Nepal: On Sunday, Nepal adopted its first democratic Constitution, a historic step for a nation that has seen war, a palace massacre and devastating earthquakes since a campaign to create a modern state began more than 65 years ago.President Ram Baran Yadav promulgated the charter intended to unite the country, but it has already exacerbated divisions in some places with 40 people killed in protests against it in recent weeks.
Protests became violent. On Aug. 24, at least six police officials and three civilians were killed in clashes in western Nepal. This month in the Mahottari District, southeast of the capital, an injured riot police officer was dragged from an ambulance and beaten to death.Last week, a 4-year-old boy was among four people killed when the police fired rubber bullets in Rupandehi, west of Kathmandu. Politicians have been criticized for failing to consult a wider segment of society in the drafting of the document.
The constitution aims to reinforce Nepal as a secular, democratic republic with a provision for the protection of religion, and establishes seven provinces.Sunday’s ceremony marked the culmination of months of negotiations among the leaders of Nepal’s major political parties, which led to agreements on proportional representation in Parliament and the size and borders of the provinces.
“We believe the country will move to adopt a speedy path of socioeconomic development,” Yadav said.But the new constitution has deeply alienated much of Nepal’s southern plains and the Madhesi people there, who have said that it dilutes their representation. Ethnic Tharus in western Nepal have also strongly objected to the provincial boundaries.
“It’s a black day for us,” said Rajendra Mahato, a leader of the Unified Madhesi Democratic Front, an umbrella organized of Madhesi parties. “We are burning the document as it curtailed our rights.”In June, after the earthquake, the major parties agreed on a constitutional structure in which the lower house of Parliament would have 60 percent of its seats elected directly and the rest elected through a proportional representation system.
The parties had proposed to determine provincial boundaries through a commission, but the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution could be passed only with the provinces in place, and last month, six federal provinces were delineated. After protests broke out in the mid-western region, a seventh province was created, in the hills.
The leaders of the major political parties say they are still open to changes in the provincial borders, which could be enacted through a federal commission.Critics have noted other flaws in the document, including a clause that denies equal citizenship for children born to Nepalese mothers and foreign fathers. Others, however, point to its progressive features, including the banning of capital punishment.
The constitution was voted into effect Wednesday, with 507 members of a 601-member assembly voting in its favor. Leaders of Madhesi parties boycotted the vote and the promulgation.Some in Nepal said the constitution, while flawed, represented an important opportunity for the country to move forward and develop economically.