Opening act

  • The constitution must include all elements of participatory democracy to be acceptable to the majority
- Post Report, Kathmandu
Opening act

Aug 10, 2015-

Constitutionalism combines both the principles and practice of democratic governance. It aims at accepting popular sovereignty with an objective of ensuring an accountable, efficient and a stable government elected at regular intervals. Such a democracy should be reflected in the constitution. But Nepali politicians have miserably failed to own this agenda despite repeated attempts to write 

a constitution.

Logical fallacy 

Political parties’ leaders who come from a variety of backgrounds and political acculturations are not at ease with the translation of universally embraced norms and values into the hostile climate of Nepal. At a time when democratic systems are under great stress all over the world due to new challenges, Nepal faces multiple problems that are specific to its own environment and background. 

The fallacy in constitution making can be observed in the lack of conceptual clarity on part of the leaders. Their commitment to the basic principles of modern democracy is spurious and ad hoc. They keep changing their political stand every now and then under pressure. They seldom foresee the possible outcome of a situation, and retract their commitments no sooner than they are opposed. The signing of the 16-point agreement which hastened the constitution-making process faced immediate backlash because of the leaders’ inability to foresee potential political scenarios resulting from this agreement. It was also irrational to agree on a draft constitution without addressing the most contentious issue of the delineation of boundaries of federal units or without ensuring the proportional respresentation of all deprived and marginalised sections of society in the state organs. Though the intention of the leaders might have been to fast-track the constitution-making process, ignoring the gains of the People’s Revolution or the Interim Constitution was not only wrong but also pretentious.  Its consequences are likely to be dismal as regressive forces have begun to raise their heads to dilute the achievements of the People’s Movement. 

Leaders without vision

The theory of constitution making, a western import, is based on certain political underpinnings. Since it is a long and arduous process that needs courage, commitment and vision, only visionary and strong leaders with an unflinching faith in democratic principles can undertake such a project. Nepal, however, has ‘swing’ leaders who are incapable of taking decisions, let alone sticking to them. The characteristics of ‘swing’ leaders are common in most of the ‘big’ parties in Nepal around which other ‘smaller’ parties revolve expecting a share of the spoils of the government. The prime minister is one example who frequently changes his commitments to satisfy disgruntled lobbies and due to pressure, both internal and external. Although he is one of the signatories to the 16-point agreement reached between the four parties—Nepali Congress (NC), CPN-UML, UCPN (Maoist) and the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (Loktantrik)—his latest utterances indicate that he is no more a champion of the agreement. 

Meanwile, the CPN (UML), a party impatiently waiting to lead the government under its party president KP Oli, lambasted Koirala for going against the agreement. The informal understanding reached during the finalisation of the 16-point agreement was that Koirala would prepare conducive grounds for the UML to head the next government after promulgating the constitution. Since no single party has enough strength in Parliament to form a government on its own, the support of other parties, particularly the Congress, UCPN (Maoist) and the Madhesi parties is crucial. 

A new theory

Apportioning blame on political leaders is very easy. But the Nepali political context is not as simple as we try to portray it to be. The failure on part of the leaders to try and understand the changed context has further complicated Nepali politics. The politics of compromise has paved way for the politics of opportunism and short-term gain. Politicians are indecisive because they seem to harbour the fear that the dominance of certain high-caste or class could be compromised if they accept the demands for proportionate sharing of power and resources. 

For a substantive departure from the past, the new constitution should, therefore, take a long-term view and seek to maintain societal and politico-economic balance. Moreover, the politics of identity and ethnicity cannot be entirely ruled out. Nor is it now possible to run the state without the cooperation of all Nepalis. Since Nepal is a country of minorities notwithstanding the continued domination of high caste groups—which do not exceed 31 percent of the total population—it is imperative to develop a new theory and practice of statecraft. The draft constitution does not spell out how such proportionate sharing of resources among the marginalised and oppressed groups will be made possible.  

The orthodoxy with which major parties’ leaders are trying to buy time will not benefit the country. Nor will it do any good to them.  It could instead help the seeds of conflict take root as in other conflict-prone countries eventually forcing the political elites to take a U-turn from their previous position. 

Intent matters 

Constitution making in Nepal has become imponderable due to the inability of 

political leaders to grasp the complexity of the situation. First, parties and leaders 

are still entagled in the cobweb of the traditional political style and knowledge 

thus effectively distant from emergent trends and aspirations. The surging popular demands that range from religious to 

social to political recognition on the one hand and the  audacity of the leaders to continue to remain inflexible and not make an effort to find reasonable ground to address them on the other is problematic. Second, constitutionalism as is understood in the West or in so-called developed democracies cannot be a good import for Nepal with its disruptive political history and fractured political culture. 

Constitutionalism is a sine qua non of modern liberal democracy. But in the given context, a constitution cannot be replicated but can be so designed to be a good mixture of social justice and political democracy. Third, the draft constitution is the product of confused minds and principles, like a garden covered by grass of various types. Finally, a constitution must be written with good intentions. It must combine all the elements of modern participatory democracy for it to last and be acceptable to the majority of the population. 

 Baral is the author of a number of 

books, most recently of ‘Nepal-Nation-State in the Wilderness: Managing State, Democracy and Geopolitics’

Published: 10-08-2015 13:25

User's Feedback

Click here for your comments

Comment via Facebook

Don't have facebook account? Use this form to comment