Final transition from Divine Right to Democracy
Liberty is innate to humanity; who would not want to be governed democratically under a constitution written by their own elected representatives? The Constituent Assembly (CA) was one such call that captured the collective Nepali wish and it finally became a reality as part of Nepal’s 2006 post conflict peace process. After so much Triumph and Trauma, the adoption of the new Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic by the CA on 20 September 2015 is the culmination of this long held aspiration of the Nepali people. The challenge now is to launch the country into a new trajectory of a democratic, peaceful and prosperous Nepal for all Nepalese finally ending the painful transition from divine right to democracy.
Challenging undertaking: Despite many weaknesses Nepali leaders sometimes not only surprise others but themselves. This is one such occasion. The determination with which the mainstream democratic-progressive political leadership has asserted itself and moved forward must have made the dissenting voices pause and reflect. The ruling coalition enjoys overwhelming majority in the CA and large majority of the people always support leadership of wisdom and courage. Now the government and mainstream leadership must activate all channels to bring the moderate forces of the Tarai-Madhesh to take ownership of the new Constitution.
A nation-state is easily known by its physical territory, but it is the unity of the multitudes of the people bound together around some shared values and sense of common destiny that will make it peaceful, prosperous, democratic and strong. The circumstances in which the constitution is being adopted with sections of the political forces opposing, parts of the territory burning and people dying, the first priority now is to bring all of the dissenting political parties, if possible, and at least those that can identify with the fundamental values enshrined in the constitution on board.
Having left the CA and plunged into agitation, there will naturally be some resistance in the ranks of the dissenters. But an open invitation and sincere and serious message of accommodation gives them the opening to return. If on the one hand their presence in celebrating the promulgation of the new Constitution gives them the place to be part of this historic process in which they themselves have been an important part, it will be the real test of the political leadership in Kathmandu. Having correctly identified those seeking genuine redress from the spoilers, the leadership must also now have the courage to deal firmly with those who are intent on turning Nepal into Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or Somalia.
Ending the Transition: The real need and demand of most Nepalese from Mechi to Mahakali, Himal, Pahad to Tarai-Madhesh has always been the enjoyment of the fruits of their own hard work in peace, security and freedom. All else are politics. Can the new Constitution ensure this real need and demand of the people? This is the most crucial question.
Given the spread of the ideological divide and political interests, even with the best skills and luck, it is unlikely that all will be calm on the 21st of September. Some copies of the Constitution will surely be torn and burnt, but, how many? This will determine the future course of Nepali politics. The rumor of a nationwide bandh on the very day the constitution is being promulgated just goes to show the extent of the challenge. Will people be able to come out and express their joy (or disagreement for that matter) without threat or fear? Will the government be able to remove the fear or threat of violence with effective law and order? This will determine whether the transition will really end.
New National Agenda: Just like a political change, a new Constitution will not bring immediate and automatic social and economic dividend. It will only create the platform for change. But will actions and behaviors of all, most significantly people in positions of power and authority change? Can and will they want to embark on a new culture of meritocracy where honesty and good work are rewarded, lethargy and bad behavior punished? Will there be better governance, heal the wounds and wipe the tears of those most affected by past injustices and recent conflicts and violence? Will appointments to important government posts be based on merit and performance rather than other criteria? Holding election of the local bodies as soon as possible and a better blue-print for overall socio-economic transformation and post-earthquake reconstruction and rehabilitation are other important national agendas.
Unity of Purpose: The verdict of the people in the last general election was for all political parties to work together to promulgate the new constitution within a year. People entrusted the main responsibility of these and other important agendas of peaceful and positive transformation to the largest political forces. Their inability to move promptly and decisively brought the current situation but the constitution also became possible when they finally decided to unite and act.
Government Formation: Acquisition of state power has always been the main focus of politics everywhere. This is more so in the overly power-centric politics of the developing world and Nepal in particular. Will the unity of purpose continue or falter in the quest to acquire and retain power? Whether Nepalese leaders have really learned from their past mistakes will once again be tested in the formation of the new government and sharing power.
Should the government be a grand-coalition with some place for the smaller parties and the individuals in the CA, like minded parties or of big players with majority with stable government and strong opposition? This is another important question. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Leadership: People knew institutionalizing the post-2006 achievements would not be easy. That is why they did not have big expectations and were patient. Only politicians promised bridges where there were no rivers. Any wonder, they encountered problems. Federation or otherwise, presidential or parliamentary system, what matters most is how efficiently and effectively the state acts, how honest and accountable leaders are and whether they are able to team up with competent and committed professionals. Deep studies of many societies suggest, leadership is the single most crucial factor for success or failure. In this sense whether the new constitution becomes a document for recounting the ills of the past or a blue print for a brighter future will largely depend on leadership of wisdom and courage.
The best blessing of the new constitution can be in restoring the faith of the people on the state, its institutions and leaders. In this sense it gives the current generation of Nepali political leaders one more chance to fulfill the promise they have repeatedly made to the people of a better Nepal for all Nepalese. But ordinary leadership cannot meet the challenges of extraordinary times. Leaders will have to do better if they want to meet the terms for Nepal’s yet another tryst with destiny. [email protected]