Break­ing Point

Mired in po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, Nepal con­tin­ues to strug­gle to write a new con­sti­tu­tion. As faith in the po­lit­i­cal frame­work di­min­ishes, the peo­ple emerge as the only pos­si­ble sav­ior.

Southasia - - Nepal - By Taha Ke­har Taha Ke­har is a blog­ger on so­cial is­sues and has pre­vi­ously worked for a me­dia mag­a­zine. He is cur­rently pur­su­ing a de­gree in Law at the School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies.

The ab­sence of a con­sti­tu­tion in Nepal has sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­mined the ba­sic tenets of democ­racy and re­spon­si­ble government. Ow­ing to fre­quent de­lays in draft­ing a con­sti­tu­tion, the coun­try is still strug­gling to se­cure a co­her­ent frame­work for po­lit­i­cal gov­er­nance. Although the In­terim Con­sti­tu­tion of 2007 and the Com­pre­hen­sive Peace Agree­ment of 2006 have of­fered some guid­ing prin­ci­ples, they have failed to ad­dress in­ter­nal con­flicts and de­ter­mine the fate of fed­er­al­ism across the coun­try. Anx­i­eties over eth­nic strife and the preser­va­tion of cul­tural iden­tity can­not be mit­i­gated with­out a con­sis­tent method of man­ag­ing dis­par­i­ties. The po­lit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tional dead­lock that threat­ens to weaken the sovereignty of Nepal is a di­rect con­se­quence of the fail­ure to pro­duce a writ­ten con­sti­tu­tion. The ex­is­tence of a con­sti­tu­tion would pro­vide a spe­cific code of con­duct for grap­pling with th­ese con­cerns and mo­bilise po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the right di­rec­tion.

Nearly two days be­fore Nepal’s Con­stituent As­sem­bly term ended on May 27, 2012, the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties were em­broiled in a heated de­bate over the is­sues of fed­er­al­ism and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a new con­sti­tu­tion in the coun­try. The Uni­fied Com­mu­nist Party of Nepal (Maoists) and the United Demo­cratic Mad­hesi Front ini­tially agreed that a sys­tem of iden­tity-based fed­er­al­ism should be in­tro­duced. The Nepali Congress and the Uni­fied Marx­ist Lenin­ists dis­agreed with this propo­si­tion, stat­ing that the is­sue of fed­er­al­ism in Nepal should be de­cided by a ‘trans­formed par­lia­ment’. They ar­gued, on the other hand, that a con­sti­tu­tion with some agree­ment on the is­sue of fed­er­al­ism should be pro­mul­gated with the prom­ise that the is- sue will be sub­se­quently re­vis­ited and re­viewed.

There is ar­guably a grow­ing need to guar­an­tee cer­tainty on the sta­tus of fed­er­al­ism and en­sure that cul­tural and lin­guis­tic di­ver­sity is pre­served. How­ever, in re­cent months, the is­sue has emerged as a moot point and is sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­min­ing the scope for po­lit­i­cal com­pro­mise. Since Novem­ber 2012, Pres­i­dent Ram Baran Ya­dav has urged lead­ing politi­cians of Nepal to reach an agree­ment on a new government. How­ever, the de­ci­sion has been de­layed sev­eral times and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have not de­liv­ered an ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion. On the con­trary, they have merely paid lip ser­vice to the idea of restor­ing demo­cratic prin­ci­ples in Nepal. At this crit­i­cal junc­ture the po­lit­i­cal process in Nepal has reached a break­ing point. There is no con­sen­sus on how free and fair elec­tions can be con­ducted and a grow­ing wave of scep­ti­cism over how the demo­cratic process can be re­stored is im­ped­ing the sovereignty of the state in Nepal. In ad­di­tion, there has been a

fun­da­men­tal change in the elec­torate, which raises count­less chal­lenges for po­lit­i­cal ac­tors. Only the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a con­sti­tu­tion can pro­vide the nec­es­sary checks and bal­ances to al­le­vi­ate th­ese is­sues and en­sure that the ba­sic civic func­tions of the state are not com­pro­mised.

