Is Nepal a democracy and does it really matter? The lingering bewilderment
Pundits of democracy invariably distinguish its end product from the process and advocate for observance of fundamental norms of political action and regime change. Even those who believe that democracy is here to stay in Nepal, as it has drawn unforgettable lessons from its experiences with authoritarian regimes, find it
slipping towards non-governance, social deficit and political crises. It might earn the epitaph of ‘entropic regime’, the term Linz and Stepan used in Czechoslovakian context. While satisfying none, such regimes retain few civic norms and structures that induce a political culture where people feel that they can make a difference and produce able leaders. In reality, leaders develop lust for money and raw power besides pointless grudge against rivals. In no time, leaders lose credibility, but the society is overwhelmed by a clan of distrustful, domineering, and exploitative demagogues. People get a hollow democracy.
Categorizing a regime is
a slippery concept often inviting controversies. Even if one insists that the system is fluid and dynamic and
so the shortcomings may be eventually resolved, it should not be taken as ‘democratic-evolutionist’ so long as the state authority remains weak and fragmented and feuds are endless. It must however be conceded that the pessimism related with the way democracy works is being somehow compensated by segments in society committed to the principle of democracy, which is what forms the contemporary trajectory of Nepali polity.
Deservedly, a fundamental leitmotiv for constitution-making is in the
notion of global values, most preeminent being liberty and equality to enhance legitimacy of democracy; yet politicians do good for the country only when they are motivated by high moral precepts, have genuine sense of service and
are accountable to the
electorate. When democracy is merely a matter of inputs to a political system (votes) than an output of
the system (order), the democracy-striving approach like in Nepal is ironically superseded by the proliferation of ‘shamocracy’.
If democracy erodes further, it is mainly because there is no system of law and justice that has recourse for citizens, a civil society that can articulate demands, a political culture that can aggregate demands, a state that performs vital functions in time, and a healthy economy. Unless crucial changes take roots in most of the aforesaid Foucauldian arenas of democratic set up, the chances of its breakdown are compelling. So when we brag about successful termination of intolerably feudal monarchy and adoption of the republic, we should ponder over the challenges involved due to the scale of discontent and disengagement surrounding the political process.
A common refrain in Nepal is that it no longer has forthright and inspiring politicians to sway the hearts as well as minds of the people. Some suspect the leaders may be downright undemocratic, believing in what Putnam
describes ‘elitist conceptualization of power’ to have more power than others
at mass level and reduce
the country to essentially stolid democracy or ‘partial regime’ to quote P. Schmitter. Tyranny that had fattened for almost 250 years may have gone, but the substance of tyranny prevails.
Prachanda may have
catapulted the prime minister’s chair from ashes of insurgency by promising
radical solutions to chronic problems. He had promised to give us everything we could afford, everything we needed and everything we wanted. Everyone was
happy with renewed optimism; New Nepal finally last had a tough, intelligent and decisive person. But when critical challenge confronted him, he alleged that he was a victim of political witchcraft. Some realize that the exterior tough was hollow within. Others saw his rule as arbitrary and highly personalized. Scholars refer it as ‘a mix of sultanistic and totalitarian tendencies’, which is not unlikely in a post-totalitarian regime. The perplexing question is how New Nepal would be carved with or without the contributions of ‘orthodox paradox’ Prachanda and his clique.
Constitutional convention marking a watershed in transition to democracy could open new democratic and economic reforms, rejuvenate state capacity to propel social changes and broaden the spectrum of ideological choices by institutionalizing civil liberties and political rights when the current deficit of political pluralism is due to
the lack of policies, programs, and thoughts. It can usher in remarkable continuity along many dimensions in order to become a consolidated political community with political liberalization, pluralization, and popularization. There is ample evidence to indicate that if some segments of the population have broad vision to observe the spectrum of ideologies, the component of power is exercised by the government as propitiatory practices of the ruling elite. This leads us to the question: Is it up to the few to come forward if a country is going downward? The answer is a definite ‘No’.
Thapa is Professor of Politics, TU