Nepal in 2013 witnessed a state of democratic fluctuation. A Constituent Assembly Poll held successfully on November 19, 2013 somewhat strengthened the delivery mechanism for Nepali democracy exhibiting a new centre right tilt based on Nepali voter preferences. But still there were no tell tale signs of government formation or any works planned on a new Constitution of Nepal for early 2014. This is why Nepal’s international democratic credence is often questioned. As usual Nepali leaders have started talking about inclusive democratic participation but still look outside to solve essentially Nepali problems. Rethinking Nepali democracy in 2014 in a pro-people manner is essential to fulfil the Nepali leadership challenge.
The CA Poll 2013 which brought the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML back to the forefront of Nepali politics, has still left many questions unanswered. The UCPN-Maoists and their rebel faction the CPN-M which dominated Nepali politics for the past half decade is now considered a failed party wasting its energy on a useless ethno-federalism debate, something which they have admitted themselves lately. Democracy based on total consensus is the word that is making the rounds these days in Kathmandu as in other capitals throughout the Asia-Pacific region. India, considered a bastion of democracy, too had an election recently that was truly peaceful and strengthened her international democratic credibility further. China, which is a Communist country, still tolerates democratically stable moderate regimes in its neighbourhood as long as they do not pose problems on the four Ts (Tibet included!). The US and the G-8 Club, on the other hand, have won international plaudits and the hearts and minds of the Nepali people for pushing forward meaningful Nepali democratic endeavours in the form of the CA Poll 2013 bolstered by firm development cooperation commitments.
For Nepal’s newly elected leaders, this is the time to devote energy to the more pressing social and economic problems. Total democratic consensus is necessary in the effort, even the opposition has to be meaningful in its agenda. Coincidentally, the NC as the largest party in the soon to be formed Constituent Assembly, believes such mutual political consensus will help guarantee a new government and engage all in writing a new Constitution of Nepal. Both NC and the UML leaders realize that the future federalism debate must be harbored in the framework of an economically viable model that places utmost respect for Nepali human rights, livelihoods, and development capabilities rather than mere discourse on various ‘imported’ models. Similarly the constitution must be a Nepali one. If not, the newly elected leaders too will face the public wrath meted out to Nepal’s Maoist party who had to face a humiliating poll defeat.
Professor Amartya Sen the human development advocate once observed, “No substantial famine has ever occurred in any independent and democratic country with a relatively free press.” Nepal’s press has been pretty independent since the 1990 Jan Andolan 1 largely supporting democracy. The Nepali media cautions, for democracy to be meaningful, it is essential major parties also respect the minor and opposition parties so that every Nepali’s human freedom is enshrined in the universal democratic concept of a government of, for and by the people. Unfortunately, that is not happening always in Nepal. Even India and China, Nepal’s two immediate Superpower neighbours, have cautioned Nepali leaders to pursue essentially Nepali choices in preserving a people oriented democracy and formulate a constitution that integrates the past with the present to ensure a bright Nepali future.
The current argument is not about leadership choices or finding a new Nepali President, it is about all contributing to ensure democratic awakenings aligned to the Nepali people’s development aspirations. Neither is there any argument on whether Nepali Congress or the CPN-UML have the right to claim the Nepal President’s post or the equally attractive chair in Singha Durbar. The challenge is, as the current Head of the Nepal Government Khil Raj Regmi mentioned in several recent media addresses, to make the triumph of democracy succeed in Nepal absolutely. This is also what Francis Fukuyama predicted on the aftermath of surviving political ideologies after the Cold War in which democracy proved a definite winner. Nepal’s CA Poll 2013 is another feather in the cap for Fukuyama’s arguments. Similarly, on the ideological plane, all seem to be equally democratic in their public voicing. Even Pushpa Kumar Dahal accepts the UCP-M to be a democratic party that must fine tune itself to public expectations in future given its recent poll setback. In fact its senior leader Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai has openly acknowledged he would never had imposed a State of Emergency after disbanding the former CA in 2012 because his own party leaders and those of other political parties would have never supported such a move. That is being democratic enough. Similarly, Kamal Thapa from the RPP-Nepal, now Nepal’s fourth largest political party, has adjusted his party line to ensure Nepali democracy first and foremost. All party leaders know equally well that nearly Rs. 50 billion was spent on an expensive CA Poll 2013 to promote a more enabling democratic environment in Nepal for all political parties to participate and function in.
While Sushil Koirala as President of the Nepali Congress will ponder in the days ahead on what kind of rule of law will best guarantee the efficient delivery of economic results to the Nepali people in the coming period, the answer is quite clear that it will have to be participatory democratic governance supported by effective locally elected district and village bodies that are gender sensitive. These will then bear on substantive and measurable development results. This time, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML owe it to the Nepali people to ensure that the future Nepal Government will be as transparent as the one Khil Raj Regmi currently heads.
