The government of Nepal would do well to shed the feeling of lassitude if it doesn’t want the people to take to the streets.
Nepal’s tryst with democracy is hardly a decade old and is still considered ‘ work in progress.’ The centuries-old monarchy was toppled following a decade-long civil war involving the Communist Party of Nepal, commonly known as the Maoists. On May 18, 2006, the House of Representatives unanimously voted to curtail the power of the King and declared Nepal a secular state, ending its time-honored official status as a Hindu Kingdom. On December 28, 2007, a bill was passed in the parliament to amend Article 159 of the Constitution – replacing ‘Provisions regarding the King’ by ‘Provisions of the Head of the State’ – declaring Nepal a federal republic, and thereby abolishing the monarchy.
The ensuing elections for the Constituent Assembly on May 28, 2008 saw the Maoists elected to power but serious charges of bad governance led to their ouster and a virtual game of musical chairs followed. As a result, the Constituent Assembly, which was charged with writing Nepal's permanent constitution, failed to deliver. Under the terms of the Interim Constitution, the new constitution was to be promulgated by May 28, 2010; but the Constituent Assembly changed the deadline by a year because of many points of disagreement between political parties.
On May 25, 2011, the Supreme Court of Nepal ruled that the 2010 extension of the Interim Constitution was not in order. The deadline for a new constitution kept getting extended. Eventually, on May 28, 2012, the then Prime Minister, Baburam Bhattarai dissolved the Constituent Assembly after it failed to finish the constitution in its last extension, ending four years of constitution-drafting and leaving the country in a legal vacuum. Elections to a second Constituent Assembly were held on November 19, 2013 under the supervision of Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi but no party managed to secure a clear majority. After much political wrangling and backroom manipulation, Sushil Koirala was sworn in as the new Prime Minister on February 11, 2014 and all political leaders pledged to draft a new constitution within a year.
It is an uphill task, which will require a Herculean effort. Prime
Minister Sushil Koirala, who is a septuagenarian and a veteran Nepali Congress leader who spent 16 years in political exile in India after Nepal's royal takeover of 1960, leads the coalition government. But the question that whether he will be up to the task lingers in many minds. Once a vibrant and energetic politician, Sushil Koirala was involved in the hijacking of an aircraft for political purposes but time has mellowed him down. He has a prestigious name in Nepalese politics. One of his cousins was the country’s first elected prime minister, before he was ousted in a coup in 1960. Another cousin, Girija Prasad Koirala orchestrated the afore-mentioned hijacking in 1973, to finance a planned armed insurgency that came to naught. He went on to become prime minister four times between 1990 and 2008.
Known for his austere lifestyle, Sushil Koirala does not possess any property and resided in a two-room rented house till he was elected as prime minister. He doesn't own a car or a motorbike nor does he have a bank account. Recently, he returned $650 paid to him by the government as traveling allowance for a visit to Myanmar, stating that since he did not spend the amount, it should go back to the treasury.
Unfortunately, the same
The coalition partners are stuck in the quagmire of dealing with petty issues such as who would be responsible for authenticating the bills relating to the new constitution rather than pondering over the bigger question of framing the new constitution.
true of his nineteen-member cabinet, which mostly comprises the old guard of Nepalese politics. The cabinet, including the finance and home ministers, served in the 1990s, too, which is not comforting, since the era is remembered for corruption, ineffective rule and the brutal mishandling of a nascent Maoist rebellion which prolonged the strife. The Maoists ultimately ended up waging a decadelong civil war.
The ouster of the monarchy was followed by the promise that the lower castes would be given equal opportunities. Ironically, the current ruling party appears oblivious to the aspirations of the lower castes. Most of the powerful ministries have been given to men belonging to the highcaste. This is reminiscent of a return to the past and a failure to reflect the country’s diversity. Nepalese Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, comprise one-sixth of the 28 million population of Nepal. Mr. Koirala did not give a party ticket to any Dalit, nor has he appointed a single Dalit to his cabinet.
Commenting on the deliberate sidelining of the lower castes, popular Maoist leader, Devendra Raj Pandey said, “It’s as if there was no movement in 2006 and no Maoist insurgency for ten years before that.” Like other intellectuals, Pandey says that he would like to support the Nepali Congress, but is put off by the party’s failure to share power with lower castes or devolve it to local bodies.
The Nepalese cabinet may have taken up the task of drafting the longdelayed constitution and then hold a fresh election for president – all within a year – but there are numerous impediments. To achieve the task, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala will have to reduce the trust deficit between his Nepali Congress and its coalition partner the UML. Politics makes strange bedfellows and the duo have ended up in a marriage of convenience. If the nuptials have to last, they must overcome the mistrust. Independent analysts and observers have said that despite having been convened for over two months, the parliament appears to be sans any agenda and the members appear to be in a mode of lethargy. The government is yet to announce its policy and programs. Without a clear roadmap, there are no parameters for taking decisions. The coalition partners are stuck in the quagmire of dealing with petty issues such as who would be responsible for authenticating the bills relating to the new constitution rather than pondering over the bigger question of framing the new constitution.
Twenty six seats in the assembly are still vacant because of jockeying for influence by vested interests. Local council elections have not been held in Nepal for the last 16 years, yet there appears to be no urgency to hold them because of objections by some parties. The question of the continuation of the present incumbents in the chairs of president and vice president has been left in abeyance with the hope that the issue will be addressed along with the promulgation of the new constitution. Consequently, nearly all political leaders have expressed reservations about achieving the target by the year’s end.
One would expect the government of Prime Minister Sushil Koirala to shed the feeling of lassitude that currently prevails in the country or the people would lose confidence in them and take the issue to the streets. In order to reinforce assurance, PM Koirala should get his act together, set his cabinet into motion and attend to the task of framing a new constitution without further ado.