If the taste of the pudding is in the eating, the experience in democracy is surely in governance. The constitution, as the fundamental law of the land, plays a vital role in creating opportunities for the conduct of State affairs. However, any constitution, whatever its nature and structure, needs to be carried out in both letter and spirit. This is easier said than done, as experiences in different countries testify again and again.
Statistics show that more than 725 constitutions have been adopted in well over 180 countries during the 60-year period from 1946 to 2006. The end of World War II in 1945 promised freedom. This was only to be expected in that the powers that defeated the Nazis, Fascists and Militarists had raised their war cry under the banner of freedom.
But most of the victorious powers were extremely reluctant to agree to the independence of their colonies. They wanted their writ to continue and subjugate the peoples in the far off colonies numerous times their own territorial size and populations. Starting from the 19th century, freedom of expression and independence gradually became an inspiration to the people in different parts of the world. It gathered momentum in the 20th century when political leaders upheld the cause through speeches, writings and rallies.
Democracy by definition does not need any suffix or prefix, but when there is a cacophony of definitions based on false claims, prefixes stress a point or two. A totalitarian rule crushes dissenting voices, favours loyalists or abhors transparency that requires being accountable to the public. During and after World War II, demand for an end to the old imperialism rapidly gained ground.
In May 1946, a year after the end of World War II, the French Constituent Assembly proclaimed unanimously that all subjects in overseas territories would possess "the same rights as French citizens in the home country and in the overseas territories". This was only a beginning in the long struggle for independence for the peoples in various parts of the world that were subjected to colonial rule, mostly by Western countries.
Freedom movements thus began and democracy was the key theme of the freedom fighters who had witnessed ruthless plunder, burning and murder under colonial rule. On gaining independence, many leaders chose to forget the principles and practices they had publicly pledged in the course of their freedom movements. They resorted to practices that mocked at democratic characteristics, be it in Asia, Africa, Europe or Latin America. Even the most liberal of the democracies at that time were far behind what the world of democrats today expects and often gets.
Free political communication is tolerated neither in colonial rule nor in any authoritarian regime. Without knowledge of the political process, popular participation is severely restricted and goes against the very grain of the fact that democracy is the collective will of the people. Some people see democracy as a divisive and disruptive process. Sovereignty is declared to rest with the people but representatives - self-declared or elected - often interpret the powers they hold and the decision they make in accordance with their expediency by claiming it to be an echo of the public.
Sincerity in practice
Just as democracy rejects a paternalist government, it also shuns paternalist foreign forces. Only transparent dealings made with accountability and in due deference to the cross-sections of society are to be accepted. In a new phase of efforts at constitutionalism in Nepal, citizens need to be geared to take a keen interest in the affairs of the State and note how their leaders are conducting themselves.
For the constitution is but only an opportunity. How it gets interpreted and implemented determines the quality of governance. A blend and balance between democratic centralism, federal wisdom and local voices go a long way in serving the people in a federal structure of governance. This means doing away with political feudalism and aristocratic approaches technically in the name of popular mandate that is defined narrowly for the sake of the convenience of those wielding the reins of power.
Separation of powers among the key branches of the government is for the necessary checks and balance. Constitutional experts note that the Americans separated their institutions of government in contrast to many others who introduced fusion of government institutions.
Some politicians describe the presidentís order as "constitutionally controversial and politically correct". The British constitutionalist, Ivor Jennings, maintained that the monarch in Britain "does not steer the ship, but she (Queen) has to make certain that there is a man at the wheel". The views of the monarch are particularly valuable because they are not clouded by political controversy or prodded by any special obligation to any particular group but to the constitution and the people. The monarch is expected to remain dignified and detached as far as intra-party or inter-party intrigues are concerned.
Likewise, the government, in a democracy, does not ride roughshod over public opinion. The prime minister should give the opposition a feeling that the government will not ride roughshod over the wishes of the minorities. It has also to be noted that the speakership in Parliament is a strictly judicial office - divorced from politics and aloof from party issue. The speakerís vote is aimed at maintaining the status quo to ensure that he (or she) is not held responsible for introducing any change. The room is thus left open for the parliamentarians to have another try to rethink on the issue and vote accordingly.
Time for delivery
In Nepal, corruption control and employment are the two areas for top priority. With the economy in a shambles, educated unemployment or underemployment growing, and the issue of law and order persisting amidst impunity, addressing the issues is a highly challenging undertaking. Any leadership that is seen as trying to tackle them in all sincerity and competency is certain to carve a special niche for itself - being positively different for a refreshing change.
Leaders have been promising accelerated pace of development and better job opportunities since the dawn of democracy in 1951. The subsequent few ups and many downs have brought us Nepalis where we are today. Maintaining law and order without any let-up, assembling the best and brightest available talents for the right jobs and meritocracy rather than party loyalty should stand in good stead at this hour of testing times when promises come fast and delivery far too slow.