Nepali Times
The Ten-Year Itch

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal 2047 (1990) has been criticised by a vocal minority on all sides of the political spectrum. The right claims it is against Nepali nationhood because the divine powers of the king have been curtailed. The left says its ambiguous provisions are open to manipulation by traditionalists and reactionaries. Extremists ridicule it as a document that compromised the real interests of the people after the Jana Andolan.

To be sure, this first decade has been a roller-coaster ride: three parliaments, ten prime ministers, two local elections, improbable coalitions, perennial infighting, break-ups of political parties, and a tendency to polarise. No wonder some call the system of government in Nepal today "constitutional anarchy".

But there have been achievements: the supremacy of the law was proven when the Supreme Court restored the second Pratinidhi Sabha in 1995, even though it had been dissolved earlier on the recommendation of the prime minister. Taking advantage of the unfettered freedom of expression and organisation, there has been a transformation in social activism, media and civil society. Given the persisting stranglehold of superstition and fatalism in this country (not necessarily confined to the illiterate), this is no mean feat.

Apart from all that, the 1990 Constitution made a dramatic break from the past-it transferred sovereignty from the crown to the people. The symbol of Nepali nationalism and unity is now the Constitution. So what's so great about that, you may ask. Well, it puts the onus of building our future on our own shoulders. We can no longer blame it on fate, or callous rulers. If our leaders turn out to be crooks, we have the power to vote them out.

There is an opportunity to start anew as we prepare to mark the first ten years of our constitution. Informal talks were held last week between the Deputy Prime Minister Ram Chandra Paudel, and the representative of a group that doesn't believe in the present constitution and has adopted a violent struggle to have it changed. Hopes have been raised that there is now light at the end of this dark tunnel. All right-thinking Nepalis in their heart of hearts are convinced this is the way to go. The sooner the Maoists use the political space afforded by the same constitution they revile to enter the mainstream, the better it will be for them and for the Nepali people. But after living by the bullet, do they have the political will to face the ballot? The Nepali people have such a low opinion of political leaders who have ruled us so far that the Maoists may be pleasantly surprised to win the next election.

Sceptics have already begun to rubbish the informal talks as a Maoist propaganda ploy. But if they are sincere, and we have Padma Ratna Tuladhar's word that they are, perhaps they discovered its usefulness only after the possibility of the army coming under the constitutionally formed government of the day became imminent. Nepalis now have to show they are mature enough to control their destiny. After all, they are in charge.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)