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Monarchy As A Democratic Institution For Nepal

Monarchy As A Democratic Institution For Nepal

By Madhukar SJB Rana

"For every monarch overthrown the sky becomes less bright, because it loses a star"
- Anatole France, First Nobel Laureate for Literature (1921)

The People's Revolt II of April 2006 led to the restoration of the defunct parliament by the King's promulgation as per the 1990 Constitution. The parliament hurriedly announced that henceforth parliament is the sovereign body implying, as it were, that it is no more, as is in the U.K., to be a King-in-Parliament government with some executive powers.
- Madhukar SJB Rana

Moving on at breakneck speed, the parliament proceeds to clip all powers directly or indirectly vested in the Crown to ensure that it is a 'ceremonial (Hindu) monarchy' in a secular state. After all this, the parliament decides to promulgate an Interim Constitution. Done ostensibly in deference to the desires of the sovereign people of Nepal while quite unsure whether 'parliamentary sovereignty' should mean that there is to be a house or not – and just how many parliamentary houses.

Going by history, they probably feared 'assertive', 'active' or 'constructive' monarchy through constitutional means. To be underscored is that the universal concept of 'constitutional monarchy' is to be henceforth politically incorrect in Nepal.

Republican's contra-monarchy arguments pursue the general lines as follows: (a) it does not promote meritocracy in society; (b) it places a person or family above the law; (c) the institution is opaque and above scrutiny; (d) it is not accountable to the people, and (e) it is undemocratic because one can not elect the king.

Under the present political dispensation we have that the King will be: appointed by parliament; subject to the rule of law; accountable to the courts for civil and criminal acts; liable for all taxes. In sum, the King is to be a commoner who holds the position by virtue of his ancestry. It is as though we have created a Crown, under new Nepal, that is dispensable and yet not quite so. For the simple reason that the question must be asked: to be replaced by what institution?

Republicans would argue that it should be a Presidency. But in what constitutional form is the fundamentally complex question--- Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, on the one hand, or US, French, Chinese or Russian, on the other.

Interestingly, similar arguments were upheld at the time of the recent Australian referendum on monarchy that, however, failed to obtain a majority. Voters realized that to change would have resulted in a veritable constitutional conundrum for what form of Presidency was Australia to opt for?

Recently, the Queen of England hinted to her subjects, upon reaching 80 years and being perceptive of the vast structural changes in the demography and economic linkages of Australia that it is good time for them to decide on the future of monarchy .

The Aussies are in a catch-22 situation deciding on their model precisely because of the constitutional conundrum that it creates when they rejected the referendum on monarchy: (a) US Presidential model, was determined to be alien to the Westminster parliamentary democracy; was not known to have been replicated elsewhere, was seen to be a product of a civil war alien to most democracies; (b) French Republic model, which was bound to lead to the 'co-habitation' problem with two politicians in the helm of political affairs and thus considered by Australians as unworkable; (c) Parliamentary model, where the President is chosen by the people after selection of the candidates by the Parliament looks very similar to the choice over the Governor-General and the added fear of politicization of the presidency; (d) Referendum model, where the President is appointed and removed, if need be, by the Lower House; this was conceived to create other problems such as the denigration of the Senate's role and thus weakening the federal system, and finally (e) Minimalist model, where the Prime Minister appoints and removes the executive head of state; this was perceived to be lacking with the necessary checks and balance on the powers of the prime minister.

To be underlined here is the sad fact that having had 16 prime ministers in 15 years of parliamentary democracy the institution of Prime Minister is remarkably under-developed being under-led with suitable statesmanship to create a solid culture of democracy. Who such a person will be is a formidable question that confronts us all with all manner of concern given the fragile health of Prime Minister G.P.Koirala. What type of PM (meaning an institution embodying British classical style of being 'one among equals' or the modern Blair or Thatcher presidential styles) are further fundamentals that need to be seriously addressed.

Regime change causing the fall of monarchs have historically led to totalitarian or dictatorial regimes in agrarian societies rather than to a brave new world far removed from the vestiges of feudalism. This happened in Greece and Spain in the 1960s.It happened again, in the 1970s, in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Iran. Not to mention the events of the 1980s in Cambodia and Laos.

