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Participation and Regression: Electing Constituent Assemblies but Disregarding Democratic Processes in Constitution Writing in Nepal

Mahendra Lawoti

Western Michigan University

The Second Constituent Assembly (CA) finally finalized a new Constitution in 2015 in Nepal but the document was regressive compared to the 2007 Interim Constitution with regard to citizenship, secularism, federalism, electoral method, linguistic equality, among other things. Participation is necessary for not only vibrant democracy to function but to foster development, economic growth, and empowerment of marginalized groups. Occasionally, however, the powerful groups abuse participatory process to protect and maintain privileges and disadvantage the marginalized groups (ethnic, linguistic, caste and religious minorities and women, poor, and powerless). Substantial work shed light on how participation has yielded positive outcomes but scholarship on how the elite abuse the participatory process to retain and sometime extend their power and privileges is scant. This presentation, which investigates the constitution writing process in Nepal, will point out how the dominant pushed back on progressive and inclusive reforms introduced by the 2007 Interim Constitution. The group ignored and rejected the outcomes of the democratic process in the first CA where the reformers had a two-thirds majority by stressing for consensus and eventually repeatedly postponing the meeting of the full CA until its dissolution. On the other hand, the dominant group ramrodded the changes and revised drafts prepared by around dozen dominant group men through the Second CA when the political parties it controlled secured a super majority. They not only disregarded consensus building, which they had so much emphasized in the first CA when they were in a minority but also undermined democratic norms by issuing parliamentary whips on constitutional matters, threatening dissenting CA members, and preventing the marginalized groups from forming caucuses in the CA. They severely limited and sometimes prevented democratic constitution making processes, such as effective participation, right to introduce agenda, adequate deliberation, expert input, and adequate public discussion, from taking place. Control of the major parties and different branches of the state as well as media enabled the dominant group to defame and derail the first CA while the inability to secure veto power (one-thirds votes) by the marginalized groups’ oriented political parties in the Second CA eroded their ability to formally resist and block the regressive proposals.