Implementation Of Constitution Still In Limbo

 

Uttam Maharjan

 

It has been a year since the constitution of Nepal was promulgated on September 20, 2015. It is obvious that the constitution will not have sense unless it is fully implemented. But as soon as the constitution was promulgated, it suffered a setback. The Madhesi parties not satisfied with the constitution staged protests on the Nepal-India border on the coattails of the Indian establishment. India imposed an undeclared embargo on the country, halting the supply of essential goods-especially petroleum products and medicines-to the country.

 

Unpleasant situation

At a time when the country should have focused on implementing the constitution by framing necessary laws and holding elections to the local, provincial and federal governments, the country had to cope with the Madhes agitation and the Indian blockade. This unpleasant situation persisted for five months, throwing the economy of the country and the life of the people out of gear. The people had to suffer for no fault of theirs on an unprecedented scale.

With the Madhes agitation and the Indian blockade grinding to a halt in February 2016, the people had heaved a sigh of relief that everything would come back to normal. But contrary to their expectations, the effects of the untoward events are still rankling in their minds. The prices of commodities that skyrocketed during the Madhes agitation and the Indian blockade have failed to come down. If anything, the prices have now increased, thus making life of the people more miserable.

There is a raft of political parties in the country. Not every party can be appeased by making provisions of their liking in the constitution. This is exactly why the Madhesi and janajati parties are demurring at the constitution. The Oli-led government had to go at the hands of the CPN-Maoist Centre and the Nepali Congress for, among other things, failing to fulfill the demands of the Madhesi parties. During the Madhes agitation, some constitutional provisions were amended to pacify the Madhesi parties but they did not take it positively and therefore kept on staging their border-centric protests.

Now, the Dahal-led government has assured the Madhesi parties that their demands will be fulfilled by making necessary amendments to the constitution. The government has said that it is doing homework in this regard. But it is not easy to do so without garnering a two-thirds majority in the Legislature-Parliament. The ruling coalition must seek the support of the major opposition party, the CPN-UML. But the point is that the opposition party is still miffed at the way their government was toppled by the CPN-Maoist Centre and the Nepali Congress, now the ruling coalition.

It seems the Madhesi parties will not let the constitution be implemented unless their demands are fulfilled. It may not be judicious to press ahead with implementing the constitution by giving short shrift to the Madhesi parties.

This is one side of the coin why there are hurdles to implementing the constitution. The other side of the coin is related to lack of trust and consensus among the political parties. There are debates on the structure of the local bodies. The Local Body Restructuring Commission has proposed 565 local units but some parties are insisting on more than 1,000 local units. They are not concerned about whether a cash-strapped country like ours can afford the cost. They just want a bigger pie in the government of the country.

A large number of laws also need to be framed to hold the three-tier elections by January 2018. After that, the Legislature-Parliament will cease to exist, which may create constitutional and legal complications. So there is no alternative to holding the elections by the said deadline.

There are many fires in the iron for the government to accomplish. But political wrangling is taking a toll in the implementation of the constitution. Time is running out but the government and the political parties are busy blowing their own trumpets. They are uncompromising in their stand. It may not be reiterated that it was due to the intransigent stands of the political parties that the constitution could be promulgated only last year after an inordinate delay. Now the same malaise is gripping the government and the political parties as far as making preparations for implementing the constitution is concerned.

 

Need

The constitution has come into existence with the sacrifices of many people. The successive popular movements have changed the modality of government. The monarchy is gone and the republican system is in place. But the republican system is yet to be fully institutionalized. The only way of doing so is the implementation, both in letter and spirit, of the constitution.

So, this is not the time for the government and the political parties to wrangle over how to go ahead with implementing the constitution. The need of the hour is to hold elections to the local, provincial and federal governments so that the republican setup can be institutionalized. For this, they must develop consensus among themselves. Amending the constitution is not a big deal. The constitution is not a monolithic charter. It may be amended keeping abreast with the times. However, certain fundamental provisions like sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence cannot be amended. Therefore, the government and the political parties should set aside their narrow interests and work in synergy towards implementing the constitution for the broader interests of the country and the people.  

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