Present government: The biggest hurdle to peace
Despite the spread of democracy during the second half of 20th century, much of world population continues to live under autocratic regimes. Although different kinds of authoritarianism and democracy differ from each other, consider for example, King Gyanendra’s Nepal, which has elements of militarism, absolutism, and arbitrariness, a move that results in a transition from multiparty to personalist autocracy.
Like Weber’s patrimonialism or Linz’s ‘sultanistic autocracy’ it is a system in which every citizen is considered a subject in which a ruler not only subjects every facet of his existence to his whims, but refuses to be hindered by rules. Clearly, the existence of a top-down state, with repressive tendencies, is seen as self-serving or favouring certain sections. There is little evidence that any of the other casual mechanisms are at work in Nepal other than a holdout for authoritarianism. Such a system could not be reformed or democratised or humanised.
We see an unprecedented militarisation of state and politics, and a political economy characterised by its subordination to the royal regime’s survival. It has become a fact that political violence is in its golden age — on the one hand, a revolutionary doctrine based on Marxist-Leninist ideology, and on the other, a military strategy of King Gyanendra. It is an extremely dangerous period, not least because militarisation solves none of the underlying problems to which the democratic movement was reacting in 1990. National accounts are in a shambles, investment is nil, professionals have flooded out and the professionalism of state has been profoundly diminished.
Although external actors often do exert pressure on the King to adopt a more conciliatory approach with parliamentary forces but he has not been accommodative for a compromise but stir up political hostilities and there are deliberate attempts to misuse history and turn the Constitution into a meaningless piece of paper for the purpose of creating myths to legitimise the political superiority of the monarchy. It seems unlikely that authoritarianism will soon wither away as long as security apparatus continues to serve as a major path to the King’s enrichment. It is a fundamental premise of democratic civil-military relations that civilian control of the military is clearly possible without democracy, but democracy is not possible without civilian control of the military. However, a puzzling fact is that even following the catastrophe of February 1, 2005, the military is not granted status as a fellow member of a governing coalition, rather it is a means to an end, to be appropriated by the King.
Having theoretically eliminated all rivals from the scene, King Gyanendra’s power is more unlimited than any past Nepali ruler. King Mahendra was a totalitarian leader who was sensitive to international opinion. But the present King claims no need for trust like Stalin said ‘there was no room for trust in politics’. Yet the central problem of this regime is legitimacy. The shortage of this indispensable political resource accounts for the volatile nature of politics and the King’s autocratic character. More than 15 years after the start of multiparty democracy he still claims that democracy and constitutional monarchy are western notions which do not necessarily apply to Nepal. His argument that 12-year multiparty rule was divisive should be understood as a strenuous effort to ensure that no civic groups would emerge to challenge him for violating people’s rights, for imposing authoritarian governance, and as well as effectively control all forms of political opposition to his control of power and institutions and to use state coffers as he wishes.
Everyone in Nepal is careful to show they understand that there can be no one-size-fits-all solution. Because the process of political development is gradual and experimental, and there may be no specific finishing-line. None of US arguments is exactly new but their sympathy for feudal monarchy and their attacks on 12-point accord despite their ideological shift from an instrumental view of democracy to the adoption of mass democracy is a great error of judgment.
It is common sense to perceive openness in a political system encourages political activity and all of the activity will not be expressed through political institutions or peacefully. While development cannot be provided on a ‘silver platter’ by the state yet citizens have to be agents of change. Conflict is natural and the democratic form of government is itself a social contract — an agreement among free individuals to abide by a common set of rules limited to resolving conflict through negotiation and compromise. Since insurgency is a grievances-based movement, the constituent assembly is a middle approach that permits Nepal to bypass conflicts while still enjoying the benefits of liberal democracy. Insurgency and corruption are the problems. But the biggest roadblock to peace is the immoral royal tyranny. Nepalis do not want it.
Thapa is professor of Politics, TU