Democracy in danger

  • The establishment remains untouched by the change that swept the nation eight years ago
- Dipendra Jha
Democracy in danger

Oct 27, 2014-

The Maoist’s ‘People’s War’, the popular Janaandolan of 2006, and the subsequent Madhes Movement heralded new changes in the country, giving people a sense of hope. Nepali politics took a new turn in 2005, when the major parties, particularly the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML, decided to join hands with the then CPN-Maoist to oust the monarchy of Gyanendra Shah. But since then, the country has failed to tread along the path of consensus adopted post 12-point agreement, signed between the major political parties and the then CPN-Maoist.

We have failed to decide what our priorities for change should be. People cherished the newly established republican system, thinking it could lead to the establishment of real democracy where all citizens will be equal in terms of opportunities and social status. That now seems to be a farfetched dream, given the NC-UML ruling alliance’s presentation of agendas on constitutional issues. They seem to want to weaken federalism and inclusion under the garb of equality. State resources and opportunities have long been monopolised and they are in no mood to share power.

The acute politicisation of the state and non-state organs, a re-emergence of status quoists, and a nexus between the traditional elite, the state bureaucracy, and security agencies ail our young democracy. The police all-too-often suppresses minority voices, whose crusade against marginalisation and discrimination collides with the pursuits of those in power.

Landlords and businesspersons

Major political parties want to politicise the security and government agencies so that these agencies can be used to suit their interests and torment opponents, even when the parties are not in power. This is one reason the political parties accord such high priority to winning elections and forming a government. Politicisation pervades all sectors, including the education sector. Our primary schoolteachers have been so politicised that they influence public votes during elections. Elections in our country, thus, are deeply flawed. Often, state employees deployed for work during elections are found to be serving the interests of the major political parties. They do so because the employees have received favours from these parties in the past or expect some in the future.

Currently 40 percent of our parliamentarians are either businesspersons or landlords. The moneyed elite have entered various political parties, primarily because they have contributed large amounts of cash to the parties in the form of donations. Is this a democratic practice? Is this what people aspired to see post-2006? Ideally, politics should be selfless work that serves the nation, but in our country, it has become a tool for some to gain state power and make (more) money.

Electoral politics has becoming highly expensive and thus, a playground for the rich where the middle and lower class cannot even dream of taking part. If the current trend continues, only businesspersons and landlords will remain in the election fray. An overhaul requires major reforms in the electoral system so that young blood from every class can be attracted to politics; because to do the cleaning, one must first jump into the dirt. If the electoral system of the country can be aligned in the right direction, problems of democracy can be fixed to a large extent.


Coffin economy

But it is the entire political system that is not working properly. The sorry state of democracy has instilled hopelessness in the young generation. Frustrated youths who do not see a future in the country are leaving for the Middle East and other countries. There is always a long queue for visas at some embassies in Kathmandu. Every day, around 2,000 youths are migrating to the Gulf countries. Nepal has become a manpower supplier state. It is a country receiving the third highest proportion of remittance (around 25 percent of the GDP). Economic surveys show that Nepal received remittance worth 23.1 percent of GDP in the fiscal year 2012/13 and 22.1 percent in 2013/14. But every day, dead bodies also arrive from the Gulf countries. The remittance that Nepal receives comes at a huge price when the exploitation of Nepali youth and women abroad is taken into account. The country’s economy now seems to be a coffin economy. By the time the new constitution is promulgated, Nepal might be drained of its youths.

 In a democracy, dialogue, not agitation, should be the main basis of addressing vital issues. Protests must be resorted to only in extreme cases. But a culture of agitation seems to have taken root. If we do not take recourse to pressure tactics, it seems the government will not listen to us and we cannot change anything. Of course, the worst form of democracy is still better than a good form of dictatorship but when things do not change for long periods, ordinary Nepalis begin to believe that some other forms of governance might be better. The rise of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal, which champions the cause of the monarchy and a Hindu state, is one example of this. Given the tug of war between the old and new political forces, one can conclude that if parties fail to reach consensus on constitutional issues, there might be deep polarisation among various communities, which could sow the seeds of a new form of conflict in Nepal.

Challenging the elite

The forces that want to institutionalise change and help democracy work better must know that protests and agitation will only work as a reliable option to expand people’s rights and establish change for a short time. Change-seeking forces need to be mindful of the fact that fresh faces or actors are required. They also need to be mindful that mass protests do not end up placing a few elites in power. The forces for change also need to think of bringing timely changes to the permanent establishment of Nepal (Army/police, and bureaucracy) who often serve the interests of the traditional elite. The business community, courts, and the media also do not seem to go against the wishes of the traditional elite on some important issues. Civil society has become a part of the power structure as well, with very few members going against the wishes of the power elite. If change-seeking forces do not adopt aggressive methods to safeguard new changes, counter-revolutionary forces may gain further ground.


Jha is an advocate at the Supreme Court

Published: 28-10-2014 09:03

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