Come Out Of Machiavellian Politics
Yuba Nath Lamsal
There is no dearth of political analysts both in the western and oriental societies, who advocate liberal democracy. They often tend to equate democracy with capitalism. The importunity with which these pundits pursue their treatise on democracy and capitalism sometimes creates confusion in the understanding of democracy. Capitalism and democracy are two different sets of ideas, which represent two different fields. Capitalism is an economic system in which market is the ruler and profit counts more than anything else. Democracy is a political system that is supposed to be more welfare-oriented, which is in stark contrast to the basic tenets of capitalism.
Proponents are of the view that capitalism is not merely economics but also a political and social system, which defends individual rights and freedom of citizens in all fronts and sectors. However, capitalism has to do more with the economics based on market authoritarianism and a little to do with the social face. Capitalism seeks a weak government to be easily manipulated and dictated by the market where capitalists and a few rich will be the masters.
Democracy is the political system wherein people’s representatives are chosen to govern through adult franchise. Democratic polity, in principle, ensures rule of the majority for the common good of all and seeks to protect the rights of the minorities. The political system we have adopted is the liberal democracy, which is in vogue in the world at present. In this system, elections are held in such a manner that the winner takes it all and the loser has virtually no say. This is the ‘first-past-the post’ or majoritarian system. A person or political group gets elected when one gets the most votes among the competitors. In such a case, a person or political group gets elected even when one does not get support of minimum 50 per cent voters. There are cases in the world that the candidates or political parties having secured less than 30 percent of the total votes have been declared elected.
In some western democracies, people’s apathy towards the system is so huge and high that they do not trust the system, parties and even the representatives, which is evident by miserably low voters’ turn out. The voters’ turn out is, sometimes, as low as 30 per cent. When only 30 per cent voters have participated in the election, how a political party or candidate can claim to have represented all people on the basis that one has secured more votes among many contenders out of the votes cast. Herein lies the fundamental flaw in the electoral system.
Proportionate representation is relatively better than the majoritarian one as it ensures representation of wider sectors because representatives are chosen on the basis of the number of votes the political parties get. This, too, is not the perfect electoral system but just better. Perhaps, this is the reason why some countries have adopted the proportionate election system. As many as 93 countries in the world have adopted the proportionate electoral system, of which majority countries have fully proportionate representation system, whereas the rest have semi-proportionate or mixed system. Nepal is in the second category as it has adopted the mixed system in which representatives are chosen on the basis of both ‘ first-past the post’ and proportionate electoral system.
Unfortunately, though, some countries which follow the ‘ first-past-the post’ system champion to be the best model of democracy and often teach others the tenets of democracy and preach their model in the world. What can be a bigger irony than this? This is a new Machiavellian democracy wherein the society’s biggest political hegemonies in the disguise of political parties or leaders compete through electoral struggle to have bigger say in the governance and political decision-making but not the marginalised and secluded ones. In this system, one is either complete winner or total loser and there is no middle way.
Its proponents call the proportionate system as the bane of democracy. According to them, proportionate electoral system fosters political instability as such election often produces a ‘hung’ parliament that always gives room for political crooks to play dirty game, both overtly and covertly, in the formation and pulling down of the governments as no single party secures a clear-cut majority to form the government. Nepal is taken as an obnoxious example of how the proportionate electoral system is awfully unsuitable for a young democracy. They cite the example of how the first Constituent Assembly failed and the second Constituent Assembly, too, reached near failure but was saved in the last hours due to some new circumstances that emerged out of the blue. The other example they cite is the record change of governments over the last eight years since the newly adopted proportionate electoral system was put into function or dysfunction.
However, the electoral system itself is not flawed and what is defective is the behaviour and attitude of the political players. Despite its virtue, the electoral system was misused by our political parties and their leaders for their petty personal and partisan interests, owing to which the political crooks, power brokers and corrupt breeds took hostage of the political system turning it into vicious mode with money and muscle power. As a result, politics was criminalised and crimes politicised, blaming the proportionate electoral system as the key culprit.
The fundamental intent of the proportionate electoral system is to ensure due representation of all political ideologies, interest groups and communities in tune with genuine pluralist idea. However, the apologists of capitalism advocate the ‘ first-past-the post’ and malign the proportionate system with full of malafide intention just because the former gives them more room to maintain their hold on power by buying votes, rigging and manipulating elections.
The election is only a part of political system. But real debate should start on the model of democracy itself. Is the model we have adopted is suitable for Nepal? Can the capitalist democracy solve the myriad of crises we are facing? Certainly not. Niccolo Machiavelli, the political theorist and philosopher of the Italian Renaissance period, has said, “An effective leader can harness the weaker traits of humanity in his people to great effect, in the same way that a sheepdog can manipulate a herd of sheep”. The similar syndrome may afflict our democracy if we do not seek answer to these questions and adopt the political system accordingly. Democracy is a must and there can be no alternative to democracy. But the crux of the question is: What type of democracy we are seeking for? We need democracy in which the people should not be treated as subordinate but masters of their own destiny.
Against this background, the political parties need to come out of ideological inconsistency and answer these questions. In principle, all key political parties agree that capitalist democracy cannot solve our problems for which a mixed model has been suggested. The Nepali Congress right from the Sixties of the 20th century has been propagating, at least in principle, the mixed model or democratic socialism, which incorporates tenets of western liberal democracy in political front whereas the Marxist or socialist approach in economic sector. The communists, too, have given up their old traditional dogma and come to embrace the mixed model. Even our constitution has stipulated the necessity of socialist approach. But the discrepancy between principle and practice continues to exist in our political parties from which the parties are required to decisively depart and begin afresh to translate their stated principles and ideals into actions of leaders and party functionaries.