New constitution may address problems

Surendra R Devkota:

Nepal is in a political metamorphosis process. The gravity of present transformation is balanced by three political actors, and many national and international factors. National players include the King, political parties, and the Maoists. It is unfortunate that their political egos and repulsive forces are ruining the country. Furthermore, the King and his council of ministers are failing to garner the goodwill of international well-wishers.

After King Gyanendra ascended the throne, many political developments have happened. For instance, the King gave permission to mobilise army to crush the Maoists. The Royal Nepalese Army under the command and control of the King came out in November 2001 to enforce emergency. The objective of mobilisation of the army was dubious. Further involvement of the army and continuation of emergency became a hot issue that ended by dissolving the parliament. Subsequently, on October 4, 2002, the King sacked the prime minister and dissolved the parliament. In absence of a parliament, the King’s active involvement in day-to-day politics indicates a tendency towards absolute monarchy, but the Constitution does not support this.

Nepal is in dire need of overhauling socio-economic development strategy rather than politico-administrative makeover. In the prevailing situation two schools of exit strategy exist. One is led by the Nepali Congress, which insists that the King must restore the parliament and that it will do the rest, including dealing with the Maoists, holding elections, and reforming the Constitution. The second school is guided by the King who appoints a council of ministers with certain terms of reference. Over the past two years, the King has changed three prime ministers. The King started to play a zero sum game with parties. On the other hand, the Maoists are insisting on their two key demands: an interim government and election to constituent assembly prior to the negotiations. Interestingly, the present government may not be able to fulfil these demands unless and until the King agrees. So it may announce an election date rather than lose power.

The question of holding polls is doubtful because of the insurgency and insecurity. Restoration of the parliament could be an optimal solution if the King diluted his ego. Further, unofficial polls conducted by urban-based organisations indicate that people still believe in constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy, though the overwhelming number of college students favour the republican setup. It may turn costly to the King if he continues to ignore the Constitution in absence of the parliament and plays a zero sum game. The King is enjoying a benefit from the mistakes of the parties. Sustainability of the monarchical system in Nepal lies in the hearts and minds of the Nepalis not in the guns of the army.

People in different walks of life are calling for a peaceful solution of the present crisis. Many intellectuals seem to favour an election to a constituent assembly if the Maoists guarantee that their guns won’t explode in future. Nepal needs a progressive constitution to speed up socio-economic development. The present Constitution, whether dead or alive, does not address the major problems of Nepal. We need a new constitution that guarantees socio-political and economic rights at local level. For example, local government units like villages, towns, and districts must be constitutionally empowered with rights, resources, and responsibility, and accountability. We have to overhaul the system.

Dr Devkota is a US-based research scholar