Centralised mindset still the biggest hurdle to charter implementationParties chose to block full implementation and introduced only selective changes to help themselves, experts say.
On Saturday, the CPN-UML staged a big march in the Capital to mark the seventh anniversary of the constitution’s promulgation.
Hundreds of leaders, cadres and sympathisers of the party led by its chair, KP Sharma Oli, marched on the streets of the federal Capital waving the national flag. In the seven years since the promulgation of the constitution in 2015, the party, in effect Oli, has led the government twice for over four years, or more than half the time.
For this reason, it was the UML which had the opportunity—and hence also the responsibility—to wisely implement the constitution, more than any other party. However, it was under Oli’s tenure that the constitution was breached the most often.
His attempts to dissolve the House of Representatives—twice—were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Similarly, Oli has on several occasions been criticised as anti-federal for trying to treat the provincial and local governments as subordinate units of the federal government. Having been in power for so long after the promulgation of the federal democratic constitution, the UML also had the responsibility to make the laws for effective implementation of federalism. But the party failed to make the most of the opportunity.
As a result, the provincial and local governments still await several crucial laws to be able to exercise their powers. Legal experts say there is no point in the UML holding events to commemorate the promulgation of the charter after repeatedly attacking it from the head of the government.
“The UML was mostly responsible for implementing the constitution,” Daman Nath Dhungana, a former Speaker, told the Post. “But I also see no party owning up to the national charter. No party is concerned about strengthening it and making it more widely acceptable. Their only focus is on making and unmaking governments.”
For instance, the incumbent ruling alliance was formed to safeguard the constitution which was under threat from Oli. However, the current Sher Bahadur Deuba administration has been no better in upholding the constitution, according to legal experts.
From ruling the country with ordinances and delaying laws for implementing federalism and instead issuing those that contradict the constitution—like the bill to amend the Constitutional Council Act, the Deuba government is a true successor to the erstwhile government, they claim.
Federalism, republicanism and secularism were the key achievements of the constitution promulgated on September 20, 2015. The centuries-old centralised system was federated and an ordinary Nepali citizen could become the head of the state. However, the parties that are now competing to prove themselves the true custodians of the constitution have seldom worked to cement the key components of the constitution.
Seven years down the line, the provincial and local governments are still struggling to function effectively as the federal government hasn’t promulgated the needed laws. The five-year term of the lower house came to an end without endorsing the Federal Civil Service Bill. As a result, the provincial governments are yet to set up their bureaucracy. Similarly, the integration of the police at the provincial level remains incomplete.
Likewise, the local governments are yet to fully enjoy their constitutional authority to handle school education up to the secondary level because the federal government is yet to prepare a federal education law.
“It is clear that the major parties accepted federalism as a compromise. They don’t want to devolve power they have been enjoying for decades,” Dinesh Tripathi, chairperson of the Constitutional Lawyers’ Forum, told the Post. “The centralised mindset of the parties across the spectrum is evident. These parties would happily breach the constitution to serve their vested interests.”
Besides changing the governance system, the constitution has also guaranteed several socio-political rights to Nepali citizens. However, most of these rights remain unimplemented. The federal parliament in 2018 endorsed the Acts needed for implementing the 31 fundamental rights. This was possible as the constitution makes it mandatory to have such laws in place within three years of its promulgation. However, the government is yet to prepare the related regulations without which the laws do not come into force.
Raju Prasad Chapagain, a constitutional lawyer, said some rights like the right to housing and food security haven’t been implemented as the government has failed to issue corresponding regulations.
“Holding periodic elections and forming governments as per the constitution is necessary but not enough,” Chapagain told the Post. “Progressive realisation of socioeconomic rights is equally important to realise the aspirations of the people.”
Chapagain says the parties involved in the promulgation of the constitution must work sincerely to implement it. “It is necessary on the part of the political parties to think back on what has gone wrong in the process of implementing the constitution,” he said.
However, some experts claim the major parties have intentionally prevented a full-implementation of the federal constitution and only introduced changes that suit them.
Tula Narayan Shah, a political commentator, said the constitution was promulgated out of compulsion to address the issues of inclusion and to introduce federalism.
“The constitution is still in the hands of a dominant community that has been enjoying state privileges for ages. The same people have managed to maintain their hegemony under this constitution as well,” Shah told the Post. “This community has mostly secured its interest, and non-implementation of some constitutional provisions is a secondary concern.”