The panorama of new politics: Parties and perils
The political parties and the people of Nepal deserve cheers for their steady progress towards a smooth transition to a democratic republic. The replacement of the 1990 constitution with an interim one, despite marked flaws found in the latter, and the understanding reached between the Maoists and other parties to fill up posts in the legislature and government on the basis of the size of each party in parliament have paved the way for holding constituent assembly elections in June. It is hoped that the low quality of governance seen under the post-Jana Andolan II dispensation would be improved with the inclusion of the Maoists in the new government.
However, sceptics are not lacking to point out the perils of democracy in the futuristic scenarios in which the domination of communists in the Nepali politics is likely to be a new reality. The composition of today’s interim parliament and the emerging trends suggest that the Nepali Congress, a major moderate force, would not be able to steer the new course of development alone because of the increasing influence of Left parties in politics. The emergence of the Maoists as a force and balance of forces managed by it on the basis of the new recognition of it has substantially changed the quality of politics. Many argue that democracy in Nepal would be endangered due to shifting communist strategies and tactics or owing to lack of moderate political culture needed for carrying out liberal processes. Some others also feel that Nepal is going to replicate the West Bengal model where the communists have been able to spread their tentacles to be perennially in power.
The Nepali experience which has set a distinct trend in coalition politics is more inclusive and dynamic. It was manifest in agreements reached between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists as well as in movement and the agendas of the new Nepal. The working relationship forged between the Maoists and the SPA has united various political parties until the elections to the constituent assembly to be held in June 2007. Such a deal was possible due to flexible approaches adopted by both the SPA and the Maoists by agreeing on the fundamentals of liberal democracy. The Maoists, on their part, have accepted multiparty competitive politics rather than stick to the orthodox Maoist line which nowhere exists in its purest form. All these developments suggest that no political party regardless of its political origins and former ideological biases can determine the course of development. If the co-existence of all parties and their cooperative relations had not been taken into account, the dramatic shift in power balance in the country would not have been possible.
The panoramic view of Nepali democratic politics is not altogether free from the dangers of being abortive. If the political opinion and parties’ activities continue to be guided by the past prejudices calling the moderate liberal democratic parties like the NC status quoist and others as progressive or if the ghost of communism haunts those who pretend to be “democrats”, the ongoing developments would not be able to address the threats to Nepal and democracy. Ideologically, political parties have only two-tiered positions with all accepting the universally upheld democratic principles. The second tier is party-specific as each party can propagate new programmes and policies to be different from others. Today, no political party can develop its survival instinct without transforming itself both organisationally and functionally. Organisational cohesion, ideological clarity, people-centric policies, new style of governance rising above petty parochial interests and development of cooperative culture in inter-party ties are some of the pre-conditions for new roles of political parties.
The composition of interim legislature or parliament is distinct both in form and content. The transformation of Nepali democratic politics into making it a genuine inclusive democracy seems to have begun with parties in general trying to adhere to the spirit of inclusive democracy. Only a few years ago, those who used to make a plea for cooperative and coordinated relationship between the Maoists and the political parties were either taunted or ignored. But, when the interim parliament met on January 15, it was felt that the Nepali parliament has made a quantum jump in taking it closer to the people. The parliament is no longer the site of the privileged elites having unbroken access to power. Now it is a transformed house whose proceedings and spirit are unconventional.
The sudden shift in Nepali politics is not tuned to the established parliamentary norms but in a revolutionary situation like ours, all measures taken in the name of people are justifiable. Procedures can be regularised if temperament remains unchanged. We only hope that the young members, particularly those of the CPNMaoist, may not emulate the ostentatious lifestyle and Kathmandu’s elite culture that kills the sprit of genuine representativeness.
Prof. Baral is executive chairman, NCCS