Republic Of Nepal Contents And Discontents
The country celebrated the Republican Day the other day to mark the new era of democratic republicanism in Nepal, ending the entrenchment of the hereditary monarchy in Nepal twelve years ago. Though there were some expressions of optimism and hope, many people interviewed by the local media vented their ire and anguish blurting that the leaders have become strong whereas people have become weaker and rickety. Politically, one can definitely claim that the country has got the constitution drafted and enacted by the Constituent Assembly and federal institutions are set up to deliver democratic goods and services to the people. The preamble to the constitution states that this democratic republican constitution was enacted by the constituent assembly to realise the popular aspirations for peace, good governance, development and prosperity for the nation.
The constitution indeed combines both democratic and republican features, values and institutions. In fact a republican state is defined as a sovereign state which is organised with a form of government in which power resides in elected individuals representing the citizens. Moreover, in a democratic state, the government leaders exercise power according to the rule of law. Currently, 147 of the world sovereign states use republic as part of their official names. However, not all of these are republics in the sense of having elected and legitimate democratic governments. Nor do all nations with elected governments use the word republic in their names. But Nepal qualifies to be a democratic republic in the sense it has abolished the hereditary monarchy to meet the universal and global standards of republicanism.
Going back to the history we find that the republics became more common in the Western world starting in the late 18th century. They had come into existence displacing the autocratic and absolutist monarchies as the common form of government prevalent in Europe in those times. The republics that were brought into existence in Europe in those days had not been democratic endowed with the mandate of the people in the modern sense of the term. However, in modern republics, the situation is completely different. The executive theoretically is legitimised both by the written democratic constitution in most of the cases and also by popular vote. Needless to tell, the ideal of a democracy is universal equality while that of a republic is individual liberty.
Where ideal of equality and individual freedom are effectively combined, the democratic republic becomes an ideal and fairly functioning proposition. But experiences have shown that the strong commitment to democracy is scantly expressed in practice. Only mentioning democracy and republic in the constitution expressed in letter and spirit does not make sense if democratically appropriate politics, culture and behaviour are lacking. Envisaging democracy and republic in the basic law of the land is necessary as a matter of democratic commitment. But these have to be backed up by appropriate institutions, operational environment and reality.
In fact, it is interesting to note the fact that the democracy does not appear anywhere in the US Constitution or the Declaration of Independence or in any State constitution, for that matter. It is in order to mention that the US has fifty-one federal entities called states and they have their own separate constitutions. It is through practices, usage and conduct that the US has become one of the important and vibrant democratic republican countries in the world. In the democratic history of around three hundred years, the US constitution has been amended less than three dozen times and so is the case of other countries like India. India had got democratic republic constitution in 1951 but the amendments were carried out only when the experiences and practical needs dictated accordingly.
However, when we take the case of our own country Nepal, the demands for the amendment of the constitution are still haunting the spectre of the Nepalese politics though they are muted now. It is very disconcerting to note that a constitution that has been enacted and promulgated by the constituent assembly has to get confronted with the demands of being amended and altered. It indicates how fragile and weakened has been the constitutional foundation of the democratic political system of the country. Nepal is not only the democratic republic but also has become a federal country. This is clearly stipulated in this constitution. The constitution provides for seven provinces and the elected governments have already taken the reins of the provincial governance. As the country is entering the phase of constitution implementation through enactment of several laws and legislations, the incumbent government should not toy with the notion of amending the constitution. It is important to let the constitution come into implementation and see the results the new institutions and structures yield for the country.
Amending the constitution will set a bad precedent as the constitution can be demeaned as derogated as it were an ordinary legislation amenable to amendment at the flimsiest pretext. Experiences and practices worldwide have indicated that the federalism is an evolving process. India is a case of federalism where boundaries of federal entities are re-demarcated and redrawn time and again. In India the new provinces have been drawn up but these are done only after the genuine aspirations of the people are articulated and confirmed. If we have to uphold and strengthen the values enshrined in the constitution, we need to have the sense of patience, tolerance and accommodation .Otherwise, the ideals of democracy and republicanism vouchsafed for in the constitution will not be translated into reality. Popular frustration and discontent will grow whose indications are also seen in the disenchantment expressed by the people during these days.