As a matter of fact, even with respect to Europe Sir Winston Churchill had remarked (1946) "If the Allies at the peace table at Versailles had allowed a Hohenzollern, a Wittelbach and a Hapsburg to return to their thrones, there would not have been a Hitler. A democratic basis of society might have been preserved by a crowned Weimar in contact with victorious Allies".

He realized this because monarchy is an institution above and beyond party ideologies and electoral politics. The mass of people find it easier to identify with the person of the monarch than the president. The monarchy embodies people's respect for authority rather than fear of power.

Monarchs keep away from party politics and so too from the politics of ethnicity and religious sectarianism and thus hope to embody all the people's aspirations. The people feel a sense of calm and comfort, especially the non-youth population, when the royal families execute their public engagements with decorum and a sense of duty, devotion, dedication and discipline.

Monarchy is an institution, not a person: about that we must be clear about when judging its performance or demarcating its role. This is why the British say "The king is dead, long live the king". It may be pertinent here to quote Jacques Lang, French Minister of Culture who said (1993) "I notice that the constitutional monarchies are the most democratic countries of Europe. I can't understand how there could be any debate about it".

Indeed as history is being rewritten in Russia there are those like Oleg Gordievsky who said (1998) "Russia under Nicholas I, with all the survival of feudalism, had opposition political parties, independent trade unions and newspapers, a rather radical parliament and a modern government system. Its agriculture was on the level of USA, with industry rapidly approaching the West European level. In the USSR there was total tyranny, no political liberties and practically no human rights. Its economy was not viable; agriculture was destroyed. The terror against the population rendered a scope unprecedented in history. No wonder many Russians look back to Tsarist Russia as a paradise lost".

The Canadian Jacques Monet best sums up for us the reason why we should have faith in the monarchy as an institution. "A king is a king not because he is rich or powerful, not because he belongs to a particular creed or a national group. He is king because he is born. And in choosing to leave the selection of the head of state to this most common denominator in the world—the accident of birth--- Canadians implicitly proclaim their faith in human equality, their hope for the triumph of nature over political maneuver or social and financial interests and for the victory of the human person".

We have examined the historical attributes of monarchy as an institution from a universal perspective Needless to say as a formal institution monarchies differ in their constitutional powers and duties.

The Emperor of Japan, the world's oldest monarchy, is a symbolic figurehead as are the Scandinavian kings and queens. They, like the Queen of England, are said to "do no wrong", although the British monarchical system, being a Queen-in-Parliament system, has more than symbolic powers as, for example, in times of emergency and also if there is a hung parliament. Probably, this is why Blair seeks to have a written constitution.

Here, we may profitably recall the wise words of Connor Cruise O'Brien who has said (1993) "If constitutional monarchy were to come to an end in Britain, parliamentary democracy would probably not survive it. It is, after all, through the monarchy that parliamentary control over the armed forces is mediated and maintained".

The king of Thailand is perhaps the best example of a monarch who has judiciously led the kingdom to peace, prosperity and progress through the policy of 'restraint and withdrawal' judiciously applied on the elected representatives. The Thai king, who celebrated his 60 th year of reign, is purported to have said (1998) "Western people ask me whether it is a paradox that I am king, but support democracy. I have to tell them that in Thailand the king is the guarantor of democracy".

Befittingly, let us conclude on monarchy as an institution with the thoughts of Queen Elizabeth I, perhaps one of the greatest monarchs of all time, who said (1564) "There is nothing about which I am more anxious than my country, and for its sake I am willing to die ten deaths, if that be possible". And let us be ever grateful to our own beloved late King Birendra, who perceptibly realized, more than anyone else, that a good monarch cannot save an unpopular regime and a bad monarch is a potent argument for a republic.

Nepal is mired in the gravest political crisis ever since the Anglo-Nepal war of 1814-16.It is struggling for its survival as a united, democratic, pluralistic and independent state. All the institutions of the state are being tested -- be they the monarchy, parliament, judiciary, political parties and the national administrative and security services--for their capacity to lead, unite and protect the rule of law and promote electoral democracy. The mass of individual citizens, born and unborn, silently demand of each of these institutions to unite for the love of the Motherland.


(This article was published in Spotlight, Rana is former finance minister)

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