Fol­low­ing the po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity gen­er­ated by the de­bate over ‘eth­nic states’ and the un­will­ing­ness of the Maoists to prop­a­gate fur­ther eth­nic di­vi­sions in Nepal, the need to draft a con­sti­tu­tional frame­work has be­come even more acute. The po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic un­cer­tainty that has re­sulted from this de­ba­cle sug­gests that Nepal is in des­per­ate need of rein­vig­o­rat­ing its na­tional spirit and re­assess­ing its goals to deal with this po­lit­i­cal cri­sis. Ow­ing to the in­creas­ing po­lit­i­cal un­rest over whether Nepal should be trans­formed into a fed­eral polity, the new con­sti­tu­tion will also need to take mea­sures to ac­com­mo­date this ob­jec­tive. Del­e­gat­ing the task of de­ter­min­ing the fate of fed­er­al­ism to a ‘trans­formed par­lia­ment’ may pro­duce a se­ries of am­bigu­ous re­sults. It would be pru­dent to re­solve the mat­ter and en­shrine it within the frame­work of a con­sti­tu­tion since we can­not be cer­tain whether the par­lia­ment will adopt a se­ri­ous ap­proach to ad­dress­ing this prob­lem.

Although fed­er­al­ism ap­pears to be the most pop­u­lar so­lu­tion to in­ter­nal con­flicts in Nepal, it is a fairly new strat­egy that re­quires ad­min­is­tra­tive com­pe­tence. In or­der to trans­form the coun­try into a fed­eral state, the con­sti­tu­tion will need to iden­tify the ge­o­graph­i­cal ar­eas, which will con­sti­tute fed­eral units and the iden­tity of their pop­u­la­tion. It must also spec­ify a pro­vin­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­ture and tackle prac­ti­cal is­sues such as the de­mar­ca­tion of state bound­aries, the al­lo­ca­tion of power, the se­lec­tion of a fed­eral sys­tem of gov­er­nance, fis­cal man­age­ment and re­source distri­bu­tion in each province. More sig­nif­i­cantly, Nepal can only be trans­formed into a fed­eral state once elec­tions are con­ducted for the prov­inces and proper ad­min­is­tra­tive struc­ture is in place to over­see the demo­cratic process. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties and the state can only achieve th­ese am­bi­tious goals through ef­fec­tive co­op­er­a­tion with one an­other.

Un­for­tu­nately the cur­rent politi- cal cli­mate is a ma­jor im­ped­i­ment to such col­lab­o­ra­tions. Af­ter the monar­chy was abol­ished in 2008, po­lit­i­cal par­ties have put for­ward com­pet­ing vi­sions on how to fos­ter democ­racy and so­cial ad­vance­ment in Nepal. The po­lit­i­cal scuf­fle be­tween the Maoists and Marx­ists has fur­ther ex­ac­er­bated the scope for po­lit­i­cal com­pro­mise. It has been noted that the ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties are prej­u­diced against one an­other and are re­luc­tant to ne­go­ti­ate their own sec­tional in­ter­ests for the sake of good gov­er­nance. As a re­sult, it is un­likely that they will be able to meet the needs of the ci­ti­zens of Nepal. Demo­cratic prin­ci­ples can only be re­stored if change is stim­u­lated at a grass­roots level and more ci­ti­zens par­tic­i­pate to as­sist po­lit­i­cal ac­tors and the state to mit­i­gate the po­lit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tional dead­lock.

The in­ter­nal con­flicts in Nepal have be­come ex­ten­sively politi­cized and have gen­er­ated an over­whelm­ing de­sire for fed­er­al­ism in the re­gion. Be­fore the state suc­cumbs to pop­u­lar opin­ion and cre­ates fed­eral units within the coun­try, it must give pri­or­ity to de­vis­ing a con­sti­tu­tional frame­work. Only then can Nepal be trans­formed into a fed­eral polity. The ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties must reach a con­sen­sus on the is­sue of suit­able gov­er­nance. More sig­nif­i­cantly, ci­ti­zens must play a more proac­tive role in en­sur­ing that a fed­eral con­sti­tu­tion is achieved through grass­roots cam­paign­ing and the ad­min­is­tra­tive com­pe­tence of the state.

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