Constitution: Faith In Delivery

P. Kharel

 

On the day when the nation is celebrating the Constitution Day, it might be in the fitness of things to make a quick reference to the concept and issue of implementing the Constitution and some of its aspects. Today, people simply cannot imagine governance without a Constitution. The virtual end of colonial rule now presents a world distinctly different from the earlier periods.

During the colonial period, “the subjects” in the colonies were deprived of the very rights and privileges the citizens of the “Mother Country” took for granted. In the first half of the last century, two World Wars were fought and the eventual victors hailed the end to the destructive events as a triumph of “democracy” and “freedom”.

Even Rana Prime Minister Juddha Shumsher, according to noted scholars of Nepal’s history, is said to have hailed the end of WW II as a victory for the champions of democracy. Technically, he might have been right, i.e., if he was not attributing the type of “democracy” he presided over in Nepal that was ruled by personal decree without the benefit of any form of Constitution.

 

Clarity in governance

Modern concept is that Constitution, being the fundamental law of a land, is an essential element for governing a State with an effective degree of predictability instead of people having to be at the mercy of the whims and fancies of those wielding power. Whatever the form and format of the dispensation in vogue, the basic political frame becomes at least clearer in black and white. No Constitution is complete on its own but it does serve as a guideline regarding the status of the prevailing polity. It enables to set up a system, with people in constant search of ways of improving the Constitution as per the needs of the changing times and quest for accommodating new ideas and spirit.

Laws and regulations are introduced in tune with the Constitution; they should not go against the provisions made in the basic law of the land. The court of law in a democratic environment is expected give its verdict on issues of interpretations and workings of the Constitution. This universal appeal is amply underscored by the speed in which nations formulated their Constitutions especially after WW II.

Considering that new states were emerging in the wake of successful struggle for independence in the colonies that stretched far and wide, the trend was all the more significant. Political leaders at the forefront of the independence movement and democratic causes elsewhere all spoke of change, reforms and qualitative governance for better ways of living. Some of them went so far as to sing great praises for the early 13th century Magna charter, John Milton, Rousseau, J.S. Mill and many more who hailed from the very countries that on the eve of WW II were the colonial rulers.

Unfortunately, the “subjects” in the colonies did not enjoy the rights the citizens of the “Mother Country” took for granted and wanted more. European nations in particular were engaged in the ugly business of colonial rule that had no hesitation in holding on to the shameful practice over territories and populations far larger than their own. They talked about democracy and rights for their own exclusive purposes, and by no means for the improvement of the lot of those placed under humiliating and discriminatory colonial rule. 

The awareness generated in the wake of WW II-end invigorated the “subjects” to face and fight against the occupiers of their land and eventually secure independence that ensured their identity and opportunity to become their own master. By the close of the 1960s, many independent states had emerged from such struggle.  The 1970s saw the last vestiges of colonies end virtually everywhere.

The British insist on not having a formally written Constitution but a collection of precedents, existing law and legal decisions shape the country’s fundamental document. Bhutan, in South Asia, did not have a formal Constitution until the 1990s, though it claims the pride of place in the world map for the highest gross happiness index. And quite a few Western democracies, the INGOs they fund and the NGOs they patronise endorse the claim issue yet to be explained while not showing any desire to emulate the Bhutanese Constitution in practice.

Thailand’s latest Constitution, approved by a military-supervised referendum on August 9, vests sweeping special powers under a mechanism giving the armed forces the authority to appoint all 250 members of the Senate. It is the 20th Constitution since 1932 in a country that has witnessed 13 successful military coups and 11 other attempts that went bust. About 61 per cent of the votes cast endorsed the new Constitution that also gives the Senate veto power over the elected popular house. India’s record-bulky six and a half decades old Constitution has been amended several scores of times. The US Constitution, the world’s shortest, has been amended less than three dozen times in 230 years.

In some countries, the Constitution is only a showpiece guaranteeing the powers and privileges of the ruling class that can be interpreted in any way. When this happens, it attracts criticism or resentment in different forms and degrees from opinion leaders and other sections of society.

 

True test

Power should not be concentrated in a few hands. This has been accepted almost universally, except that some don’t honour it when they get an opportunity to derail this principle. Most developing countries have been struggling to practise democracy both in letter and spirit. Some political leaders are known to bend the interpretation of a democratic Constitution and quite a few take to loud rhetoric vowing to be democratic and effective in improving the living standards of their people.

The value of a Constitution is in its implementation. Regular change of guards at the helm of power alone will not suffice for effective results. In Nepal’s case, political leaders themselves rightly admit that there are many big challenges ahead in connection with the task of putting into practice the Constitution. Indeed, it is so. A greater challenge is to take a serious stock of the experiences the people have had in recent years, and summon all sincerity and energy to address the prevailing situation effectively and speedily.

The root causes of the existing state of affairs need to be looked into in all aspects for ensuring the necessary remedies in a spirit of the country’s pressing needs and willingness to make the necessary changes and accommodate genuine ideas for a better Nepal. Let us all work for the doable and deliverable.

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