17-23 January 2014 #690

It’s the constitution, stupid

It is tragic that the writing of a document with such far-reaching consequences for the country’s future should be in the hands of political figures whose time horizons are so short

We have come to expect Nepal’s politicians not to stick to schedule. Statecraft in Nepal is governed by Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

The last elections were postponed twice. The tenure of the first Constituent Assembly was extended four times. Last month, the Election Commission had to extend the deadline for submission of the PR lists from the parties twice. So, no one should be surprised that the newly-elected Assembly is convening one month behind schedule, on 22 January, without the 26 nominated members who would have made it complete with 601 members. The reason for that is the same as the reason for all other delays: petty political wrangling.

The big question now is whether CA2 will succeed where CA1 failed, and the political parties will be able to abide by their self-set target of writing a new constitution within one year. From the kind of delays over easily surmountable disputes (like the one about whether it should be the President or the Chairman of the Interim Electoral Council which should be calling for the CA to convene that stalled matters for two weeks) it doesn’t look like that deadline will be met. But no matter, our politicians can always come up with some excuse or other to postpone and procrastinate. They have become experts at it.

Opinion is divided about whether the rout of the UCPN(M) in the elections will make it easier or harder for compromises to be worked out on the contentious issues that deadlocked the House last time. Given that it is the same leaders of the same parties asking for the same consensus-driven negotiations over the same points of disagreement does not bode well. It doesn’t look like the defeat of the parties espousing the agenda of ethnic and territorial politics will be reflected in the negotiations over state structure and form of government.

After crossing the first hurdle of convening the CA, parliament will have to elect a new prime minister. For that the NC, as the largest party, has to first resolve its own internal power struggle. Then it has to negotiate with the UML to form a coalition. President Ram Baran Yadav and the institution he represents have become a pawn in the UML’s bargaining with the NC for plum positions in the next government.

A constitution is a national blueprint to ensure equality, justice, security and prosperity. It is written by this generation for the welfare of the next generations of Nepalis. But the last thing on everyone’s mind seems to be a new constitution. It is tragic that the writing of a document with such far-reaching consequences for the country’s future should be in the hands of political figures whose time horizons are so short.

Constitutions do not succeed or fail, they are not rigid documents. Their worth will depend on how the values they espouse are respected in letter and spirit by future leaders. The foremost test of Nepal’s new constitution will be whether it will protect the country’s national unity, ensure stability, democracy, rule of law. And that will happen only if the inclusive document addresses and begins to resolve society’s current maladies: entrenched injustices and discrimination, inequality, under-development and destitution.

Sadly, those urgent goals seem to be the last things in the minds of those who dominate the national political discourse today. 

Read also:

Wrong mechanism

The two decade detour

Back to the centre

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