Road to democracy - Making the transition complete

It is hard to claim conclusively if and to what extent social organisations that do not share the rules of the state can triumph and what specific mechanisms would facilitate stability and remove corrupt politicians in the face of increased expectations and with potentially destabilising demands to pave the path to democracy.

Yet, the signing of the November 21 peace accord was a historic achievement. It was quite likely that Prachanda and his comrades would have been killed by Koirala’s orders if late King Birendra had granted him permission to use the army against the insurgents. Though the end of war through negotiations is rare, the accord has heralded a new era of peace. Building democracy is going to be messy unless those who matter have faith in the law. Ending the conflict means moving from battlefield to people’s domain for contesting power. This is particularly so in a country polarised by insurgency in which many were forced to take sides and form alliances to win, which might not be pertinent in times of peace. The accord’s beauty is that despite the gains on political and military fronts and their control over large parts, the Maoists are obliged to adopt a strategy in conformity with the realities of the changed environment, as they too realise that the idea of revolution had lost credibility by the end of 20th century due to excesses of Leninism and Maoism.

The people’s longing for peace, a vastly increased political space for all, and Maoists’ realisation that they cannot achieve victory and rebuild a new society by themselves have uncovered greater reasons to seek a political settlement. Besides, hard facts over the last 11 years limited the elements that would be the base of a political accord. It is assumed that the insurgency was a necessary evil for broad reforms to achieve prosperity, civility, equality, and liberty, stalled due to brutal authoritarianism and insurgency. Restructuring of the state and government must be understood as new political realities and social mobilisation for radical changes to enable the marginalised to participate in governance.

Transition towards democracy would be complete when it acquires ‘subjective political competence’ with open contestation over the right to win control of the government through competitive elections which determine who governs; when a citizen feels that s/he is capable of influencing decision-makers and can play a participatory role. Consolidation, on the other hand, is a process by which democracy becomes

so profoundly legitimate among citizens that it is very unlikely to break down. It appears that the accord does not guarantee the setting up of a republic with welfare policies, nor to bring about social transformation. Nevertheless, the historic event is adequate. A change can now be brought through the ballot box.

It’s a matter of time before we have a constituent assembly (CA) in place. Its elections, if held peacefully, would mark a breakthrough in the evolution of political process. It will give real chance to end the role of traditional forces, especially monarchy, the arch-enemy enemy of democracy that amassed unlimited powers in its name and acted ostensibly for the state’s cause. It was not only developing a paternalistic approach towards the people, but also beginning to monopolise political power, state resources, public policies, and political decision-making with an intent to establish hegemony over the masses.

Democracy allows even anti-democrats to enjoy legitimate non-violent activities. It is the duty of parties, leaders and voters to take it as a crucial innovation of the current wave of democratisation. But to consolidate it, we must neutralise authoritarian people, either by isolating them or by fragmenting them into insignificance so that they cannot threaten new order.

The challenges for democracy cannot be met quickly unless the actors identify consensual paradigms of political reality within the political discourse, if the real fight is against authoritarianism. While questions of democracy’s durability and state’s real capabilities depend on democracy’s charter itself, the shift in perspective with each new wave has been so great that one would think of a paradigm change at first glance. Nepal’s transition may never be complete unless there is unwavering commitment toward the accepted socio-political norms and preservation of the new order.

Nepalis are looking forward to the CA elections to convince their leaders to exterminate monarchy. They want to participate in constructing their own future in the hope that their representatives will make bold decisions over questions that affect the national community. They have begun to realise that democracy will be real only if they are engaged in decision-making and other processes that affect their lives. The question is, how can we in the short- and long-term make it sustainable? There is a good chance to dismantle the authoritarian structure and build democratic prowess.

Thapa is professor of Politics, TU