Strengthening democracy The unresolved Nepali debate

Whereas we believe that Nepal can have peace, stability, security, prosperity, and dynamic engagement between state and society, and, as is frequently the case, when one side yields to the demands of another without resort to violence, the inherent resilience of our political psyche may drive the transition ‘from a normative pattern to the triumph of the Left’ which must be understood as a total phenomenon with a new twist on old stories linking Maoists’ militarocracy and utopia of socialism intact with classical anarchism. The idol of communism that spread social strife, fear and brutality has collapsed; and Huntington persuasively predicts that future conflicts would be less between ideologies, and more between civilizations and cultural coalitions emerged of liberal democracy.

The declaration of a republic with great fanfare in the spirit of accommodation and pluralism was considered a magnificent success. Although we do not see politics as either purely conflictual or harmonious, the decline of the state and political corruption, especially Maoism and democratic reform uneasily aligned in Nepal today are matters of grave concern. Individualization of politics increasingly displays itself in the heterogeneity of public issue interests. However, two conditions are essential to stabilize democracy: first, the democratic structures must not be a mere facade for actual governance, and second, elections must have a logical role in the resultant composition of power and policies. Treating the ignominious end of monarchy, understood as a threat to democracy, necessitates effective response to the challenge of democratization. Yet a political culture that emerged from realpolitik featured more accurately as ‘neo-sultanistic’ or ‘neo-patrimonial’ to the Nepali reality impedes democratization.

Institutionalization is a process by which parties become established to the extent to which they are deified in the public mind as a social organization to aggregate diverse interests and acquire value and stability. Nepal’s parties exist to capture state patronage. Politics is about winners and losers, influence and coercion, exchange and bargaining, coalitions and factions, conflict and compromise.

Nepal has had two failed trysts with democracy; we must acquire a threshold of socioeconomic development to sustain democracy. The consolidation process has been particularly difficult due to weak institutions, a contentious civil society, and indecisive elections. How can democracy strike roots when its tenets — freedom, liberty, security, and rule of law — are ignored? And that remains the principal cause of probable reversibility. Nepal has some favourable conditions: a culture that supports the values of democracy; a dominant religion not hostile to it; a military not adamantly opposed to it, people with a high degree of common sense, and politicians sophisticated enough to grasp different situations of a party system.

Politicians are, albeit superficially, deliberating whether to opt for presidential or parliamentary system for overtly effective governance and benevolent development. Constitutional monarchies seem to work better than parliamentary republics, and presidential governments seem preferable where monarchy no longer exists. This is either because of clear separation of powers between the state and various sectors of society or a specific provision effectively serving as a chief executive to make special pleas directly to the people. That federalism may tackle all problems of the nation and fit in well with the liberal and universal values of democracy is rather a poor predictor. Symmetrical federalism to the people is more conducive to stable democracy. Democracy is the political action of the people that culminates in the rule of a dependent elite for a pre-determined period. While it may be deemed oversimplification, every society discovers its own patterns of, to use Lasswell’s terminology, authority ‘practices’. There may be obscure reasons obstructing a unique mechanism to produce and develop norms to govern and to enable us to have a trustworthy basis for deliberative democracy.

True, the Maoists ultimately want a single-party rule and a mafia socialism. Neither can be realized because the common man no longer ascribes to them. While pursuing a public oriented political process, they must irrevocably give in to competitive democracy. They will still remain far away from the liberal democracy of the self-acclaimed democrats spearheaded by the grand old man that contributed to what Moore called a ‘rentier state’ benefiting only a few oligarchs having subtle strategies that formed Hedley Bull’s ‘anarchical society’ and plainly amounted to a ‘democratic deficit’ in Habermasian conception of instrumental political interests. Nonetheless, Girija Prasad Koirala would ultimately do good to the country if he engaged in a worthy discourse in consonance with political realism and tested principles.

Thapa is professor of Politics, TU