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Opinion: Stop Equating Activism With Absolutism

Stop Equating Activism With Absolutism

By Krishna Singh Bam

SEVEN leading political parties in Nepal have joined hands in an effort to restore their version of democracy. Their agenda includes the reinstatement of the House of Representatives dissolved in 2002 as a prerequisite to settling the nine-year Maoist rebellion, which has claimed over 11,000 lives.

The alliance has its priorities wrong. Their agenda presumes that the monarchy is responsible for Nepal’s current crisis. It does precious little in terms of addressing the core demands of the Maoists: a roundtable conference of all political forces, an interim government and election to a constituent assembly that would draft a new republican constitution. How resurrecting a house duly dissolved by an elected prime minister – a decision endorsed by the Supreme Court – could democratize the kingdom defies logic.

The Maoists, on the other hand, have stepped up their murderous wave of terror against the people without articulating how their goal of establishing a republic would benefit a multicultural and multilingual nation. As the custodian of Nepalese nationhood, King Gyanendra could not have stood back and allowed the systematic undermining of the country's sovereignty, nationalism and democracy by a political class wedded to appeasing its insatiable desires. His decision to take over full executive powers on February 1 must be seen for what it was: an unpleasant yet necessary step to save Nepal from total collapse.

Efforts at perpetuating the fiction that the monarchy in Nepal somehow owes its existence to the magnanimity of political parties have done enough harm to the country. The crown's traditional leadership role cannot be constricted by the specious argument that it would conflict with the principles of multiparty democracy. Such an effort is doubly deplorable when the elected representatives themselves are to blame for the current national malaise.

From the outset, leaders of the People's Movement of 1990 – which culminated in the restoration of multiparty democracy after 30 years of partyless rule -- sought to project the restoration of organized political activity as a defeat for the king. Every step of the way, the palace's valuable suggestions on ways of strengthening multiparty democracy, especially during the process of drawing up a new constitution, were uniformly denounced as part of a "reactionary conspiracy".

Three Ms -- money, muscle and manipulation -- gripped the three parliamentary elections Nepal held since the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990. No parliament was allowed to complete its full five-year tenure. The countdown to a government’s collapse began the moment it took office. Such activities stood in the way of a genuine expression of the people's will. In their quest to gain and retain power, multiparty leaders turned the system into a third-rate political-bureaucratic-criminal network. Worse, they tried to foist it on the country in the name of governance by consent.

The holier-than-thou attitude of the Nepali Congress and the Unified Marxist Leninists negated the fact that the People's Movement had brought together people of all professions and persuasions in a quest for change that had swept across the world following the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was only a matter of time that the haughtiness of the two main political parties alienated so many participants of the movement and those who worked for the transition to multiparty democracy.

Instead of setting out to curb the palace’s powers, it is time for Nepalese political leaders to accept the futility of trying to marginalize the crown.

Specifically, they must stop equating an active monarchy with absolutism and should help ensure that Nepal benefits from King Gyanendra’s wide experience in domestic and international affairs acquired under the reign of his father and brother. The monarch’s roadmap for reactivating the democratic process requires the support of all forces. Beginning with municipal elections, scheduled to be held within a year, all political parties must shoulder equal responsibility to institutionalize popular rule.

Then there is the broader constitutional issue that must be resolved. Once the mainstream parties have accepted the king as the head of state and the symbol of its unity and permanence, they must recognize that he must be able to arbitrate and moderate the regular functioning of state institutions. If the monarch believes he needs more political space to discharge responsibilities entrusted by history and tradition, then why not at least foster discussions within a broader framework?

Perhaps writing the functions and jurisdiction of the king into a new constitution and the laws more explicitly could help create a more enabling state.


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