Small but important

The withdrawal of the emergency order King Gyanendra had issued on February 1, simultaneously with his takeover of executive power, constitutes a small but important first step towards the country’s return to multiparty democracy. The state of emergency was lifted on the night of April 29, the day the King returned from his 10-day visit to Indonesia, China and Singapore, including his participation in the Afro-Asian summit in Jakarta—just two days ahead of the expiration of its constitutionally permitted three-month life. The King discussed matters of bilateral interest, among others, with world leaders, including Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese president Hu Jintao on the margins of the summit. These exchanges of ideas and viewpoints are expected to have been significant to Nepal. The test, however, of any such exchange is always whether it has succeeded in promoting the interests of Nepal and the Nepalis as well as in strengthening democracy.

There is no alternative to democracy in today’s world. For a small and least developed country like Nepal, the kind of polity it adopts largely determines the quality of its relations with the rest of the world, particulary the rich and powerful democratic world. The strong reaction to the February 1 step by the international community is a case in point. But the lifting of the emergency alone will not have much meaning if the democratic process is not started without delay. As for the withdrawal order, naturally, it is as good as it is implemented. Doubts have arisen, because things which should have automatically come back to normal, together with the lifting of the emergency, have not happened. For example, political prisoners held under emergency powers are still in custody and the curbs on FM radio stations, on certain news channels, on a telecom company, as well as on the use of mobile phones are still intact.

Every government has the authority to impose a state of emergency within the constitutional limits. However, more fundamental questions relate to the activation of the multiparty democracy as well as to the start of a process aimed at resolving the on-going conflict, that is, settling the Maoist problem. Before this, the legitimate constitutional forces should mend their fences, earlier the better. But the declaration of certain parts of the Kathmandu Valley as prohibited areas may not help this process, as the measure seems to be aimed at restricting the democratic dissent articulated through rallies and protests by the political parties. The domestic political forces, instead of trying to gain at the expense of each other, should try to chart out the best course for the country, even though they may have to make some sacrifices.