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Who failed: Constitution or political parties?

Who failed: Constitution or political parties?

Eight long years have passed since Nepal embarked on the journey of crafting a new federal democratic constitution through the Constituent Assembly (CA), a vision held dear by the people since the 1950s.

As per the constitution's mandate, we have seen two rounds of elections for a three-tier government—federal, provincial, and local— with even parties from the Madhes region embracing the constitution, albeit with initial reservations. Today, there is hardly any prominent political force opposing it outright, though many still harbor reservations.

Yet, despite these advancements, the constitution has fallen short of delivering the much-needed political stability. Over the past eight tumultuous years, we have witnessed six governments led by three different leaders—KP Sharma Oli, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Pushpa Kamal Dahal. There was a glimmer of hope when CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) united in 2018, but that optimism was shattered with their subsequent split.

During this period, the parliament faced dissolution twice, and the ruling alliances underwent frequent changes. Provincial assemblies fared no better. Thanks to the electoral system adopted by the constitution, the chances of a single party securing a majority are nearly nonexistent, and the sustainability of such a majority is uncertain. Parties have become engrossed in safeguarding their interests, leaving the people's agenda in the dust. Ideological positions were abandoned as parties displayed a willingness to form alliances with anyone, anytime. 

In these eight years, parties made systematic efforts to control the judiciary and parliament, undermining the crucial separation of powers principle. The constitutional bodies suffered politicization and paralysis.

The constitution has also failed to ignite the economic prosperity and development it promised. Frequent changes in government, a growing economic crisis, corruption, job scarcity, and poor governance have fueled frustration among citizens.

The disillusionment has driven many youths to seek education and employment abroad, with approximately 2,000 leaving Nepal daily. Those remaining in the country are increasingly losing hope for their careers. Opportunistic royalist and anti-federal forces are meanwhile attempting to capitalize on this discontent.

Constitutional expert Radheshyam Adhikari says that the people's growing frustration is not a reflection of the constitution's failure but rather the ineptitude of those in power. 

“Obviously, people are frustrated because of the working style of the rulers who have failed to deliver. Rule of law has been undermined and economic issues remain unaddressed,” he says. “A constitution is just a tool, not a solution. It is the political parties who must mend their ways.” 

Adhikari adds while there are flaws in the constitution, it can always be redressed after thorough and objective analysis, underscoring that there is no alternative to this constitution.

Another constitutional expert, Nilambar Acharya, shares a similar sentiment. He sees no reason to blame the constitution for the country's current state. 

“Weaknesses and loopholes can be amended, but the constitution itself is not at fault. It's the actors and parties that have made mistakes,” he says. 

The 2015 constitution was a result of compromise among major political players, including Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center), and various ethnic groups. Madhes-based parties initially disowned the charter, leading to the first amendment to partially address their concerns. Eventually, most Madhes-based parties abandoned their original agenda to join the government.

After eight years, one would expect the constitution and federal structure to have strengthened. However, doubts are emerging about the constitution's sustainability and core principles. Even within major parties, voices are growing in favor of scrapping the federal structure.

Secularism faces more threats than ever, with major parties wavering in their commitment. Pro-Hindu forces are pushing for a return to a Hindu state, and social harmony and religious tolerance are under strain. Recent incidents in Dharan and Lahan serve as examples, where tensions flared. The only way to quell anti-constitution sentiments is through effective governance and action from political parties.

Despite these challenges, it is high time to review the constitution and assess the performance of political parties. This doesn't mean the constitution must be discarded; rather, parties need to course-correct immediately. The constitution was a step toward progress, but the journey requires the right guidance and determination to succeed.