Democracy and republic: Democratic republic or republican democracy?

It is barely three months to go for the historic CA polls but a conducive atmosphere is still lacking for normal elections. Political parties, the real actors behind the scenes, also do not seem very keen about gearing up their organisational machinery for the November 22 elections. The top leaders of the eight-party alliance (EPA) met on August 18 after a gap of several months to sort out their differences regarding CA polls, but the meet seems to have ended inconclusively although each party reiterated its firm commitment to hold elections on time by ironing out their differences regarding CA polls. During the meet, the Maoists came up with an 18-point demand they had made public after their extended central committee meeting a few weeks ago. Their demands for declaration of a republic before elections and adoption of proportional representation electoral system assume great importance and deserve due attention of the EPA.

There is no doubt that the people’s movement of April 2006 was directed against the monarchy. But the EPA decided to take the final decision on monarchy during the first meeting of the elected CA by majority vote. If the EPA decides right now to do away with the monarchy through the Interim Parliament (IP) with two-thirds majority as has been provisioned, the sky will not fall. But much discussion is needed before any decision is taken on the type of republic.

There are several republican models in the democratic world. In Nepal, we commonly use the terminology of “Democratic Republic”. Could we instead use “Republican Democracy”? To some, in a democratic republic, the republican setup is primary concern and other democratic institutions are only of secondary importance. It stands for a political system with no room whatsoever for the King, not in the role of a ceremonial monarch and certainly not a constitutional monarch. In this kind of set-up, democratic rights do not occupy the top priority and the judiciary, the army, and the media are supposed to be committed to party ideologies. The decision of the party boss is the ultimate and no one can question party decision. In other words, society or the state prevails over individuals. The president also happens to be party general secretary. There can be no direct election to the supreme legislative body on the basis of adult franchise. The president does not necessarily leave the chairmanship of the National Army Commission, even years after his term as president is over.

On the other hand, in a Republican Democracy, democracy is the main goal and a “republican set-up” becomes an epithet to show that the king does not head the state in any capacity. The elected parliament, congress or the supreme legislature is the sovereign body representing sovereign people, which is elected periodically on the basis of adult franchise to gain legitimacy. There is a clear-cut division of power between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. Neither does the media have to toe party lines and nor is the army committed to party ideology. The liberty of the individual is guaranteed and their fundamental rights safeguarded.

In view of these distinctions, the decision between the two set-ups has to be decided. If this all-important decision is not made before going for a republic, then the country runs a big risk of getting bogged down in another never-ending controversy.

The issue related to the electoral system is also significant. The mixed electoral system could not get the approval of all parties although it was initially accepted by the EPA and subsequently incorporated in the IC. News reports suggested that the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist were against the First Past the Post (FPtP) system from the beginning, but nonetheless accepted it. The FPtP system with certain modifications could have been advocated for parliamentary elections as it has its own merits. But as FPtP could not guarantee proportionality and inclusiveness to the national elected body in the past, there is no alternative to the List Proportional Representation to guarantee proportionality and inclusiveness during the CA polls.

But experts are sceptical that LPR too might be successful in achieving proportionality and inclusiveness due to the complex nature of the Nepali society. Unless regional list system is adopted in place of national list, the problem of inclusiveness will remain. In spite of incorporating an annexure to the CA member Election Act 2007 in order to ensure representation of women, Madhesis, Dalits and Indigenous communities in the elected CA, real proportionality and inclusiveness will remain elusive. Surprisingly, the parties supporting the LPR are not considering the regional list system in light of the practical difficulties in implementing the LPR. The regional list might provide a better framework for national restructuring of the state on the basis of language, ethnicity, regional development and administrative and communication facilities.

Prof Mishra is ex-election commissioner