So, it is time to close the debate on the credibility of the CA Poll 2013, which by all accounts was fair to all and biased against none as the international donor community and the Carter Center have once again reiterated. It gives rise to a new transformational period for Nepali leaders to address the gaps between accountability and governance that plagued earlier NC-UML coalition partnerships that ensued in rising state corruption, development stagnation and exacerbating rural poverty that led to the Nepali civil conflict between 1996-2006. Many in Nepal’s professional, engineering, academic, business and legal community are of the opinion that drafting a people oriented constitution like the Constitution of Nepal 1990 will definitely help renew international credibility for Nepal. If such a constitution takes reshape, it can serve two purposes. One, it will safeguard Nepali democracy, national interest, security and secularism for generations to come. Two, it will truly embody the broad, inclusive and fair participation of the Nepali people entrusted through various political parties yet help preserve Nepali culture and traditions. Mahatma Gandhi often articulated in India that the spirit of democracy can never be imposed from without, it has to come from within. In Nepal too, efforts will have to be internally generated on a broad based political consensus foregoing all past agreements, external or internal, and thus starting with a clean slate.
It is well known, the current challenges to Nepali development are stifling in every front due to the past democratic confusion affecting proper governance forms for Nepal. For instance, there is still need for stronger budgetary allocation for a more universal qualitative education system encouraging enrolment of young girls and women throughout rural Nepal, although the country has been able to accomplish some of its UN based MDGs in the urban locations. Public health is still in a state of disarray with more people facing the brunt of HIV/AIDS due to lack of primary care providers or enough voluntary counselling and testing centers. Yet, AIDS could take its toll on Nepali democracy and development if gone unchecked; there is strong social stigma imposed on those infected and affected. Nepal’s Himalayan ecological balance and the environment itself is in a weak stage with no new achievements to report except the continued meltdown of Himalayan glaciers in the post Kyoto Protocol era. Nepal’s best climate experts, much sought after, have either migrated to greener pastures abroad or else joined foreign embassies or international organizations. International labor migration is on the rise despite various reported unfair labor practices in host destinations. One of the greater development nuts to crack is Nepal’s hydroelectricity potential second only to Brazil’s. The unstable nature of Nepali power development in contrast to the concerned ministry’s internationally attractive, well advertised Nepal hydro-electricity ‘catwalk’ projects have generated many admirers but no attractive contractual bids even from the Asian neighbourhood; governments change too often. And Nepali leadership itself is in a state of crisis generated by inter-party mistrust among its top leaders, cursed as it were by fatalism and development. No political party in Nepal is openly willing to absorb urban professionals, technocrats, banking experts and civil society leaders as potential party members. There is a mutual distrust between these groups.
On the gender plane, Nepal has not been able to produce one single distinct female leader who can handle the reign of government like Angela Merkel in Germany or Indira Gandhi in India which is due to poor advancement of girls and women in Nepali society and gender biased grass-roots participatory development besides the aforementioned educational inaccessibility. Unfortunate as it seems, there was no one-third reserved quota for women in the recent CA Poll. Even the most well educated and articulate female professionals in Nepal have forsaken their promising careers to raise children or else devoted their lives to help their husbands, some of them prominent politicians. This is unfortunate in a society that has, population ratio wise, more female motorcycle riders than elsewhere in Asia, and where even village girls have started donning American jeans made in Thailand and singing Britney Spears as in a small Shangrila village called Namche Bazar.
Yet, for Nepal 2013 was a fortunate year since democracy was delivered through the ballot box. But still democracy is a primary advocacy and leverage tool for Nepal’s quickly expanding educated middle class, not the rural agrarian lot routing for quick change. The 2013 Poll vote helped spearhead new accountability in governance, and protest against any leader’s effort to divide Nepalis up ethnically, geographically or on the basis of religion or caste. The CA Poll 2013 was in fact an en masse feeling, a grunt against ethno-federalism and a unanimous approval for Nepali democratic mainstreaming. But as India’s leadership just recently re-congratulated the Nepali leaders and the people for their tremendous achievement in the CA Poll 2013, it also meant for the average Nepali an opportunity to refocus on the word grassroots democracy.
Lest one forget, street protests swept leaders in several tides of repeated violence in South Korea, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, and Nepal in the past decades. In the Arab Spring last year, regimes shook and tumbled in the Middle East as a new democratic fever swept the Arab world. Yet, somehow Nepali people have been able to resiliently practice their own version(s) of democracy from the Panchayat era to multiparty democracy in the post 1990 period knowing the flame of democracy burns bright elsewhere in Asia. This is why Nepal cannot be compared to Afghanistan or Peru, because the international community recognizes the Nepali people as one of the most active and clever voting populations in the Asia-Pacific democratic theatre. In fact, 2013 was a good year for Nepal governance-wise bringing democratic honesty to the forefront. Khil Raj Regmi and his team of ex-Nepali technocrats proved themselves much beyond the Nepali leadership challenge with a chronicle of successful development stories and people focused activities, including attracting the youth to the national cause. And beware, none of them including Regmi ji are practicing politicians. This is why everyone in the international community seeks continuity and a suitable avatar to the Regmi government only if Regmi ji and his team could continue. Right now, they patiently hold their hands to hand over power to a successor Nepal Government. Nonetheless, 2014 will be a year of serious brainstorming and rethinking on the true meaning of Nepali democracy and how it might bring true economic progress and long term happiness to the people of Nepal.