Playing for time
- Nepalis might tolerate a delay in constitution promulgation if only the parties could ensure minimum governance
Oct 8, 2014-With the failure of the Constituent Assembly’s (CA) Political Dialogue and Consensus Commitee (PDCC) to meet its deadline to forge consensus on contentious issues of the new constitution, hope is once again dwindling for a new statute by January 22, 2015, as promised. If the parties do not fulfill their promise to promulgate a new constitution within a year, the likely and obvious scenario will be increased anger and a further weakening of trust against the political parties.
The term ‘political transition’ has been used repeatedly by the parties since the second Janaandolan in 2006. However, their activities contradict the very meaning of the term as they have changed the rules of the game. If people ask for a system-building and welfare programme, all political parties and leaders reply in unison that this cannot be done before the political transition is over. But the transition does not hinder them while taking decisions that are in their own interest. They cannot find consensus in holding local elections through which democracy would be exercised at the grassroots. But they all managed to agree to increase the development fund for Members of Parliament (MPs). Likewise, the debate to establish a new National Health Policy continues, even as people are dying due to unavailability of basic medical care. But there is no opposition to leaders using state funds to get their own medical treatment abroad.
Clearly, the term ‘political transition’ has been misused by the parties to buy time to enjoy their extra privileges for sometime longer and avoid ensuring a minimum level of governance for voters. I do not know what leaders envision as the future of Nepal if there is no constitution by early 2015. One should acknowledge the fact that there are people who are dissatisfied with the recent political change, and they will depict the failure of the CA as a failure of the system. This may lead to people venting their frustration against the democratic system as well.
It is time for Nepalis to introspect and act accordingly. Part of the problem seems to be the people’s lack of understanding of the situation, which has to change. The people need to tell the political parties and leaders to stop fooling them in the name of a political transition. They have to state loud and clear that the transition cannot go on for many years; rather, it is a short-term phenomenon in a specific situation where an old system has been dismantled but a new system has yet to be established.
Contemplating Nepal’s situation, it is true that the old constitution, along with its political structure—ie, the monarchy, Hinduism as the state religion, the hill high-caste-dominated governance structure, and the unitary state structure—have been destroyed. However, all these structures are no longer in a transition, as they already have been replaced by new ones, along with the 2007 Interim Constitution. There is a President as the Head of State, replacing the monarch. In addition, Nepali laws and constitutional provisions have either been amended or introduced to make Nepal an inclusive state. Also, Nepal has been declared a secular and federal country. One may argue that those are just interim provisions that have to be institutionalised to give them a permanent status. However, this argument can be countered by saying that the Interim Constitution defies its very character as it has been amended more than a dozen times and has allowed seven prime ministers to lead the country.
The fact is, constitution making is a never-ending process and every process is characterised by evolution. The process is indeed time-consuming in a society like Nepal, where various issues have to be introduced, experienced, and changed to avoid weaknesses. Furthermore, it is also the dynamic character of society that leads its people and the state to constantly review and revise constitutional provisions to move further ahead. Examples for this phenomenon can be found in our neighbouring country and elsewhere. The Indian constitution has been amended almost 100 times within 60 years. The US constitution also has a history of many amendments. However, Nepal is currently aspiring for a fully-phrased democratic and inclusive constitution. This is largely because the political parties have been distributing false hope that everything will be alright once a new constitution is written.
Of course, it would have been nice to declare a new constitution by reaching consensus on every single detail. However, the parties have been failing to do this for years. That is why Nepalis now have to push the parties to promulgate a basic constitution without compromising on recently established facts and leave the time-consuming issues to a sovereign Parliament that will be elected in the future. If the parties cannot accept this and insist on writing everything in the constitution before its promulgation, they have to separate the constitution-making process from the basic governance that common people need. There is plenty of room to agree upon and introduce basic policies that guarantee welfare for the people without finalising contentious issues.
As stated earlier, much too often, Nepalis cannot feel the change of the political system as they face severe difficulties in accessing basic facilities that ought to be provided by the state. If the parties agreed to provide minimum welfare and governance, people might be willing to tolerate a delay in writing the new constitution. This could also be a face-saver for political parties and help them to eventually succeed in writing a new constitution. However, if the parties and leaders do not stop their time-buying approach in the name of a political transition, frustrated people will be more likely to unite with extremist elements to question even the great achievements of the recent past—republicanism, secularism, and democratic inclusiveness.
Pyakurel teaches political sociology at Kathmandu University
Published: 09-10-2014 09:13