Possibility of state failureFrom an objective review of the recent misdirected trends in Nepali politics, it is discernible that the country is headed towards constitutional failure.
From an objective review of the recent misdirected trends in Nepali politics, it is discernible that the country is headed towards constitutional failure. There have been several lapses. Our leaders act in haste and repent at leisure. The first sign of a lapse was the procedural haste and conspicuous lack of deliberations in obtaining public opinion before finalising the constitution. Many complained that their aspirations were not incorporated in the document. India made a suggestion to wait for the promulgation of the constitution until certain communities in the Tarai were satisfied. But Nepali leaders acted in haste once again.
All good constitutions are flexible in their spirit so as to be able to accommodate changes over time. Our constitution has also been kept flexible with certain restrictions. But some entities, mainly the Madhes-based parties, were not satisfied with some provisions, so the first amendment to the constitution had to take place even before the ink had dried. But even after that, the agitating Madhesi parties went ahead with a months-long strike in the plains, resulting in economic retardation and losses worth billions.
Nepal’s next headache
As soon as the Madhesi agitation had started subsiding, the calm was not acceptable to a section of the political class, and a sudden and dramatic change of guard took place, supposedly at the behest of a foreign power. This was by all means a wrong priority, only supporting the vested short-term interests of certain leaders. The greatest loss was the disruption to the newly forming system. The change of government created more problems than it was supposed to solve.
Nepal is virtually subjected to a syndrome of political instability. Cleansing this vicious net will be Nepal’s next headache—possibly for a long time. After the promulgation of the constitution, the top priority for the country was to maintain political stability to implement the statute. And the primary precondition for implementing the constitution was holding elections at all three levels of government—local, provincial and central. For the elections to take place there were two requirements—passing new laws for elections as per the federal provisions of the constitution and bringing the agitating Madhesi and other groups on board. For this, amendment to some sections of the constitution was necessary.
The best course for the new government would have been a thorough consultation among the major political forces, including the opposition party, forces demanding constitutional changes and those that are part of the ruling coalition, to prepare an acceptable format of the changes. There was a time frame of over a year within which all required work could have been successfully accomplished.
The present government did register an amendment bill in Parliament Secretariat on November 29. But it has been apparent that the opposition parties were not consulted. More shamefully, not even the coalition partners seem to have been consulted. Thus, the main proposed change to create a second Tarai-based province by separating the hill districts in Province 5 has been opposed not only by some political parties, but also by a significant section of the population in those districts.
The main opposition, the UML, is protesting the process and the content of the proposed amendment and has been obstructing parliamentary proceedings to prevent the tabling of the bill. Without local level elections, it is not possible to hold the state and federal level elections within the stipulated time. The present parliamentary deadlock puts the country at a crossroads, with the dark possibility of a constitutional void. The CA-turned-Parliament will lose its legitimacy on January 25, 2018 as the constitution cannot be extended beyond that date. What will happen if the state legislature and the federal parliament are not created through elections by then? Elections are not possible without the passage of the amendment bill. Still the UML is not being flexible in its condition of the bill’s withdrawal. But withdrawal will push the Madhesi and other disgruntled forces to oppose elections.
Indicators of crisis
There is one more hurdle on the way to political stability. The present coalition has plans of one more change of guard by the beginning of the Nepali new year. Considering past practice, the transition will take considerable time to conclude. Thus, the political parties’ greed for power is pushing the country into the ditch of constitutional crisis. Also, the demands of a small group of rejected parties have hijacked the constitution, which was endorsed by about 90 percent of lawmakers. This is a mockery of our leaders and their leadership.
What will follow if the constitution is not implemented is anybody’s guess, but it will create a favourable environment for an authoritarian rule—maybe a military intervention or a civilian dictatorship supported by the Army. Or worse, an external intervention to fill the vacuum.
Our democratic struggle has been lost by the folly of our visionless leaders. I won’t bet on it, but I see the need for an even harder struggle to bring back Loktantra.
What are the main indicators of this crisis? Development has taken a nosedive, as very little budget allocated for it is spent. Industries are closing instead of expanding. Although ours is an agricultural country, our reliance on imported food is big and growing. Our youths are compelled to seek employment overseas owing to lack of opportunities here. The remittance they send is mostly used for consumption. Our trade imbalance has grown. The amount of foreign loan is staggering. In sum, there is hardly any sector that produces a positive outcome. All this is mostly the result of the political instability that our leaders have directly or indirectly created.
The most disheartening factor is that there seems to be no plan to reverse the current trend. There is no visionary leader on the horizon. My worry is that we are heading towards state failure.
Sharma is a political analyst