Consolidating Democracy Further

Narayan Upadhyay

 

We are on the cusp of celebrating the 67th Democracy Day which falls on Falgun 7 or February 18 this year. The day reminds us of our leaders and common Nepalese struggle to set up a democratic system in the nation, where freedom is often stifled by the autocratic rulers.

 Movement of 1990

The then banned political parties on Falgun 7, 2046 B.S (1990) staged a successful people's movement to restore democracy, which was hijacked in a royal coup of 2017 B.S. (1960) when the then King Mahendra dismissed the first elected government. The success of the 1990 movement was instrumental in bringing freedom to the people in many respects. After a hiatus of 30 years, the people had got the opportunities to elect their representatives to the Parliament and the government on a periodic basis through adult franchise. Another key achievement was the freedom of speech in the form of arrival of the various media. Earlier, private media was not vibrant as the rulers and their surrogate always stifled the flow of free media. Today we can witness the convergence of various media in the country and there is no censorship in the Nepali media, thanks to the achievement made following the People's Movement of 1990.

 

Despite gaining so much, it is sad to witness that the political parties and their leaders failed to live up to the people's expectations. Inter and intra party disputes along with the charges of rampant corruption against the leaders of all hues and stripes led democratic polity towards its graveyard. With the onset of the Maoist insurgency in 1996 and the second royal coup by former King Gyanendra, the achievements of the 1990 were pushed to the backburner. After the success of the second People's Movement in 2006/2007, the nation completely witnessed new kind of system under the federal democratic republic constitution which was promulgated in 2015.

 

The major achievements of the second People's Movement is that the nation has been rendered into a federal republic and secular country where it is expected that the people of all caste, creed, gender, region, class would have their representation in the local, provincial and central governments. Inclusivity is a hall mark of our statute, which ensures the rights of marginalised and backward people to have their role in the state's all decision making mechanism.

 

Though the constitution was promulgated through the formation of epochal constituent assembly, for which the nation had to organise two general elections, the country is still passing through a troubled phase, thanks to the differences on the new constitution among the political parties.

 

Actually, despite being implemented in 2015, the constitution has not taken effect, thanks to the dissatisfaction expressed by a section of political parties that express that the statute has not addressed their grievances. The Madhesi parties and few other ethnic parties have demanded that the provinces in the nation should be carved to provide them with full control over the provinces that fall on their own regions. There are other disputes with regard to representation in all layers of governance.

 

Because of the staggering dispute among the political parties, the nation has not yet found a way to hold the three tier elections. The political parties- the ruling and the opposition as well as the Madhesi Front, have been bogged down by the two issues at present- whether they should first go for the amendment of the statute or opt for the election to the local level. The Madhesi Front is against holding election before the statute amendment while the main opposition is dead against amendment and has been asking the government to hold election first. The ruling coalition of the Maoist (Centre) and the Nepali Congress appear to be appeasing the Madhesi and so they want to amend the statute first. The Prime Minister is seen making promises that he would organise election while taking the amendment of the statue forward in the parliament, despite facing difficulty in getting two-thirds majority vote in the House to endorse the amendment.

 

The dispute and differences among the nation's political parties have threatened to obstruct the whole political process, which in turn has threatened the task of consolidation of democracy in the nation. The nation has not had local election for the past 17 years which has barred the people at grass root to utilise the mandate through adult franchise. If the elections are not held from the local level, people would lack their rights to elect their local representatives who would help them in taking forward local development projects.

 

Over the years, as the nation was without elections to the different tiers of governance, political quota system has taken root here. Political parties are engaged in making all appointments, even at the constitutional, police administration and judicial bodies on the basis of political sharing and quota. Because of this quota provision, the idea of good governance, rule of law and free judiciary, an integral part of a vibrant democratic society and nation,  have taken a severe battering. This has barred the able and qualified persons to gain the important posts while stopped the people in choosing their representatives through ballots. 

 

In recent times, the political parties, who are locked in a power struggle, appear less mindful of the people's democratic rights- to send their representatives through the use of their ballots. The political power struggle can be surmised from the fact that there are 26 government is the nation in 26 years after the restoration of democracy in 1990. This has actually made political stability a victim. Owing to the ongoing political instability, the people of the country has not been able to enjoy their democratic rights in a right way.

 Periodic elections

For the sovereign people of a nation to utilise their democratic rights, it must have periodic elections along with good governance, respect for majority, social justice, rule of law and free judiciary, public participation, free media, protection of human rights and devolution of power from the center to the provinces and local level. If a nation meets these conditions, then the people can enjoy the fruits of democracy and freedom to live without fear.  This can without doubt bolster the democracy in the nation and further protect the achievements made through the struggles for democracy in different phases. The political parties should be mindful to this fact and should not always give lip service to the people's democratic rights.

 

 

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