Does Popular Movement Ensure Sustained Democracy?
Does Popular Movement Ensure Sustained Democracy?
By Bhupal Lamichhaney
"Democracy is the Government of the people for the people and by the people". There are few people in the world who have not known this Lincoln’s definition of democracy. Though brief, this definition covers all most all aspects of democracy.
Although Nepal has a long history of democratic struggle and the people have won democracy more than once, the question of sustainability always arises. One has to wonder, why Nepalese people are incapable of living in a sustained democratic country as others.
Democracy means the representation of the people in the governance. People's representatives cannot be ones who self-place themselves or those who just claim they are the representatives. The true representatives are those who are periodically elected.
The other thing is the program of the people. This indicates that representatives are elected in merit of their programs for the people. This makes government for the people. Who unveils the program? This indicates the importance of Political parties to function and work for people and come out with the programs that will be for the people not for a few.
The importance of the formation of the government is also indicated when we talk about by the people. Who forms the government? It is no one but the people. How do people form governments? The process is nothing but the election. Election means not only casting vote but also becoming candidate and representative of any kind of ideology, as one believes.
Does the announcement of date for Municipal elections in Nepal by the Royal government comply with Lincoln’s definition? The political parties fighting for the reestablishment of the dissolved parliament however, have yet to come with their reaction to this effect.
One of the key elements of democracy is the representation in the government. No doubt, the municipal corporations are local governments. Although the announcement of the election is a positive step in reestablishing local government through people's mandate, there are still many unanswered questions.
The present Royal government of Nepal was forcefully established after 1 February 2005. Although this government has not any mandate of the people, it is functioning because the institution Monarchy is heading the present government. Can this happen in democracy the representatives of the people need to be under unelected at the same time unconstitutionally formed body?
The present Constitution of Nepal has given room for the local governments to function under the elected parliament and the government. Since the parliament is not operating and lacks of this supreme body how can the elected people be compatible with the handpicked ministers and the King himself.
During the Panchyat regime, the political parties took part in the election of the local bodies thinking that these were the institutions directly related to the development more than political activities. However, the government notices dismissed the elected people’s representatives. The popular democrats were not allowed to function even in the local level. All Nepalese people know Hari Bol and Tirtha Ram episode during Panchyat regime. Apart from the yes men, the others elected representatives were sent to Jails instead.
Interestingly, the Panchyat elections were held in non-party status. One could be a candidate without any party. These non-party people, who were elected, did not have any election manifesto but the government, which is handpicked, provided those plans and programs. The supreme body of the Panchyat regime Gaun Pharka unveiled programs to all its candidates and people were to cast their votes. This kind of electoral process can justify Lincoln’s definition of democracy.
This is widely believed in Kathmandu the present declaration of the municipal elections can be the decisive test to reintroduce the same old regime. The Royal government has brought into his cabinet two deputies. One is Dr. Giri known for his political stand as a hard-line believer in Active Monarchy. When he was the prime minister of Nepal, he said, “Kim IL Sung is the perfect example of Active Leadership and advised people to expect the King as the same.” Liberal political changes forced him to live in self-exile.
Same old hardliners of the panchyat era are in the limelight of Nepalese politics today. The majority of Panchyat supporters did even not tolerate them. They want King's direct rule. They call this as the suitable democracy for Nepal. They claim that democracy cannot work in the poor and illiterate mass of people who are to be provided food, shelter, and clothing. This can be well taken care of in the direct rule of the King.
They argue Nepal is so poor, undeveloped and people are uneducated they cannot exercise their democratic rights. Democracy means undisciplined, a breading ground for foreign intervention, and corruption by the political party leaders. The only way out is, the direct rule of the King who is benevolent to the people.
On the other hand, the Maoists are also of the similar thoughts. They also argue people in the democracy are never free because the liberal democracy is only for the educated and rich elites. Poor and suppressed labor class of people is always oppressed. The democratic rights of equal opportunities given to the people are not justified so the dictatorship of the proletariat is required in order to free all people and make them educated, rich distributing land or wealth, and suppressing the educated masses especially elites. Those who raise their voices for more rights and democracy should be brutally suppressed because they are the class enemies of the society. Until the society becomes classless, no democracy can be exercised. All people must accept the dictatorial rule of the communist party in other words the whim of the leader of the Communist party.
The past Panchyat regime was similar to the one party communist rule in many ways. In that system, King had supreme power and all other activities were carried out through a mechanism called “Gaun Pharka” as politburo as in the classical communist rule. No rights expect praising the King, supporting the system and the government were legitimate. That system was branded as democracy suitable to the soil of the land. Similarly, in communist regimes, also such praising and supporting activities are considered patriotic, non-capitalist, and non-bourgeois. Opposition to the communist regime is very much suppressed. The party leader commands supreme power although there is a politburo.
The Panchyat system had also provisions for limited elections in the local ward levels but all in the party less form. The present announcement of municipal election can be an indication of the ambition of the present government not to allow election in the government formation level. However, elections to the lower municipal level can be eyewash to the whole world who is pleading for democracy. If the King’s urges are challenged by boycotting the municipal elections, there will be elections without parties in the municipalities. Many political Pundits who are ready to serve the King’s ego will be available to pronounce, “Election is Democracy”.
In 1961, the present King’s father staged a royal coup and declared democracy not suitable to the soil of Nepal. For 27 grueling years, his invention “Panchyat System” was defined as suitable to the soil of Nepal. Its legacy was absolute Monarchy and absence of people’s rights. Finally, the 1990 popular movement brought democratic revolution once again. During the course of struggle, so many lives were lost and so many people suffered. It was difficult to find a house without any relation to the suffering and suppression during those 27 years of absolute Monarchy.
In Nepal, the present Constitution provides equal opportunity for all citizens to practice free speech, organize peaceful demonstrations, and to practice their rights without any disturbance. The parliamentary election is held in every 5 years and elected representatives form government. People are free to continue their struggle to overthrow fears and deprivations inherited from many centuries of feudal rule.
In their exuberance, developments steadily moved in the right direction, but sometimes so fast the desired economic development could not keep pace. The vast number disparities inherited from past tyrannical regimes, would need time and mature leadership to remedy. Understanding and patience for democratic process are vital necessities for free governments to sustain. The Maoists and the Monarchists took advantage of the growing impatience of the populace for quick results by defaming the democratic system and consolidating their power base.
Nepalese dictators and their allies were waiting for chances to grab power, in particular with their influence in the army and the bureaucracy. They became embroiled in party in-fights. In addition, the lure to amass wealth for personal gain turned certain politicians into corrupts individuals. As in 1961, these kinds of things provided a breeding ground for conspiracy to develop and to declare democracy a failed system. Under their influence, state organs were not used effectively against all sorts of evils such as illiteracy, poverty, and the direct suppression of people. To meet the high expectation of the people, the need for revolution on the economic front was given lesser importance. The people started rallying for more rights of proportionate development of the regions, more inclusiveness in political process, and the end of the social discriminations such as the cast system, which has been deeply rooted in Nepalese society for centuries. This situation led to the Maoists violence and then 1 February Royal seizure of power.
In Nepal, civil societies as well as political parties are agitating for the reestablishment of the dissolved Parliament for finding the peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict. Every day hundreds of people are arrested and streets of Kathmandu are full of activists protesting for democracy and human rights. Nonviolent popular mass movement is going on in Nepal. In 1990, the same kind of movement brought democracy back but could not be sustain. Does popular movement ensure sustained democracy in Nepal?