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Nepal adopts ‘secular’ constitution, refuses to become Hindu nation

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Kathmandu: In a historic step, Nepal on Sunday adopted a new constitution, the first full-fledged one in the Himalayan nation after it became a democratic republic in 2008. Celebrations broke out across the country, as millions of rejoicing people lit lamps and came out on to the streets.

A federal and secular Nepal, according to the new constitution, will have seven provinces, each with its own legislature. With this, the Interim Constitution was annulled.

President Ram Baran Yadav declared the promulgation of the “Constitution of Nepal – 2072 BS” at a special ceremony at the Constituent Assembly hall in New Baneshwor area of Kathmandu. The year 2072 BS refers to the year in the Bikram Sambat Nepali calendar.

For the constitution’s promulgation, voting was held in the Constituent Assembly. In the 601-seat assembly, 507 lawmakers voted in favour of the constitution while 25 voted against it — as many as 69 members who hail from the southern plains of the Nepal Terai have been boycotting the constitution-making exercise since more than a month.

Madhes-based political parties and members from the Tharu community walked out of the Constituent Assembly and rejected the constitution, saying their demands were not incorporated in the new document.

Before announcing the enactment, the head of the state signed five copies of the new constitution.

Addressing the special function, Yadav said the newly promulgated constitution has institutionalised republicanism in the nation.

He hoped that the constitution would lead Nepal to economic development.

The Constituent Assembly hall resounded with applause as Yadav announced the new statute.

Hundreds of thousands of people across Nepal lit lamps to celebrate the event. The government declared a holiday on Monday to mark the occasion.

Security personnel were deployed in the capital Kathmandu to maintain law and order as some parties and groups are opposing the new constitution.

Yadav said the concept of ‘people as the sovereign’ has been established through the new constitution, and called for unity and cooperation of all at this historic moment.

The new constitution has given an opportunity to maintain unity in diversity in the nation and ensure rights of all, he said while addressing the final meeting of the Constituent Assembly.

“The constitution is the common document of all of us to protect our freedom, independence, geographic integrity, and sovereignty in people,” he said.

The Constituent Assembly unanimously endorsed an acknowledgement motion, thanking the president for announcing commencement of the new constitution.

With the promulgation of the new constitution, there will be fresh election to the country’s top posts like that of the president, vice president, prime minister, speaker and deputy speaker of parliament within a month.

The Constituent Assembly will stand dissolved and shall be converted into a regular parliament.

The executive rights of the country shall vest with the council of ministers. The president will be a ceremonial head of state.

The preamble of the new constitution says: “Realising a dream cherished by the Nepali people since 65 years, the new constitution will formally take the country towards a federal structure from the existing unitary structure that remained rooted in the country for 240 years.”

The new constitution has taken a departures compared to the Constitution of Nepal-1990 that adopted multi-party democratic system with the monarch as head of state.

The new statute has institutionalised republic in place of monarchy, and federalism in place of unitary system.

It also added proportional representative electoral model and inclusion in decision-making.

The new preamble refers to multi-party democratic system, civic freedom, fundamental rights, voting rights, press freedom and independent judiciary with a commitment for socialism based on the rule of law.

In 2008, the Maoists won the elections to the Constituent Assembly, leading to the abolition of over two centuries of monarchy. But amid squabbling, the assembly failed to draw up a new constitution.

The first Constituent Assembly was dismantled in 2012 with political parties differing over major issues like system of state governance and number of federal units, among others.

The second Constituent Assembly elections were held in 2013 after political parties failed to deliver a new constitution through the first Constituent Assembly.

(Anil Giri can be contacted at girianil@gmail.com)

–IANS