Before the Dust Settled: Nepal’s Seismic Constitution
Two national-level institutional developments occurred within months of the earthquakes that struck Nepal in April and May 2015. These were: (a) the drafting and promulgation of a new national constitution; and (b) the establishment of a National Reconstruction Authority (NRA). The urgency felt by the leaders of Nepal’s three largest parties to reach a constitutional settlement was plainly apparent. They signed a Sixteen-Point Agreement on the basic principles of the new constitution on 8 June, just 45 days after the Gorkha earthquake, and the constitution was promulgated on 20 September 2015. Although a Constituent Assembly had been elected in April 2008 with the task of producing a new constitution within two years, Nepal’s government and state institutions had been functioning under an Interim Constitution since January 2007. Thus, a constitution that had been promised but not delivered for over seven years was eventually completed and promulgated within a timeframe of just a little over 100 days.
In contrast to this, the Bill to establish the NRA was not passed in parliament until 16 December 2015 and no staff (other than its CEO) were appointed to it until January 2016. When these developments are viewed in outline—from a distance, as it were—there would seem to be a direct causal relationship between the earthquake of 25 April 2015 and the prioritisation and ‘fast-tracking’ of what was in certain respects a relatively conservative constitution. As such, this Nepali case would appear to be a classic example of the reinstatement of an ‘accelerated status quo’, described by Pelling and Dill (2010) as one of the possible political outcomes of a natural disaster.
Drawing upon conversations and interviews conducted in Nepal over the winter of 2017-18 and a close reading of media discourse and political analysis from 2015, this paper will examine and assess the extent of this supposed causality in some detail. Given that the most radical change ushered in by the new constitution is the introduction of a federal structure, particular attention will be paid to the evolution of the debate on this key issue.
Pelling, Mark and Kathleen Dill 2010. ‘Disaster politics: tipping points for change in the adaptation of socio-political regimes’ Progress in Human Geography 34(1): 21-37.