As the peace process moves forward irreversibly and nears completion-- at least the integration part of it -- the attention of the whole nation now turns to constitution writing. Indications coming from the formal and informal negotiations, which have gained pace of late, are that the talks are moving in the right direction and the political parties are narrowing down their differences on the remaining contentious issues. The political leaders seem optimistic this time round that they will reach a deal in the next few days. This brings us tantalizingly close to the promulgation of the constitution. That, however, does not mean everything has been thrashed out and the deal is all ready to be sealed and signed.
If part of the current optimism comes from the growing convergence among leaders on the issues, the rest of it emanates from the fact that they have recovered much of the lost trust among themselves. There now seems a growing realization among the top leadership that they are bound together by a common destiny and promulgation of the constitution is the only way for them to redeem the authority that they are fast losing. This will make the going easier when they meet again, hopefully on Thursday, to iron out the remaining differences. But challenges still remain.
The first challenge is that the leaders must be ready for compromises. Without genuine give and take among political parties with differing sets of ideologies, not to mention differences in values and experiences, a deal on the constitution will still not be possible. When the political parties do make compromises, not all of them will be good ones--let alone ideal ones. But who said politics is a game of the ideal? It´s only the art of the possible. Whatever deal the political parties reach and the type of constitution they come up with is not going to make everyone equally happy. The proponents of a parliamentary system will be unhappy if the agreement reached is to go for a directly elected president and vice versa, and the advocates of two dozen or more provinces in the federal setup will be dismayed if the deal is for six or seven provinces at most.
Let´s face it; no constitution can address the aspirations and expectations of each one of us. But what it can do, and should aim at, is to maximize the realization of our collective aspiration for a democratic, federal, republican state. The system of governance that the constitution adopts should be a democratic one and should have a strong built-in mechanism for checks and balance. Similarly, the proposed provinces will have to address both identity and sustainability issues. Just as weak and unfeasible provinces will untimely betray the developmental aspirations of marginalized groups, ignoring the identity issue will render the federal project a nonstarter right from the word go.
That said, we must all realize that a constitution is never a document set in stone that cannot ever be changed. Instead, it should be a living document that evolves over time as social dynamics and power balances mutate. A constitution, however faulty it may appear to individual eyes, will still be better far than no constitution at all. So we should be ready to embrace it, bearing in mind that it can and will change and improve in the fullness of time