After five years, six months and 26 days of work as well as two elections, two major earthquakes and close to 500 aftershocks, a new dawn supposedly rises on Nepal: the new Constitution is proclaimed today. But who supported and opposed, and what kind of provisions does this new Constitution reserve for the workers and the right to social protection?

Who supported?

President Ram Baran Yadav will promulgate the new constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal today amid a special function organised in the Constitutional Assembly building in Kathmandu. The new constitution was authenticated earlier this week by 537 out of 597 Constitutional Assembly members and had gathered support from 507 out of the 532 CA members present. The constitution is based on the principles of democracy, federalism, secularism and multi-party competition. Government invited citizens to light candles and festive lamps to celebrate.

Driving around Sunday evening, the night the new Constitution was proclaimed with fireworks, people can indeed be seen in the street celebrating, with two days of holidays and several receptions and gatherings, but there are clearly not as many festive lights as there could be.

Who did not support?

Maybe this also has to do with ignorance about the exact content of the constitution. The Nepal Wikipedia page was updated on the constitution a lot faster than the Constitutional Assembly website, which only contained an electronic version (in Nepali) to download the day after the proclamation. 

Also the swiftness of the process has been criticized: on the one hand, drafts were made and discarded during eight years, with many commissions and consultations, and on the other hand, the current constitution was rushed through in just three months by the three major political parties, leaving many debates and controversial issues aside. And even before the constitution was passed, leaders invited opposition to submit amendments, as if the proclaimed constitution is a working document… It is often said this constitution making process was not about having any side win, but to have nobody lose. In short, nobody should be happy, but all should be able to accept.

Which definitely not everybody did: all 25 lawmakers of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party voted against, 60 lawmakers of the Madhesh based parties boycotted the voting process owing to their differences over the number and demarcation of the purported federal units and five others remained absent. Some 45 people were killed during protests, especially in the southern Tarai region.

What do the workers’ movement and trade unions think?
After too many years of transition, this marks a decisive step towards stability and can only help the reconstruction efforts. JTUCC, the umbrella organisation of trade unions in Nepal stated: “More than 2 millions working people, members of JTUCC are joyous with this progress of event. JTUCC has expressed faith in the document to end the decade long political transitional phase, institutionalize the achievements of the movements and lead the country towards the path of progress. Laxman Basnet, General Secretary of SARTUC: “We now have a constitution written by people’s representatives after 65 years of struggle and the three major political parties have urged the citizenry to celebrate the promulgation of the new constitution and treat the occasion as a festival.” M Bishnu Rimal, President of GEFONT said “The new constitution is ours, we have its ownership. Therefore, we heartily welcome the new constitution and appeal all our members, supporters and well-wishers to light candles in their home throughout the country on September 20.” (link)

M Khila Nath Dahal, President of NTUC, also supports but states that political parties did not even follow their party manifesto. Several of the issues trade unions lobbied for and which were mentioned in the draft, were finally not included:

  • The right to strike is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, though the freedom of association and to organize is;
  • The Labour Commission, a necessary structure for labour inspections, has not been institutionalized in the new Constitution;
  • Trade unions also lobbied for a guaranteed 10% of representation for workers in Parliament and on other levels, but this was also not obtained;
  • The right to vote for Nepali migrant workers abroad, an important group and also a demand of the Nepali trade unions, was also not obtained

Far from including all demands, the new Constitution is still more progressive than current or previous ones. Social Security for all is mentioned as a right, and so is collective bargaining.

Analyzing the situation, trade unions celebrate the proclamation of the new Constitution. JTUCC conveys “hope that the agendas of the workers, at present not addressed by the constitution, will be included later and will continue to advocate for amendments to the constitution”. They also hope the end of the transitional phase will allow other law proposals, like the historical Social Security Fund Act currently in front of Parliament, and the draft Labour Law to be adopted in the near future.  All this will mean however that trade unions will have to rethink their structure and role in a federalized Nepal, just as Nepal will have to do the same with many of its institutions to enact the Constitution. The sun might rise but will the light soon shine to reach all Nepali?