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Kamala Sarup: Peace Through Liberal Democracy

Creating Peace Through Liberal Democracy

By Kamala Sarup

Peace Media's Advisor Dr. Alok K. Bohara, argued:

''To foster liberal democracy, you have to have sound institutions, and the political process allows debates and deliberations to create such institutions. Mistakes will be made, but the self-correction mechanism is guaranteed and there is always a process of learning. Many mature democracies like the US took 200 years or so to get to the level that they are at.

So, the last 12 years of mismanagement by some individual leaders cannot be used to dismantle and discredit the whole political institution. At the age of globalization, where the rest of the world is moving towards democracy and free market, Nepal is making a mistake by attacking its political process. Such attacks in the King's proclamation can only hurt the democratic ideals and its values. It only strengthens the hands and the ideology of the Maoists. It also weakens the institution of monarchy. We cannot afford to have such attacks that are designed to weaken democracy. The current move has done that, and it is too costly in the long–run.

Dr. Alok K. Bohara, currently a tenured full professor of economics, Department of Economics, University of New Mexico since 1987 further added;

The question depends upon the intention. If the intention is to assert the role of monarchy then I have nothing to say. You can continue to play a musical chair with the Prime Ministers like in the last 2 and 1/2 years. But, if the goal is to create a united front to solve the problem he could have done it by simply sitting down with the leadership. Without any game! I don't believe that the political leadership is not worried about the country and the Maoists problem. It's just that they are fighting two battles – the King and his unknown intentions and the Maoists and their guns.

For example, a simple House revival could have started the political process. People had begun to take note of the mistakes made by the political leaders and would have been vigilant. The press also had begun to mature in their analysis, and they would have put pressure to deliver. Some journals would always be on the fringe like in the UK and US. They publish all sorts of unpleasant stories about the public figures including the royalties. But people will eventually learn to sort out information. That is a part of being a democracy --we improve by making mistakes. Furthermore, the International agencies and donor countries would have kept a vigil watch on them too.

As for technicality with the House revival, desperate situations require desperate measures, and the Article 127 could have given him power to do just that.

Dr. Bohara is the founder of the Nepal Study Center further said

We have been getting emails from various non-governmental channels and the situations described do not seem very pretty. The Nepali Diaspora in North American has begun to disseminate a petition against the move.

Basically, we want the King to restore the political rights and liberty of the people of Nepal, and personally I do not want to see the hands of the Maoists strengthened at the same time. This is my personal opinion. Such a draconian step by the King is not helpful for anyone, and a rising fear of rights violation may persuade the friendly countries to cut aid to Nepal. In that case, the Maoists would have gotten what they had been looking for – a weak and divided Kingdom as a playground

The gesture by the King's men to mend fences with the friendly nations is a good sign. Before the boat starts to sink, let's seal the hole.

Dr. Bohara further argued " Democracy is a dynamic process and requires much nurturing and refinements. It takes time to put in place necessary institutional mechanism to close the loopholes. That does not mean that we should tolerate mismanagement and corruption. Absolutely not! Civil society, media and the people all have to become active participants in the process, and a democratic system allows everyone to play a role.

I am guessing that you are referring the politicians as " irresponsible citizens". If so then under the multi-party system at least the people have that choice to replace such irresponsible personalities. Civil society can demand reforms. Under an autocratic system, where no such participatory process exists, there is no guarantee that the people who are put in charge will turn out to be what you describe as "responsible citizens".

There is plenty of blame to go around, so I would not get into the issue of the source of the Maoist problem. If democracy were the prime source of the Maoists movement, for example, then all the democracies in the world would be in deep crisis with all kinds of insurgencies. It is just the opposite.

A country like Germany in its early transitional period (1920's) saw about 12 or so government changes within a decade. I am not trying to justify the instability in our governments. What I am trying to emphasis is that the quality of leadership is equally important. For example, a country like South Africa was fortunate to have a selfless leader like Nelson Mandela. In our case, however, the mix of poverty, rugged terrain, feudal system, socio-economic cleavages, and bad governance all played in the hands of the Maoists and their ideologues.

Having said that, the Maoists issue is a political problem, and it cannot be solved militarily. But, going after the political parties and civil liberty can only complicate the situation and raises many more questions.

Dr. Alok K. Bohara has published close to 60 peer-reviewed articles in well-known professional journals; has mentored and produced several PhD students; involved in several National Science Foundation grants; has taken on several university-wide assignments; and has published several opinion pieces in Kathmandu based newspapers further added:

The law and order is a part of a liberal democracy. The separation of power, liberty, competitive electoral process, and the protection of ethnic and political minorities are equally important. Any attempt to sideline the political forces will result in more confrontation and violence. An iron-grip approach to clamp down on civil liberty to project a sense of rule of law can hardly foster democracy.

Founding member of the Liberal Democracy Nepal forum Dr. Bohara said

It is very hard to say. With the political parities sidelined, such elections could be meaningless. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that a free and fair election could be held under such an environment. Lastly, the Maoists have to completely abandon their weapons and should be willing to accept the election outcomes. Since they have already expressed their unwillingness to sit down for a talk, a full-blown confrontation seems imminent.

That is all the more reason to put pressure on the King to restore the political process as soon as possible. The UN, US, India, and the UK have all criticized the takeover, and so any gesture on the part of the King's cabinet to move towards restoring liberty and press freedom would be a welcome sign. Else, they would risk losing much more.

It has completely surprised many, including some of the closest friends of Nepal in its war against the Maoists –US, India, and the UK. I was quite shocked too. In particular, the crackdown on the media has been severe and the incarceration of the political leadership has been quite harsh and surprising.

The rule of law is an important aspect of any democracy, and it must be maintained. At the same time, the other three important elements such as, the separation of power, guarantee of liberty, and a participatory decision making (sovereignty of people) have all been grossly violated by this move. We must work to have peace and liberty, both simultaneously. It can be done, but a move like this can alienate the people who are legitimately represented by the political parties.

In grave situations, people may argue for a temporary suspension of civil liberty like in the US after 9/11, but using it to "dismantle" the whole political apparatus raises a lot of questions about the intention. The Constitution of Nepal does not allow such a sweeping violations as this move has inflicted on, for example, media, free speech, assembly, and free movements. Above all, a mass detention of the political leaderships also raises many questions. Some even argue that it has crossed the constitutional boundary. What's for sure is that it will take the country back many years in its pursuit for a liberal democracy".

Dr. Bohara Argued.

"Whether or not it will solve the Maoists problem is questionable. They have already declared that they would not talk to the King. Furthermore, the arm suppliers like the US, India and the UK have all condemned or criticized the move. Furthermore, the King without the political force behind him is a weaker force, and the Maoists are too clever to realize that. The cost is too high especially when the intentions and the outcomes are both unknown.

On a side note, after the Maoists walked out of the first negotiation table, I began to suspect that they have no incentive to "negotiate". Negotiation means giving something in return. For them, the widening gap between the King and the political force was a big gain for them. On top of that, getting a constituent assembly would simply be icing on the cake. For a party (CPN/M) that had only 4/5 seats in a 205 member House, an opportunity to sit across the table as an equal partner and also perhaps control the outcome of the assembly election (through guns) was a big risk worth taking. That is, for them there is nothing to lose. The sad part is that the political force and the King do not see eye-to-eye on this common goal. Consequently, the people become the sufferers. Dr. Bohara argued.


(Kamala Sarup is editor to )

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