The working of the Sambidhan Sabha of Nepal provides a guide on how not to write a constitution. The Constituent Assembly was meant to be a place for discovery, healing and nation-building but ended up a divisive arena that neglected jurisprudence and succumbed to radical populism.
The four-time renewed term of the Constituent Assembly (CA) of Nepal was to expire on the midnight of 27 May 2012, the date confirmed as non-negotiable by the Supreme Court. On that day, as the senior-most leaders of the political parties went about the motions of seeking compromise on the definition of federalism, day turned into night and the clock moved towards, and finally past, the midnight hour. Rather than do the closing rituals and arrange for a formal transition to avoid a constitutional vacuum, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai decided to announce new elections – for a Constituent Assembly.
The floodlights had already been turned off at the International Convention Centre where the CA was housed, and most of the 601 members who had waited listlessly since midday had already left the darkened compound. Only the odd television journalist was present, delivering sombre requiems to an institution elected in April 2006 to restructure the state, institutionalise the republic, and reformulate state society relations in the oldest nation state of south Asia. No leader, not even the CA chair, Subhas Chandra Nembang, turned up to announce the passing of the institution. “It was a dog’s death”, said one commentator. The best one could find by way of official announcement was a line on the CA’s website, which stated, “Constituent Assembly of Nepal is dissolved after 27 May, 2012”.