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De-democratising Democracy

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By Chandra Lal Pandey *

Democratisation is a process which transcends a society from authoritarian to more open and more participatory form of government in which the sovereignty of the people is recognised as the supreme source of political power. Democracy is a form of government in which it is intended that the government’s actions and policies reflect the will of the people.

In the final quarter of the 20th century, the world had seen a dramatic transformation of political landscape. The third wave of democracy transformed the world into the greater process of democratisation from colonial and authoritarian regimes to democracy. The process of democratisation was widespread in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The collapse of communism accelerated the process of democratisation mainly in Eastern Europe. Some prominent scholars argued that modern democracy was the final form of human government.

The third wave of democracy refused to allow Nepal to be isolated from the rest of the world. The wind of democracy turned into a storm that unbooted the deeply rooted 30 years of Panchayat system. On the night of April 9, 1990, late Krishna Prasad Bhattarai announced that King Birendra had agreed to restore multiparty democracy. There was a huge celebration. People came out in masses on the streets and the roads. They chanted slogans and danced to express happiness that their bad days were gone. The vested interest of then King Gyanendra suspended democracy and imposed his direct rule elaborating that the political parties could not fulfil the aspirations of Nepali people. His dictatorial rule did not last long because the tsunami of second coming reinstated democracy on April 24, 2006. The country was promulgated a republic to further empower the people. It appeared historic achievement back in time.

Looking back in 1990 and 2006, many did not think that democracy would be so difficult to be instituted and nurtured. There was great hope. There was great motivation. There was great opportunity. We had a dream of transforming Nepal from poverty to prosperity, from crisis and conflict to harmony, from low per capita to high per capita, from exclusive to inclusive, from one of the poorest countries to one of the richest countries in the model of Switzerland with an image of clean green Nepal.

But retrospection over the democratic experiment of over two decades, one has to say that we are completing a circle and about to reach the target where we had left in 1990 or even worse. We have lost the opportunities, hopes, motivation and dream bestowed on us by those historic events. It is becoming increasingly clear that we are striving towards a democracy-less future or in other words the process of de-democratisation. Three variables must be considered to validate this claim. First, the recent Maoists’ high command gathering at Hetauda, Maoists’ boss Prachanda said that his party was going to retain power for at least 10 years. Following the vision, Maoists’ second boss and Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai upped it to 20 to 30 years.

In a well-functioning democracy where there is periodic election, it is very difficult for any party to be in power for 10 to 30 years of time however it is not impossible. Liberal Democratic Party of Japan had been ruling continuously since 1955 to 2009 and came back to power again in 2012. Americans generally elect their Presidents for the two consecutive terms. But they have visionary policies and contents on the table. Maoists might rule Nepal for such a long period but they have to choose one of the options from the two: first, as a party of proletariat, they should be able to fulfil their promises made by addressing the daily problems and material well-being of the people.

But this is a long and hard road. Their actions and policies have not provedto be so this far except that they are louder in words and feebler in deeds. Second, as theyoftensay, rule by force or coerce in which there is not any value of free will and other characteristics of democracy. The latter is easier than the former for a party which believes in classical notion of peoples’ war and endless revolution which will finally crumble the naïve pillars of second coming democracy.

The second variable is ostracised by the oppositions. Whichever parties are in opposition, they recklessly reckon that people elect them only to topple governments. The job of oppositionis to provide constructive criticisms on the actions of government to help achieve good governance through sound people policies and influence the outcomes. The opposition’s main role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable to public. Opposition in other words also refers to shadow governments so the job of opposition does not necessarily associate with endless protests to uproot the government. Stable government is critical in nation-building. A frequent change of the governments has nothing to contribute to development and prosperity rather it is a process of de-democratisation through gradual weakening of democracy especially in the protracted period of transition.

Third variable knocks on the election government leadership. Having failed to persuade Mr. President to oust the Prime Minister, oppositions are showing their muscles in the streets. Their minimum threshold for holding election is the change of government leadership. On the other hand, Battarai’s government is hell-bent in upholding the power. Mr. President is aware that any confrontation with Prime Minister is not worthy of any incentives rather quicker elections may reduce his tenure of office. Confrontations may likely to reduce his chances of being re-elected for the post.

All combined, an impasse has been created. In an attempt to unknotting the gridlock, the bosses of political parties aired that they agreed to pick up a civil society Prime Ministerial candidate for election government. Prachanda aired that Chief Justice (CJ) of the Supreme Court be the Prime Minister for election government. As often controversial, his latest proposal also became a centre of criticism and controversy.

Making the CJ the head of the election government may be an innovative idea but it raised serious questions.Is it an attempt to weaken the judiciary as argued by Nepal Bar Association’s executive members? Is it an attempt to weaken democracy? Is it an attempt to lure CJ in order to win his favour during election? Of course, answers to these questions are open-ended and far from clear. However, one thing is very clear, in a multiparty democracy with so many political parties in Nepal, their inability to find one consensus Prime Minister for election government is the extreme example of distrust and frustration among political parties which ultimately is leading to de-democratisation.

* The author is a PhD Candidate at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. His research focuses on international climate change politics and policy making. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[Source: Nepal News]

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