Political impasse Polls without parliament’s supremacy mean little

Birendra P Mishra

Conducting elections is viewed differently by different sections of people right from the King to the common man for different reasons. Their approaches can be compared to the story of the blind men who try to form their idea about an elephant by touching its body parts.

Actually, an election is conducted to elect re-presentatives who can look after the interests of the electors while making decisions. At present, there is no elected government since the King had dismissed the elected government of Sher Bahadur Deuba in October 4, 2002 for not having been able to conduct the general elections.

During the civic reception held at Pokhara on March 28, the Monarch had called upon the political parties to help create a conducive atmosphere to start the electoral process for parliamentary elections within 2061 B S (2004/2005). As a matter of fact, the King has been caught between the horns of a dilemma. He knows it well that due to insurgency, no free and fair election is possible on the one hand, and his nominated government could not continue indefinitely on the other. The first nominated government led by Lokendra Bahadur Chand had failed to hold the election, the second has also resigned after 11 months in office without taking any concrete action in this regard. The King is aware of this grim situation. For this simple reason, he being himself sceptic, appealed only for creating a conducive atmosphere for starting the electoral process and not for conducting the election within the year. In the present predicament, while Thapa has resigned by saying “for the greater interest of the country, multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy,” and the stand taken by the King for the appointment of the new prime minister appears to be some what intriguing as the next government should be formed including all the sides under the leadership of a person who has a “clean image” and who can restore peace in the country and begin the process of parliamentary elections before mid-April 2005. The King is in no mood to shed his acquired executive power. Even if parliamentary elections take place, the crippled parliament will continue to be there. The violation of the Constitution remains effective so long as the supremacy of the parliament is not restored. The sovereignty of the parliament will remain only in the letters of the Constitution.

There are some politicians and intellectuals as well who sometimes advocate holding elections to bring the Constitution back on the track. They are trying to show that they are “holier-than-thou” in suggesting immediate elections to the House of Representatives as the only solution to the present impasse. This group is either not interested in the supremacy to be restored to the parliament or they want to please the King. They know it well that by electing members to the House of Representatives, the supremacy of the parliament cannot be restored and even if it is done by an act of gift by the King, it may be taken back as and when he so decides. The crippled parliament with limited rights cannot fight itself for its supremacy under this situation. As our experiences of the last twelve years of the functioning of the democratic system show, no leader had raised his strong voice in the parliament against the gradual curtailment of its power or gradual violation of the Constitution as they were badly engrossed in power games. Perhaps they forgot the truth that internal or political vigilance is the price for liberty.

For the common people, democracy only means elections. To them, electing representatives by casting their votes is democracy. They are concerned mainly in getting their own man or woman elected who can be contacted for some favours for their personal gains such as getting a job. They are not bothered about the extent to which the elected body is powerful or sovereign. Hence, people simply hold the view that elections should be held and their representatives be elected and the House of Representatives should be reconstituted. There are two kinds of political parties — the parties represented in parliament and parties not represented in parliament. The stand of the latter is almost the same as those politicians who are for the elections so that they can again participate in the election. It appears that they are in no way concerned with the supremacy of the parliament. The political parties who are engaged in the present movement have realised that it is not possible to hold elections given the present state of insurgency, and that until supremacy or sovereignty is restored to the parliament there is no meaning of holding any election. This has been highlighted in their 18-point demands for having talks with the King. The Nepali Congress (Democratic) has also started its agitation for reinstatement of Deuba as the Prime Minister. Recently, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) has also demanded a seven-party government to restore peace and conduct elections.

Thus, the issue at stake is not of only electing representatives to the Lower House, but the restoration of supremacy or sovereignty of the parliament, which has been taken away by the King gradually in course of the last twelve years culminating finally in October 2002 by assuming the executive power of the Kingdom and dismissing the elected government. Hence, the dimensions of poll politics vary in accordance with the interests of the stakeholders. Prof. Mishra is former Election Commissioner