Shaping of history

The country has formally entered a new era of governance with the promulgation yesterday (January 15) of the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063 BS and the formation of a 330-member interim legislature, to be followed within days by an interim government. Their central goal is to hold elections to the constituent assembly (CA) by June 14, which will make an entirely new constitution, thus completing the cycle of the peace process. The restored parliament passed and promulgated the constitution, then dissolved itself to make way for the new interim legislature, which, in turn, ratified it and declared it commenced. This interim statute represents the first among the six constitutions of Nepal over six decades to have been promulgated solely by the people’s representatives, the King having no role at all in it. The interim document has put the monarchy in a state of suspended animation, confining the King to the Royal Palace and with no say in governance; the functions of head of state have devolved on the Prime Minister. The CA will decide the future of the kingship at its first meeting through a simple majority.

As the interim constitution is meant to pave the way for a permanent one, it has a limited shelf life. Though there was the 1990 constitution, which had been brought into being more than sixteen years ago following a people’s movement and a tripartite compromise between the Royal Palace, the Nepali Congress and the United Left Front, the need for a separate interim constitution arose because certain provisions of that document and the circumstances of the times were thought to involve risks and to come in the way of a smooth transition to the CA polls and beyond. Under these circumstances, it cannot be expected to be as complete a document as the final constitution yet to arrive through various stages. The interim document is just a bridge between old and new order, the former still existing in various forms and in uneasy relationships whereas the new is yet to come. So difficulties are bound to arise.

Criticism of the interim constitution as ‘incomplete’, ‘weakening the balance of power among the three organs of state’, and ‘making the Prime Minister too powerful’ needs to be viewed in this light. Indeed, some of these criticisms are quite reasonable. But what strikes any impartial observer as odd is the spectacle of those leaders who started picking faults in the constitution and making a case for its amendment even before the ink they had expended in signing it had dried. But there is a provision for amending the interim statute if these are thought necessary for better interim governance. The unprecedented people’s uprising and the interim nature of state institutions warrant that we should not look at things in a purely legalistic-mechanistic way as is customary during normal times. This interim constitution is more of a political rather than a legal document.

The next immediate task is the formation of the interim government where an acceptable formula for portfolio distribution needs to be hammered out. When the interim government takes over — in all probability under Koirala’s leadership — the government, the legislature and others need to concentrate on making preparations for the CA polls on a war footing. The government and the legislature should also move to formulate certain principles or code of conduct not only on paper but also put them into practice to convince the people that the New Nepal they have promised to build will be a positively different one on many counts — good governance, respect for fundamental and human rights, zero-tolerance for corruption, merit-based system, the right people in the government posts, and adoption of special measures to bring up the underprivileged to compete successfully in every sphere of society.

The above two organs of state cannot afford to neglect, either, their other duties just because their central mandate is to hold the CA elections in a free, fair, peaceful and credible manner. The Nepalis have lost not years but decades of opportunities for development and good governance. As the morning shows the day, how the new MPs and new government leaders conduct themselves and perform in the interim will also set the tone for things to come after the CA polls. This period of one year or so is therefore going to prove crucial not only for any political leader or party, but for the entire nation. It is during this period that the political leaders can develop universally accepted norms for civilised governance and start following them. And shedding government ownership and control of news media — sometimes unofficially described as the fourth estate — will help redress the existing imbalance among the various organs of state. The clock has started ticking to the kind of New Nepal the future has in store for the Nepalis.