Nepal’s Failed Democracy – OpEd

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Nine months after the failure of the Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution, major political parties of Nepal have agreed to form an election government led by sitting Chief Justice (CJ) Khilraj Regmi with the aim of holding new Constituent Assembly elections by mid-June. People now are expressing doubts and asking what guarantee there is that a CJ-led government will be able to complete its mission on time. The formation of their new government under the CJ in fact fulfils the long-standing demand of the opposition parties — primarily the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML — for the Bhattarai government to make way for an election government. With the demise of the Constituent Assembly on May 27 last year, the political process became stuck over government formation, eclipsing the larger constitutional issues, especially those related to federalism. Dr Bhattarai’s proposal for an election in November was rejected outright by the opposition parties, whereupon President Ram Baran Yadav failed in several attempts to set a deadline for the formation of a national unity government.

Since he was proposed as Prime Minister to lead the election government, the CJ, now Chairman of the interim electoral government, has been at the centre of political debate across the country. He revealed his selfish attitude and hunger for power by wishing to hold the posts of PM and CJ at the same time: the nation as a whole was dumbfounded. Should he not himself have been ashamed even to consider it in the first place? Where were his professional ethics and his morality? There are fears, therefore, that the CJ-led government will now even further complicate the situation in Nepal since the political decision of the four major parties is opposed by many smaller parties as well as by legal groups, and there are widespread protests.

In the first place, Maoist Supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda advertised the post of PM at his party’s conference, and later other political parties gave their consent. Did these actions of the political parties not make the post of PM look cheap, rather like goods for sale in the market? Have democracy and the political parties truly failed in Nepal? The republican and democratic character of their Constitution demonstrates that all power ultimately stems from the people. The political parties should be the pathfinders for the nation highlighting milestones along the road to true democracy. Why then did they force them to accept as a PM someone from a non-political background? Should the political parties not justify this now to their people? Should they not be forced to admit their own failures publicly? The people demand a justification.

The formation of a council of ministers by a bunch of bureaucrats and with the CJ as Chairman to lead an election government is a blunder aimed at cheap political consensus. It is a gross violation of the popular will, and it runs counter to established democratic norms, principles and values. Rather than accept the CJ as PM by breaching such principles, the political parties should, as a hard option, have joined the Bhattarai-led government, which effectively was the successor of the last government before the demise of the Constituent Assembly.

I have a few points to illustrate why the political parties should have made this choice:

Firstly, finding an alternative to Dr Bhattarai as PM was a matter of national urgency that was much in demand. It was the vital departure point for seeking a solution to the present political deadlock. However, that alternative should have been sought from other branches of government: it needed to come from within the existing political forces. The parties failed to offer a candidate for the post, and they were unable to remove Dr Bhattarai. Blind acceptance of the CJ instead seriously undermined constitutional and democratic principles. Joining a Bhattarai-led government would, in theory at least, have helped to continue the democratic norms and protect the basic values of constitutionalism. What the other major political parties need to understand is that neither Dr Bhattarai nor Prachanda decides the fate of ther nation or the outcome of any election: it is the people, who are sovereign, expressing their will through the election itself. The political forces should not have feared to knock on the doors of the people: which party leads the election government is not as vital as ensuring that the election itself takes place.

Secondly, by joining the Bhattarai-led government the various political parties would have shared power and at the same time countered the monopoly and ‘Hitlerism’ of the Maoist-led government. As ‘iron cuts iron’, the political parties could not only have been part of the greater political decision-making process but also have defeated the evil attitude of the Bhattarai-led government by actually becoming part of that very government. They could have gained a forum, and street politics would have been avoided. This should really have happened nine months ago. It was wrong to assume that the post of PM was everything. The PM alone cannot drive the vehicle, and there are many departments that could have been divided among the parties if they had joined a broad political consensus.

Thirdly, there is an important question being asked in the country today: have democracy and the political parties truly proved to be failures in Nepal? Had the political parties joined the Bhattarai-led government not only would they have conveyed a positive message to the people that democracy was still on track, but also that the political parties, the true drivers of democracy, had in over eighty years of history not failed us yet. At the same time they would have conveyed the message to the international community and all well-wishers of our country that we are still capable of solving major problems on their own.

Finally, the CJ-led election government is absolutely no solution to the present crisis. Mr Regmi may complete his given task successfully, but a questionable political tradition will now have been established in the country. Will the nation not in future be committed to more dependency on the Apex Court even in small matters of national interest? History shows that the thirty-year Panchayaty system killed off our fledgling democracy and put them decades behind in terms of economic, social and political development. The horrendous ten-year civil strife put them even further behind, killing and displacing thousands and destroying public and private properties. Through the acceptance of a CJ-led government by breaching rules and established principles, a whole generation is sure to suffer in the future. There is no guarantee that this government will be able to achieve the fresh election sought and lead the nation towards its future.

There are many important issues to mull over in these matters. ‘Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ What happens then if the present Regmi-led government does not complete its given task, and he, like a leech, clings to power and even desires to be a new ‘king’ like Dr Bhattarai? Would that start new street protests demanding his resignation? Is there no ending to this vicious cycle in Nepal? Is it also not wrong then for the popular will to be subjected to the mercy of the judiciary?
The solution should have been sought from within the political parties. The essence of politics is discourse, dialogue and compromise among the political forces in order to achieve positive political outcomes. A broad political consensus on power sharing was more vital than ever before. The nation demanded it as the alpha and omega of overcoming the present political deadlock. However, their political parties failed them. The political parties, the so-called vehicles of democracy, have seriously failed to perform in the political theatre of their country. In the name of political agreement, they have grossly breached established principles and practices, and once again they have deceived the people and destroyed their hopes for political stability and peace.

Nepal has been lurching from crisis to crisis for years. Dr Bhattarai has left his position as a failed Prime Minister and failed leader, and the political crisis that remains is even more chaotic and messy. It is good that he has gone, but I seriously doubt that the Regmi-led government will be able to clean up the mess that he has left. I fear that the Regmi-led government will serve the interests of the country less than the petty interests of those who conspired to achieve this takeover.

The existence of the new election government makes a mockery of democracy, and of established rules and principles. It exists by artificial arrangement, and it does not represent the general will of the people. Truly, people of Nepal have lost, the essence of democracy has been killed and the agendas of the evil ones are the winners. Today, a pertinent question confronts us all: when shall they be able to establish ‘a government of laws and not of men’ in their country?

Dr. Gyan Basnet

Dr. Gyan Basnet, who holds a Ph.D. and an LL.M degree in International Human Rights Law at Lancaster University, U.K, is a Prominent Columnist, Lecturer & Researcher in International Human Rights Law and a Human Rights and Constitutional Law Lawyer in the Supreme Court and Subordinate Court of Nepal. Email: [email protected]

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