Nepali Times
The public's republic

If anyone wanted a glimpse of the New Nepal, it could be seen inside the Sagarmatha Hall of the convention centre this week on the fresh and diverse faces of assembly members. They represent our transition parliament and the drafters of a new constitution over the next two years.

That we have come this far to formally declare Nepal a federal democratic republic through elections and not bloodshed will go into the annals of world history as a model of conflict transformation and political evolution. Despite the delays and mismanagement, the old guard have brought us to this point and they deserve thanks. Now, its time to pass on the baton to a younger generation of elected representatives, the women and members of minority communities.

The road ahead is not easy. Declaring Nepal a republic will not make our woes go away overnight. The first task for the assembly is to institutionalise the gains of the past 70 years of democratic struggle. This will require procedures for the conduct of assembly sessions to be of international standards. Work of expert committees apart, the right of every member to be heard should be honoured and the party whip should be limited to voting.

Once the chair and deputy are named, the formation of committees and their composition will be critical to the success of the constitution drafting process. It's encouraging that the assembly reflects Nepal's diversity, but it must maintain cohesion to deliver results. Committees to draft laws related to fundamental freedoms, the system of governance, civilian control over the army and bases of provincial autonomy will have to be led by competent lawmakers with deep understanding of Nepali realities, not populists playing to the galleries.

As a legislature, the assembly will have to immediately start work on the budget when the new finance minister takes charge. The new government will crash head-on into a food-fuel crisis as soon as it comes to power. With the republican dream realised, the people will want more from their elected leaders than slogans. They will need to feel tangible improvement in their lives. Assembly members will have to help sustain and support the weakened instruments of the executive so that development delivery catches up with lost time.

Unlike the restless populace of volatile new democracies, Nepali voters showed their fortitude last month. But our politicians have the habit of cutting the tree on which they sit. They will now have to show accountability and patience as the constitution drafting process drags on through two years.

Our raucous civil society and edgy media will do well not to be too harsh on the assembly members, most of whom are new to the ways of electoral politics. For the sake of the Nepali people, the new government should also be given a chance to deliver.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)