Change thyself

January 21, 2018 00:31 AM Robin Sharma

We can write the best constitution but it will mean nothing unless political leaders and our government machineries change themselves

After years of struggle, Nepalis enacted their constitution through their chosen representatives in 2015. Our constitution is one of the most progressive documents. Apart from protecting human rights, the document has incorporated various measures for increasing access to government across caste and communities through affirmative actions and state restructuring.

But two years after constitution promulgation, it has become clear that democratic and constitutional ethos do not reflect in political culture.

Constitution making is not new process for Nepal. Our country has had seven constitutions—the constitution of 1948, 1951, 1959, 1962, 1990, 2007 and 2015. Every one of them had placed Janata, the people, at the center stage. Even the Panchayat constitution, which had banned political parties from contesting the elections, claimed to stand for ‘active cooperation of people’ with ‘principle of decentralization’ for the sake of people. Article 11 of Panchayat constitution had explicitly mentioned citizens’ rights such as freedom of speech and expression, and right to assemble peacefully. In practice, however, all these activities were outlawed.

Even Panchayat constitution had 
professed freedom 
of speech and expression, and 
right to assemble peacefully. 

Lesson unlearned 
New constitution was promulgated in 1990 to right the wrongs created by Panchayat constitution. The new constitution recognized people as the source of sovereignty and placed democratic ethos at the centre of the document. It also recognised individual rights of freedom, equality and community rights like freedom to form association and profess religion freely. It recognised the right to information under Article 16, in its attempt to make all organs of government transparent and accountable.

As it turned out, multi-party politics came to be characterized with misrule, corruption, anarchy and instability. Making and breaking of governments became the norm. People lost all faith in political parties. But they trusted them again—thanks to king Gyanendra—when the palace prosecuted the political parties for no good reason.

Learning the lesson from their own past, political parties should have completed constitution making within 2012 and ended the transition for good. But like in the past they again resorted to making and breaking of governments.  They felt the urgency only when the earthquakes ravaged almost half of the country in 2015. 

Nepal got one of the best constitutions incorporating many progressive agendas like gender and ethnic representation, federalism, and three levels of government. Such provisions were meant for increasing people’s participation in governance and policy making. 

But the behaviour of political parties remains unchanged.

Old ways
Soon after enactment of the constitution UML chief KP Oli became the prime minister. He paid no heed to constitutional provision while forming his cabinet.  At a time when people were queuing in long lines due to acute shortage of fuel, he was busy expanding the cabinet, which had as many as six deputy prime ministers. Oli justified the expansion by citing special circumstance (blockade) and transition period. He thus rubbished Article 76(9) of the constitution which has limited cabinet size to 25 ministers. Oli completely overlooked constitutional spirit.

His successor Deuba broke the record by forming the largest cabinet in history. He justifies it by saying Panchayat leaders used to do the same. 
Even though voters have given clear mandate to left alliance to form and lead the next government, Nepali Congress and its president Sher Bahadur Deuba seem to be colluding to break the alliance. Now and then it professes to make Maoist Center leader Prachanda the prime minister. 

Some may justify this in the name of parliamentary democracy. But what about the promises they made to the people before the election?

Both Prachanda and Oli had promised unity, left government, stability and development. What happened to those promises? Breaking those promises will be deceiving.

This kind of behaviour is seen in our bureaucracy as well. In terms of utilizing development budget, intra-agency coordination, and public accountability, our bureaucracy remains the same as it was during the Panchayat days.  A CEO of National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) completely ignores his responsibility and goes to contest the election, leaving the earthquake victims in the lurch. His sudden change in preference is responsible for the plights of victims who are living under the makeshift tents even two years after the tragedy.

Our constitution has enshrined a number of progressive agendas to address literally every problem under the sun. But the truth is corruption is more pervasive, gap between leaders and common folks has widened, and criminalization of politics is there for us all to see.
You can write the best constitution in the world but it will mean nothing unless the political leaders and our government machineries change themselves. Every best article of this constitution will fail if political leaders do not change their habit.

The author is pursuing BA, LLB at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad 

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