Tuesday, 20 October, 2020

Embrace The Spirit Of Constitution


Ballav Dahal


We are observing the 5th Constitution Day and National Day today with various programmes across the country. Promulgated on Asoj 3, 2072 B.S. (September, 20, 2015), this is the first national charter drafted by the people's representatives. So, this inclusive democratic statute holds a lot of significance in the annals of nation’s history.
Federalism, republicanism, democracy, human rights, social justice, proportional representation, independent judiciary and free press are some key features of the constitution. With the adoption of the federal system of governance, the powers and authorities are now delegated to the state and local government. There was much optimism among common people, civil society members, academicians as well as politicians that with the new constitution, the nation would make a great stride towards socio-economic development in no time. The constitution has envisaged developing an egalitarian and prosperous society.

Abolition Of Monarchy
It is a landmark charter that paved the way for the abolition of the 240-year-old monarchy. The republican order has ensured that only the elected representatives should govern the country. The monarchy is supposed to have been a stumbling block to the overall development of the country. The people and political parties had come to realise the fact that political freedom and human rights would not be safeguarded fully without ending the autocratic monarchy. On the pretext of protecting the multiparty democracy, the then king Gyanendra Shah engineered a coup, seizing people's democratic rights in February 2005. During that period, the Maoist insurgency was at its peak. The nasty power game played by the king gave an impression that even the constitutional monarchy was not in the interest of the people and the nation. The shrewd king had adopted the strategy of 'divide and rule' to recapture the state power like an absolute monarch did in the past.
However, the various political forces, including the then CPN-UML and Nepali Congress, joined hands with the Nepal Communist Party - Maoist to dethrone the monarch and formulate an inclusive democratic constitution. Such an important achievement could not have been made without the Nepali people's sacrifice and relentless struggles. Political parties like the then UML, NCP- Maoist and Nepali Congress had played a pivotal role in establishing the new political system and formulating the constitution.
The constitution formally came into effect with the holding of the historic three-tier elections for federal, state and local level governments in 2017. The electoral alliance between the erstwhile UML and CPN-Maoist Centre enabled the two largest communist forces to clinch a sweeping victory in the elections. This led to the unification of two parties as the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Securing a strong popular mandate, the NCP has been in power for more than two and a half years. It is natural for the people to pin high hopes on this powerful government.
But the government does not seem to be capable enough to deliver on its promises made to the people during the polls. A lingering feud within the party was one of the major factors affecting the government's performance. Howev er, the party's leadership has successfully resolved the protracted internal conflict recently. It is now expected to focus on meeting the people's aspirations and deal with the coronavirus pandemic and various development challenges in a more effective manner.
Developing a sound service delivery system in the country is one of the major challenges before the incumbent government. Almost every sector seems to be running on an ad hoc basis. So, it is essential for the government to have a system in place to achieve political stability, prosperity and happiness.
Owing to lack of an effective coordination and cooperation among the three-tier governments, the new political system has not been functioning smoothly. Even though the constitution has clearly outlined the rights and responsibilities of the federal, state and local governments, they still seem to be in a state of confusion. However, many local levels have been successful in managing the COVID-19 crisis. They have not only created public awareness among the local populace about the potentially deadly virus but also run quarantines and isolation centres. Some of them have installed even well-equipped labs for the diagnosis of the disease. Thus, their role in controlling the transmission of COVID-19 is quite commendable. However, they still have a long way to go before they successfully stem the virus completely.
The other issue that demands the state's urgent attention is the transitional justice system. Initially, the victims of the decade-long internal conflict were very optimistic that they would get justice from the incumbent government. But sadly, no significant effort seems to have been made to this end. The victims have still been desperately waiting for truth, justice and reparations to get their wounds healed. They have also sought institutional reform in the transitional justice system.
According to a report, some 17,000 people lost their lives while more than 1,300 others were forcibly disappeared during the armed conflict from 1996 to 2006. As the saying goes: justice delayed is justice denied. The government must deliver justice to them at the earliest possible by establishing a credible transitional justice mechanism. It should also take the initiative to revise the existing Transitional Justice Act as per the Supreme Court's ruling. A resolution of the conflict victims' grievances will alone guarantee the durable peace in the country.
The constitution also aims at creating a corruption-free society. It is appreciable that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, in line with the spirit of the constitution, has come up with the motto of 'zero tolerance on corruption'. However, the problem is that irregularities, especially policy-level corruption, continue to plague the country. The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has been trying to crack down on the corrupt. But the anti-corruption body is often criticised for catching only ‘flies’ and letting the big ‘fishes’ off the hook. Corruption has been a big impediment to overall national development of the country.

Viable Roadmap
Of late, the government has drawn flak from the public for picking the persons who had lost to elections for the members of National Assembly. Such a move goes against the grain of constitution. If this trend continues, the prestigious institution may turn into 'a club of poll losers' in the near future. Academicians and other experts who have made significant contribution to the nation should be nominated as the members of the NA instead of active politicians.
The constitution is a dynamic document of nation-building. For the constitution to be a viable roadmap for socio-economic transformation of society, the higher echelon of leadership must embrace constitutional norms, conduct and culture. Otherwise, rosy provisions of constitution become a chimera, condemning the people, generation after generation, to indulge in the futile acts of making and breaking the constitution.

(Dahal is deputy executive editor at The Rising Nepal) 

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