It may have been made with the best of intent. Many of its provisions may be laudable too. But three years after the promulgation of the new constitution, its success or failure largely hinges on one, whether it can be implemented and two, on whether the new charter, through amendments if needed, can embrace all sections of the society. The promulgation of the new constitution was a monumental feat no doubt: For the first time in Nepal’s democratic history people’s chosen representatives had written a constitution on their own.
It set in motion the process of institutionalization of the federal democratic republic, particularly with the completion of three tiers of elections under the federal setup. The rationale for federalization was simple enough. The unitary state centered on Kathmandu had miserably failed to meet the aspirations of the downtrodden and the marginalized communities, even as it enriched a handful of elites. The goal was thus to decentralize governance, to take democracy to the grassroots through empowerment of provincial and local bodies. Things have not gone as planned.
The three elections have been completed but there has been no meaningful devolution of power and resources. The federal government has in fact been loath to empower provinces and local bodies. But the local representatives are not blameless either; instead of bringing democracy to the grassroots they are busy buying expensive vehicles and giving themselves all kinds of unearned perks with the help of new taxes they have levied. These were the kind of excesses under the old unitary state that the federal setup wanted to do away with.
The other big challenge is accommodating the marginalized communities that still feel left out of the political mainstream. With so many competing demands, that won’t be easy either. The risk is that as voices of disgruntlements intensify, and federal and lower tiers of governments quarrel over power and resources, people’s faith in federalism, and by extension the new constitution, will erode. This in turn could once again boost undemocratic forces.
It is now upon the drafters of the constitution to ensure its longevity by timely amending it, quickly drafting requisite laws, better training the old bureaucracy on federal ways and by instituting a culture of good governance and accountability.
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