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A Constitution within a year?

[Remy Geoffroy – Kathmandu, Nepal – published Feb ’14]

Keeping up a tradition of political inefficiency and stagnation, the current Constituent Assembly of Nepal, elected just over two months ago, is at a relative standstill. All agree that so far, the second round of elections has been more transparent than that of 2008, particularly regarding cohesion between security forces ensuring voters’ safety and the elections committee nationwide. Despite the widespread knowledge that Nepali elections seldom come without their fare share of bribery and intimidation, on the 19th of November 2013, the 12 million-odd voters clearly demonstrated their concern for the future of the country.

The more extreme factions of the CPN-Maoist Party attempted to disrupt the elections by repeatedly calling for bandhs (in Nepal a bandh means a complete ban on businesses and vehicles that often results in non-complying people getting their vehicle or shop torched), placing bombs in public places and boycotting the elections, but to no avail. In the end, most of the self-contradicting party took part in the democratic process, only to blame the Nepali Congress and the UN for “rigging the elections” when results showed CPN-Maoist had suffered a humiliating defeat in the polls. Fortunately, the people of Nepal didn’t fall for it and the beaten party has been imploding ever since.

But one fundamental question arises: why would the outcome of this Constituent Assembly be any different from the last? After all, the leaders of the major parties are the same as then, and many of them have already served a term as Prime Minister, and spectacularly failed to bring the promised change. Why would they act differently now? The major difference does not come from the political establishment but rather from the demands of the people.

In 2008, the country was just beginning to stitch the gaping wounds a bloody 10-year civil war had inflicted upon it, and the priorities were political stability, abolition of the monarchy and state federalism. The previous year, in 2007, there had been a violent uprising among the Madheshi people of the southern plains, often considered “non-Nepali” by members of the establishment because of their close dealings with India. Other oppressed groups such as Dalits (Untouchables) and Janajati (ethnic-minorities originating from the hills) had been voicing their demands for independent states as early as 1990, and hoped they would be included within the new Constitution.

Today’s expectations regarding the drafting of a Constitution are significantly different. What most people want, regardless of their caste or ethnic-group, seems to be first and foremost development. People want good roads, drinking water and medical care more than ethnic autonomy. Of course, fair representation and equal opportunity are expected within the new Constitution, but as the overall low scores for ethnicity-oriented parties show, it is less of a priority than good facilities. In a country depending on candles as much as on electricity (an average of 12 hours of electricity a day, in the CAPITAL!), people remember the times, a mere decade ago, when one had 24-hour power everywhere within the Kathmandu valley. Beyond the fact that outside the valley most of the country has been left to fend for itself, what angers people most is that due to continuous mismanagement and corruption, the nation is worse off than it used to be in certain regards.

When asked, most people reply that what the country needs more than anything is a Constitution. They have been continuously let down by the politicians, and crave stability. Without this, the implementation of new laws and improvement of existing ones is nigh on impossible, and the dust-filled air stinks with stagnation.

Sadly, so far the results of the new Assembly are crushing. Instead of working together for the nation they are meant to be representing, parties are busy bickering about which of the two leading parties should call the Constituent Assembly, and whether or not a new President should be elected.

Two and a half months have dragged by, and there is yet to be an official meeting to discuss the Constitution.
Now it is crucial that the leaders get over their ego-wars, and respect the given deadline of one year to complete the drafting of a new Constitution. They must not let the initial “post-election high” felt by many people dwindle, for then I’m afraid a repeat of the disastrous situation of 2008 would make Nepalis lose faith in politics completely, and the country could fall prey to yet another violent conflict.

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