How necessary is a constitution?
Some weeks back I had written how the details to be incorporated into Nepal’s new constitution could become a stumbling block for the parties engaged in last minute efforts to draft and promulgate it.
That is what exactly happened on Sunday when finer points of restructuring the country into federal units proved the biggest hurdle which the parties failed to cross—resulting in dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and dashing of millions of Nepali dreams.
Differences on shaping the states based on single or multiple ethnicities was the one issue that divided Maoists and Madhesi parties on one side and Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) on the other and finally resulted in breakdown of talks.
Despite getting two additional years to the two they were allotted initially to draft a new statute, Nepal’s 601 lawmakers failed to complete the task not to talk of failing the country.
As the country embarks on another wait and gets set to elect a new group of lawmakers in November let’s pause to think how important a constitution is for a country.
It needs to be mentioned that if the new constitution had been promulgated, it would have been the seventh one for Nepal in six decades—clearly showing that the country hasn’t had a great experience with constitutions.
And there’s no guarantee that the seventh would cure all ills.
There are countries that have managed to function without a formal written constitution. The most prominent and oft cited example is of United Kingdom. Though the country enacted two statutes in the 17th century—they were made redundant in less than a decade.
Other examples are Canada, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. But the one case that might be of interest to Nepal is of Israel. Despite having promised to give itself a constitution in 1948, the country has thrived without one for over six decades.
On the other hand there are countries in South America like Dominican Republic (38), Venezuela (26), Haiti (24) and Ecuador (20), which are very prolific in constitution making. Closer home Thailand is the leader in Asia with 17 constitutions till date.
And there are examples like USA where one single constitution has remained in force for 225 years. Nepal’s southern neighbour India has also managed well with one constitution for over six decades now.
The Amercian Heritage Dictionary describes constitution as the system of fundamental laws and principles that prescribes the nature, functions, and limits of a government or other institution. It can also mean the document on which such system is recorded.
Nepal may take some more years to get such a document. But till that happens, the interim constitution that is in place should suffice adequately as long as the government functions well and rights of all citizens are protected like in any other democracy.
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