Constituent Assembly The forgotten agenda
Instead of working together for a new constitution, political parties are fussing over forms of
Political parties by nature are expedient. They tend to forget the promises they make during elections. All the more so while making compromises with other parties for government formation when a single party fails to get absolute mandate. Nepal’s case is unique in that no single political party can form the government on its own merit because of the mix of two electoral methods — the first-past-the post and the proportional system. Under the existing arrangement, only 42 per cent seats would be decided by the simple majority, while the rest by the proportional system. Moreover, under both the systems, the concept and practice of inclusive democracy must be accepted regardless of whether a party likes it or not.
How political parties defy the very spirit of inclusiveness has been demonstrated by the present government led by the Maoist leader. As no dalit member finds any berth in the present coalition government, the Maoists, whose mobilisational ideology was inclusive democracy along with qualitative change in totality, are increasingly becoming no better than the other principal parties that governed the country in the past. Political parties in general have given more attention to political gimmicks and irresponsible statements that are “full of sound and fury signifying nothing”. NC leaders are bereft of new agendas and mobilisational programmes. Many of them think that the Maoist aversion to parliamentary system (not democracy) is an invitation to one-party dictatorship.
Defence Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal has meanwhile pooh-poohed such criticisms lashing out at the NC leaders for creating a mountain out of molehill adding that the CPN (Maoist) is committed to Federal Democratic Republic as agreed upon by all the political forces of the country. Instead of working together for a new constitution, unnecessary controversy is being raised on the forms of government. There has been disagreement on accepting parliamentary system as the only democratic model in the world as many other countries having non-parliamentary systems are also genuine democracies. And parliamentary
system is one of the variants of multiparty democracy if it is practiced in right earnest as is done in the United Kingdom and other countries like India, Canada and Australia. Given the Nepali context, parliamentary democracy was a misnomer that recognised the monarchy, left
parties and the NC under the 1990 constitution. This situation has changed after Jana Aandolan II.
Parliamentary democracy has some characteristics such as election of Prime Minister through parliament, concept of nominal head of state (king or president), recognition of political dissent both in formal and informal sense, full freedoms, accountability of the cabinet individually and collectively, prerogative of Prime Minister to dissolve the lower house of parliament in case the government is either defeated in the house or the prime minister decides to hold a fresh poll for new mandate. Elections to the lower house can be both direct and proportional or of the mixture of both as in Germany and Nepal today. Acceptance of victory and defeat by the contending parties is the hallmark of any liberal democracy.
Broadly four types of system are prevalent in the world today with some variations. Under the American presidential system the president is elected by the people and cannot be removed during his tenure unless impeached by the Congress. Unlike Parliamentary system, the executive cannot dissolve the Congress because of the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances. The French type combines both the features of presidential and parliamentary system. Yet, the President is more powerful than the Prime Minister. Yet another model is Swiss plural system under which the seven federal counselors alternately become the president. Plebiscite and referendum are the instruments that are used by the people for deciding some crucial issues.
The issue of forms of government can be decided by the Constituent Assembly for which much sacrifice has been made by the people. Political forces can engage in their informal exercises among themselves so as to reach a consensus on a specific model suited to Nepal. But they do not seem to be serious about the main agenda of constitution making.
As if the mandate given by the people is only to become insiders and outsiders of government and continue politics as usual, people can hardly find any difference between the previous governments and the present one. Above all, legitimacy of power is judged on the basis of performance and rationale of power that is derived from the constitutional means. And the principal mandate received by them is the making of a new constitution under which a new, prosperous, federal democratic republic of Nepal could be envisioned.
Prof Baral is executive chairman, NCCS