January 19, 2015 Sujeev Shakya

Beyond Constitution

In Nepal, we are not raised to adhere to deadlines. This begins with schools and colleges, where we consider the assignment submission date to be a flexible one. We learn from universities to continuously shift examination dates and at times, postpone them for years. In social settings, we turn up late, delay returning borrowed money and things way beyond due dates, and push back that trip to the temple or the ritual to be performed. At the workplace, we see how clients keep shifting the deadline for payment and at banks, we hear of how people keep pushing debt servicing deadlines. We live in an environment of postponement. So it is not unusual that we keep postponing critical deadlines, be they on constitution writing or handing over of power to another group. How can we expect a society that does not believe in deadlines in everyday life to suddenly take the deadline of delivering a constitution seriously? We have faltered in the past and will continue to falter until unless transformations across societies take place and deadlines in our everyday lives are taken seriously.

Individual Lenses

Until now, issues related to constitution-writing have been seen from lenses that suit the individual rather than what suits the nation. Therefore, the structuring of provinces is being looked at from how a particular person would be best poised to be able to become the first Chief Minister of that province. Putting ethnic identity together may get parties the votes, but is that the most economically sustainable model? Similarly, the issue of parliamentary, presidential, or mixed system is viewed as what is best suited for an individual to get to power rather than to discuss what would be the best model for economic development. The key issue is which system is better for the individual, rather than what is best suited for governance, accountability, and pushing equitable economic growth.

Bhojraj Pokhrel, in his book, Nepal Votes for Peace, provides many prescriptions for the electoral system based on his experience. We need to agree that we need to have minimal number of political parties by pushing for threshold votes. Similarly, allowing the same candidate to fight from two constituencies needs to be stopped, as an additional election is a drain on state resources. Like Pokhrel suggests, the party vacating the seat should pay for the expenses of the next elections.

The Right Structure

We cannot get the right federal structure at one go. All constitutions are amended, but the key is to have a good one that can explain why the provisions are there. In a democracy, everyone has the right to express their own structure and train of thought, but it is also important to support this perspective with substantive research, analysis, and argument. What is the benefit to the people in terms of economics if the country has the number of provinces they are suggesting? How do they compare with other models? How does the suggested model help in increasing entrepreneurship and employment opportunities, along with providing better social service delivery? In a competitive world, it is about selling your ideas in a manner your target segment understands. Gone are the days when products were sold based on endorsement by someone. People want to compare and understand the benefits. The political parties and diverse groups suggesting diverse models have not yet been able to provide the right analysis for their argument.

Devolution of Power

We have not really heard much about devolution of power, be it in terms of demographics or geography. In a country, where feudal structures in families and societies still exist, it is very difficult to push for devolution of power. Kathmandu has become the centre of opportunity and once people arrive in Kathmandu, they would like to control the country from Kathmandu. Therefore, we hear little about how powerful the provinces would actually be. The challenge is also to understand how the youth that comprise 70 percent of the population and who are becoming globally competitive and mobile get an opportunity in the new structures of devolution. I am a member of an organisation where the president is chosen based on seniority. By the time my turn will come, I would have nothing to contribute! Leaving the organisation would be seen as rebellion. So the discourse is still at the basic levels of change! There has to be serious introspection on what can be given up and what the other side can give up. Can folks in Singha Durbar just be ministers and secretaries of a federal structure that has little leeway and power apart from transferring power and resources to the provinces?

The constitution-making process has been continuously overshadowed by the power struggle of various combinations of political parties. If some parties really had some real practical and people-friendly solutions, Nepalis would not have been sitting on the fence after electing two Constituent Assemblies. We are creating a constitution in the 21st century to provide a framework for people who would produce their best 20 years from now. But then, most of the key decision makers will be beginning their afterlife. The time is right to change our lenses.

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