Poll Opponents Further Autocratic Designs on Nepal
Poll Opponents Further Autocratic Designs on NepalBy Dipta Shah
Advocating a one-sided view is completely within an individual's right. But for the view to be credible, it must be substantiated by supporting evidence, not rhetorical questions or conjectures. Inadvertently, the superimposition of selective individuals' rights to pass as collective will is where the logic presented by opponents of planned elections falters.
The basic thrust behind the opponents of municipal polls is the fear that if held, such elections may "legitimize the February 1 putsch." If the legitimization of February 1 is of primary concern, how do municipal poll opponents reconcile their demand for peace and democracy (at the earliest) with their rejection of a fundamental democratic enabler? How better to move toward democracy and peace than to re-invigorate the democratic process and resurrect civilian bodies to enforce law and order?
Opponents of municipal polls claim that the current government has no "right" to hold elections (in the name of democracy and peace). By extension of this logic, it's not just the present government, but all governments (and public office aspirants) that do not have the said "right." Qualifying general shut-downs and the forced closure of educational institutions with a call for peace and democracy are also abuses of certain "rights." What justification is there for those who wish to infringe upon others' "right" to vote?
As for speculation regarding whether municipal polls will represent popular will or yield tangible results, there's only one thing to be said: One will never definitively know unless elections are held.
If opponents of municipal polls are under the illusion that the will of the 7-Party leadership and their cadre substitute for collective national will (or that voter turn-out and vote counts will be intangible), they are mistaken. Such individuals may want to interact with workers from the 7 Parties and probe what progress (or lack thereof) has been made in attempts to incite the public (over the past 3 years).
The claim that the King hoodwinked the political parties (and continues to do so) may hold some merit. However, public apathy at the Parties' call to inundate urban centers demonstrates that the general public is not as easily hoodwinked by spent political masters.
That the 7 Parties have no choice but to rely on forced Maoist support (to demonstrate turnout at their VDC-level programs) is an indictment of the lack of public faith in Party leadership. The only fool-proof means available to challenge this claim is to hold elections. Of course the antithesis of this logic holds that the only way to keep the truth from emerging is to boycott (or prevent) elections.
Even the staunchest opponents of municipal polls readily admit that elections are quintessential to a democratic set up. Where such admissions falter is when the same opponents claim that the act of holding elections does not qualify a state for democratic status. Clearly, this is a circular argument that leads to academic discussions over "degrees of democracy."
But no matter how the argument proceeds, the basic premise that elections are integral to democracy remains. So what's better? Holding municipal elections (that form the basis for Parliamentary elections) or not having elections at all? Arguing in favor of the latter may be a "hard sell," especially in the light of the fallacious logic this argument rests on: Elections cannot be free and fair unless they are held by "us" and not "them."
Some opponents of the upcoming municipal polls are quick to recommend elections to a constituent assembly as an alternative. While in theory this recommendation holds merit, some practical issues arise.
For example, if held now, will a constituent assembly not resurrect the same group of people who one, were crucial in engineering the King's ascendancy to power and two, who opted for violence over participation in the democratic processes? What time-frame will elections to a constituent assembly require? Are armed Maoists to be accepted as members of an interim government? Why the push to draft a new constitution when constitutional amendments can achieve the same results? Which body is to supervise such elections?
For many municipal poll opponents, the answers to the questions above are found (with great optimism one might add); in the bureaucratic mess that is the UN system. No doubt, there are some areas where the UN's services are unparalleled. Unfortunately, peace making is not one of them. And, in Nepal's case, neither is solving the Bhutanese refuges crisis.
Eternal optimists who view the UN as an agora of instant solutions may like to re-visit the UN's performance in peace making and peace building operations. Case studies can be found on Somalia, Sarajevo, Kosovo, Rwanda and Iraq. For an international body that has proved ineffective in solving even non-violent issues in Nepal, unflinching faith in the UN's ability to lend resolution to the Maoist insurgency (and subsequently hold elections), is suspect.
All too often, opponents of the upcoming elections resort to glorifying the 7-Party's boycott of polls and the Maoists' threat to exact "people's punishment." Should the Maoists' revert to their previous tactics of assassinating political opponents, individuals who knowingly sanctify such behavior are on record for indirectly encouraging such violence.
Municipal poll opponents would fare much better if they presented the public with facts rather than contradictory, circumstantial evidence. Should Party leaders' categorically own up to their past blunders and publicly propose transparent methods to prevent future abuses, public support may still be decisively won over.
Furthermore, should the 7-Parties truthfully explain to the public that they are unable to contest polls outside of Kathmandu; even this approach would generate empathy. However, a rejection of polls based on the fear of legitimizing the February 1 takeover is bound to be counterproductive to the Parties' already tarnished image - domestically and internationally.
Also, the amount of promotion that opposing municipal polls does for absolutist designs, is inexplicable. It's superficial stands like these that resonate democratic intent but subtly encourage autocratic extensions. For any autocrat (anywhere in the world), what better opponents to have than those who reject polls designed to empower the people? What better enemies than those whose interest in self-preservation outweigh those of an autocrat's?
Without a doubt, after toeing the 7-Party line and rejecting polls, opponents of upcoming elections will be at the helm of conspiracy theories (should results favor those loyal to the current government). Whose fault will it be then for not having participated in elections?
How much analysis is required to understand that uncontested candidacy implies guaranteed victory? Furthermore, what good can possibly come out of delaying scheduled polls?
It is foolish to think that a rejection of polls has not been factored into the "grand design" - the best of luck to those who feel they are undermining autocratic aspirations (and augmenting their own) by rejecting polls.
Dipta Shah is a consultant with a US-based global advisory services firm