Madhese and Tharu minorities boycotted yesterday's vote, whilst the Hindu-centred Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal opposed it, calling instead for the restoration of the monarchy and the Hindu kingdom.
The adoption of the constitution comes after weeks of discussion, centred on the content of the draft approved in late June. When the draft was first made public, Madhese and Tharu leaders complained immediately that it ignored their communities.
This led to clashes with the army and eventually casualties. So far, about 40 people have died, including a child, trampled to death by a crowd.
More recently, the growing climate of insecurity led Nepali authorities to ask the Holy See to cancel a visit by one of its officials, Card Fernando Filoni. The latter was scheduled to meet with survivors of the earthquake of 25 April.
The escalation reached a crescendo Tuesday night when bombs exploded in front of three Protestant churches in the Terai region, killing three police officers.
"Our demands were not heard,” said Bijaya Kumar Gachchhadar, a leader of the Madhese minority who boycotted the vote. “The new constitution will not improve as long as it does not incorporates the voices of minority groups."
Conversely, the speaker of the Constituent Assembly Subas Nembang stressed the importance of the event. Although the country has had six constitution since the 1950s, this “is the first one that was democratically approved.”