Nepal’s constitution offers a flawed concept of democracy. The current constitutional crisis is, in part, an exhibition of those flaws.
In this five-part series, I explore the elements that make our constitution inherently frail and call on civilians to build a truly apolitical (or non-political) movement to save the constitution.
Part IV: Discrediting parliament
The gavel has fallen. The Supreme Court has spoken. In a decision that will reverberate through the ages, it instructed the President to reinstate Parliament and appoint Sher Bahadur Deuba as the prime minister.
UML and CPN (Maoists Centre) had jointly won a commanding majority in parliament. They were expected to govern smoothly for the full term as a unified party. Instead, they have now had an acrimonious divorce. The UML itself looks headed for a vertical split.
All this instability, political bickering, and grandstanding have come in the middle of a global pandemic that has scorched Nepal just as much. Nepalis have always accepted a base level of political instability given the incessant squabbling for power. Even by that standard, the recent turmoil has been extraordinary.
The Supreme Court ruling will be weighed and debated for a long time. But outside, to the people of Nepal, the impact of the recent political chaos had already left a lasting imprint, long before the court’s decision.
The political chaos—its proceedings in particular—has helped discredit Nepal’s parliamentary system in public opinion, undermining our faith in the system. It would be hard to find a person in Nepal, other than those affiliated to political parties, who now believes that either the judiciary, the executive or the legislature—the entire government of Nepal—can really yield lasting political stability for the country’s progress and development.
The system may not have been at fault. The absence of leadership, the narrow self-interest of politicians, the transactional nature of political relationships, and the lack of diversity in ideology among political parties may all haven been responsible. But none of that really matters.
The view from the street is simple. We blame politicians and political parties, but in one form or another, we end up concluding that this system is hopeless. What we need, we say wistfully, is stronger leadership. That wistfulness often borders on a melancholic longing for the monarchy, or worse, an outright desire for a benevolent dictator.
That is exactly where our constitution begins to fray. Around the world, a constitution’s strength comes from its legitimacy. The majority must believe that the constitution is still the best instrument for delivering results most beneficial to the country. That belief grants the constitution its legitimacy.
A constitution fundamentally lacking in legitimacy becomes no more than a treatise. It could be backed by military power, which makes it a soft military dictatorship. It could even contain elections, which would make it no more than an election-only democracy. Without legitimacy, the constitution lacks its core strength and will remain inherently unstable. One little spark could ignite a revolution and force the constitution to be rewritten.
This is the current state of Nepal’s constitution. It already lacks legitimacy. As public disenchantment grows with our political system—the failures of our parliament, the courts, the president, and the military—that legitimacy is further eroded.
This erosion of legitimacy of Nepal’s political system is not accidental. It isn’t instigated from abroad. The Chinese or the Indians, who are often held responsible for all our political failings, are not instigating this from their capitals.
There is a systematic and intentional campaign to discredit Nepal’s parliamentary democracy. The easiest way to accomplish this is by pitting one political leader against another. It is hard to establish, for example, what the recent political crisis was about, except that key leaders within UML and Maoist Center were unhappy with each other. As there was no ideological tussle, to the public the political squabbling and resulting chaos is only about control of power. This view leads to public disenchantment, disillusionment, and erosion of legitimacy.
Whether the discrediting campaign is being directed by someone or has now snowballed to take a course of its own is hard to tell. As citizens, our concern could focus on the erosion of legitimacy—our wistful longing for a better system of governance. This is where we must fight back.
Nepal urgently, desperately needs a citizen’s movement to save our constitution.