Democracy in Nepal: Potentials and prospects

Various factors and processes, not excluding popular participation, are necessary to develop a democratic system. It remains to be seen to what extent Nepal’s transition from a centuries-old patriarchal, feudal, and oligarchic kingdom to a multiparty republic carves out structural transformation that bestows a constitutionally preserved periphery where Nepalese of all hues can make their voices heard. Nepal’s political culture has displayed machinations of politicians taking advantages in the name of the people. Since ancient Greece, political power has variously exploited religion, rationale and tactics (from Hobbessian to Machiavellian) so ruthlessly that we now desire that active citizens should act as multiple links between aggregative and deliberative forms of democracy to the benefit of the nation and the people.

Nepal’s recent peaceful revolution had aroused a beacon of hope for general acceptance of democratic norms and values, civic republicanism and pluralism, in particular, freedom from tyranny guaranteed by liberal constitutionalism and freedom to adopt policy matters autonomously; yet a persistent reason for anxiety is that democracy has become a tool for appropriating power rather than assuring individual liberty; that is why the interests of regular citizens languish. The electoral process for any political party is an opportunity to show its interest in all problems with confidence that it can ameliorate the issues at hand for the doctor who proclaims that the disease is incurable is sure to lose patients.

Democracy can manage national identity with a population still being apathetic to the people in terms of elite commitment; for Nepal’s political arena offers great prerogatives to a handful of regime leaders projected by interested parties impervious to outside forces. In fact, the disconnection with those who govern on their behalf is so deep, wide, and growing that it has resulted in uncertainty regarding the future of the country insofar as nobody really listens to those who speak for the community; civic confidence has been eroded by a seemingly endless stream of chronic problems. Some say that such bleak outlook ignores the positive steps with which the Maoist insurgency has been contained and is unlikely to ferment again. But, the tyranny of a few political leaders tarnished with nepotism and corruption might rupture crucial links between citizens and government dimming the prospects for democracy.

It is unfortunate that an indubitably inept and corrupt regime which has been exposed as both private cheat and public fraud and which keep going up and down the shore of the river looking for a bridge that doesn’t exist should be in power at this juncture. Even a mature political society with long history of incremental change can eventually be overrun when things in public domain go wrong. Yet, the first rule for a true democrat is to accept defeat when that is the will of the people. The fact of the matter is that even the people may not have lost confidence in democratic system yet; though they have in political leadership.

Contrary to the argument by some political scientists that Maoists’ recent past was a sort of ideology of barbarism, it is also suggested that CA election represents closing of violent transition, whereas Maoists as a party is active in reviving the politics based on Bolshevik principles of democratic centralism and Marxist epiphenomenalism; they overtly reserve the option of adopting violent revolutionary path to usher in red bannered democracy. Due to resounding failures, Fukuyama’s ‘end-of-history’ resolved that Western values like personal dignity and individual liberty cannot be feasible in any form of Marxism or neo-Marxism. After all, Maoists have achieved through violence and subversion what they could not have accomplished through normal democratic process.

Theorists of deliberative democracy at once demand too much but expect too little: they demand too much from citizens in terms of their attitude and disposition required for deliberations but they expect too little in terms of the results. In Nepal, democracy allows the few hegemonic feuding politicians to impose misguided policies and by fortuitous twists and turns they keep too many of its citizens too poor for too long. Surely, Nepalese have never been more accommodating of one another, despite occasional bickering. The idea of a limited constitution might prove counterproductive. Extending the tenure of CA would be even worse; for that would tantamount to have an ad hoc constitution from a multitude of the same incapable representatives. Even benefit of doubt should not be accorded to them.

Two years was time enough to see two pregnancies; most of the problems could have been solved much earlier had the leadership acted punctually, quietly, responsibly, and sensibly in the best interests of the nation and its people. What we do know is that a week is a long time in politics and weak leadership is a Chamberlain liability; we might fall in a ditch.

Thapa is Professor of

Politics, TU