The recently reported remarks at a Holi revelry by Shashank Koirala, General Secretary Nepali Congress, demanding a referendum on the issues of religion, federalism and republicanism has certainly raised a rumpus not only in the opposition but also amongst the leaders and members of his own party. Taking these points by turns one may have doubts on federalism republicanism in that these adoptions may be costly exercises as these will create many ‘big shots’ or VIPs in all the provinces. These pseudo neo-autocrats with inflated egos will all start to function with various demands thereby making this a costly exercise. Another point is that even decentralisation had been announced and partly implemented during Panchayat rule but the sad part was that the central authority was not prepared to let go of the reins of power. As far as Republicanism is concerned, the present attempt by the current VIPs to replicate the modalities of power as practised by monarchs of a by-gone age as they travelled within and out of the country has become a headache for the population at large. There is the air of haughtiness¸ a don’t care attitude and “Anything ex-rulers did, we can do better.”
As far as secularism is concerned it was put in the preamble of the Constitution with the forethought that such placements cannot be changed! When the proposed constitution was presented to the people, over 80% of the respondents gave the feedback that Nepal should revert back to being a Hindu Rastra. External pressure from abroad had brought all this about! One definite solution for sorting all this out is by a referendum as has been suggested by the NC General Secretary. One major question is how many of the ‘Big Wigs’ of all major parties who brought all this about are prepared to accept that they did injustice to the Nepali people and are prepared to retrace their steps?
The very first referendum in Nepal was on 2nd May 1980 during the Panchayat days when the population at large was considered uneducated and had to choose between the golden colour of non-partisan Panchayat and the blue of party based Democracy. The golden colour won.
The French constitution apparently states that any major decisions in National affairs must be made following a referendum. The European Union, since its inception in 1972 has had no less that forty-eight referendums concerning various aspects of governance. The first referendum in the United Kingdom was in 1975 when 67.2% of those taking part decided to join the Common Market which later became the European Union (EU). The present focus of the world is on the second referendum which the UK had in 2016 on whether UK should leave the EU. To get things in prospective, individuals over 16 years living in the UK, irrespective of whether they were citizens or not were allowed to vote. After a vote of 52% to 48% of the overall 72.2% participation, it was decided that Brexit was the way forward. However it was claimed that much disinformation and ‘fake figures’ had been resorted to for bringing this about. Now, almost after much discussion over the course of three years, Brexit has become a headache for PM Theresa May whose many attempts to get decisions to be accepted by the UK House of Commons have failed. Her request now is extension of the Brexit date. The coming days are crucial too and a large number of people are demanding a new referendum, a third in UKs history. Does a new referendum, if it does come about, also signify a more significant participation by the people in decisions which will affect their lives? Will this be a trend for the future?
As one goes over what has happened in Europe one realises that the referendum as a reflection of the peoples’ will has to be maintained. Greenland, a territory of Denmark opted out of the EU as early as 1972. Both Norway with a indecisive vote in 1972 and Switzerland following votes in 1997 & 2001 are still not members.
In Nepal the talk of Federalism has been coupled with the threat of secession of certain Southern parts of the country. A recent understanding with force advocating that has been reached but as this force has been called a ‘Janmat Party’ one is totally at a loss to figure out what all this means. Yes there is the possibility of a Referendum on the horizon but the question on most peoples’ lips and minds is what this will be all about. It cannot be just a single issues but various ones on which the Nepali citizen must be allowed to express his or her views. The big worry is whether this will be akin to throwing a stone at a hornet’s nest? Is this what prompted the NC Gen. Secretary to state publically that it was all a ‘slip of the tongue’? Or is it ‘remote control’? It is anybody’s guess.
Why there should be opposition to the referendum makes one wonder? Are not the regular elections, which one has to periodically hold and make the people vote in many mini parts of the country not also decision making acts on the performance of who is serving that particular area as a representative? So why not go for a referendum now?
As a post script one might even note that in 1922 Benito Mussolini had imposed fascism in Italy. In 1946, following World War II, a referendum held in Italy however decided not to restore the monarchy in the country. Are we in Nepal ready to take such a test?