Democracy in Nepal The momentous choices
Can we imagine where Nepal under Madhav Nepal will go? Indeed, the question is intractable at this juncture. Confusion does prevail in every society during watershed period, when one political paradigm replaces another. Stigma and charisma may be the focal points of the fulcrum, a new identity, but democratization in Nepal has unwittingly been nurtured by ‘revenge politics’, which endangers not only the meager
reforms undertaken, but also the ability to assimilate the features of a polity that is open, inclusive and genuinely accommodative. In view of the widespread incompetence in governance and the ugly web
of militant organizations, it is impossible to foresee how anything can change, except for the worse.
The tenets of democratic governance stand firm on five principal radii - rule of law, accountability, responsiveness, freedom, and equality - of the spherical state the citizens of which constitute its center. And democracy is sustained through politics based on epistemic decision-making that encourages equal participation and rational discourse. Creating deliberative democracy in a country on the road to liberalization where modern political institutions catapult invariably is painstaking. Indeed, Nepal has witnessed gradual loosening of democratic institutions largely because of distorted interpretations, outdated fanaticism and absurd nationalism. Powerful forces continue to block the transition from authoritarianism to democracy.
Nepal’s experience does not support the notion that an authoritarian regime sacrificing the tenets of democracy is what we deserve in our peace loving culture. But, it is also true that the difficulties involved have deemed it increasingly uncertain to bring about meaningful change. People have little confidence in their representatives, career politicians, and civil society leaders. The dramatic dismantling of insurgents’ weapons, overlooking the perceptions of democracy, and the resolve to practice confrontational politics without regard to institutional norms seemed to have succeeded to ‘govern for the people’ and to ‘hang on to power’ but mercilessly got exposed while endeavoring to grab it for good. However, it has added a new dimension that would challenge the traditional politicians; the political process is likely to be nestled perilously from the progressive forces. A number of political forces remain prisoners of the traditional view of parliamentary democracy, regardless of any particular model, whereas support for democracy as a system of government has immensely increased and the ability of political parties to align themselves for their preferences is effectively dubious, porous and complex.
Successful struggles for democratization must be receptive toward the mediating power of political institutions in order to develop a comprehensive picture of the whole and also to identify the pitfalls. After all, Nepal’s is still a case what Collier and Levitsky would describe as ‘semi-democratic’ or ‘ hybrid regime’ where the elite dominate influential organizations and politics is ever under the tutelage of political parties. Or, it may be the case of ‘schizophrenic liberalism’, to borrow Francisco Sanin’s term, where politics is undermined by authoritarian tendencies, foul play and animosity among political forces which create widespread discontent and demagogical mindset that slowly poisons democracy itself. The year 2006 may be credited to have had enormous progress for peace and democratization. But emocracy requires unchecked deliberations to create
extensive awareness which is crucial to form sound public policy. That raises the question: what sort of democracy can we have if all what we desire is decided by a few omnipotent and corrupt power mongers?
Even when authoritarian and democratic trends exist together, as in ‘repressive-responsive’ regimes such as Malaysia, Singapore and Korea or when there is ‘liberalized’ or ‘competitive authoritarianism’ of the Latino world, where competitive elections are held to gain power by abusing civil and political liberties, the polity can achieve very little of democracy. Along with Prachanda’s ‘Let all others out’ tape fiasco, even their sympathizers have begun to suspect that Maoists are bent upon exemplifying new totalitarianism, political hatred and mob rule through such tyrannical means as Mao used to recover power in the early 60s after his dismal failure of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ in late 50s through the Cultural Revolution that witnessed systematic indoctrination and mass persuasion, wide spread surveillance and barbaric control over the population, all in the name of ‘people’s democratic dictatorship’.
Many believe that democratic transition in a post-authoritarian society is invariably punctuated by dramatic events. Although many suspect that the coronation of Mr. Nepal as PM, a person rejected from the people, is fundamentally a flawed decision. But Nepal has more people on the left then does any democracy-in Eastern Europe or Latin America, and so might lead to slow or sudden but sure destruction of democracy.
Thapa is Professor of Politics, TU