Upcoming Polls An Opportunity
Dr. Thakur Mohan Shrestha
Today, the electoral system is broadly accepted as a benchmark of democracy. It is also assumed that a democratic society is a non-violent and orderly society. Violence is one of the utmost threats to holding free and fair elections. Generally, the connection among democratisation, elections and electoral violence is a multifaceted one. The Government of Nepal has announced the local election for May 14. It has both opportunities and challenges for establishing the people’s rights.
Lesson from past
The overall scenario of the Constituent Assembly (CA) election, accomplished in post-conflict Nepal, was praised by national and international election observers as being relatively peaceful. The pre-election environment was, though, extremely violence-prone. It has been witnessed that 'ballot over bullet' has been established by the Constituent Assembly (CA) election of 2013. The CA election gave a ruptured mandate to the national political parties with an unending coalition culture and uncertainty in politics, which have been going on in Nepal. It is seen that political violence has been rising even with the end of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal.
Since the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990, the Nepali electorate has exercised its voting right in three parliamentary elections, two local elections and two CA elections and has had valuable experience. Little has altered in the socio-political range in the country though, and the constitution has placed the key to bringing about change in the hands of the political parties. People have a bad impression from the past that incompetent candidates have won elections, and defeated politicians are running the nation, symbolically a by-product of the country’s messy politics.
The forthcoming elections are interlinked with two key features: implementation of the constitution and handover of the government from the Maoist to the Nepali Congress. The handover of the power culture among the major political parties does seem tricky.
Politics in Nepal is overshadowed by rampant corruption, extreme nepotism, abuse of authority and a country heading towards being a failed state. It is observed that all the political parties are facing problems in maintaining the dignity and accountability of intra-party democracy. Future power ambitions have laid the parties in trouble. This coalition government was crisis-prone right from the beginning. Some research has also pointed out that caste and family are dominating the politics in Nepal, and is being questioned by academicians frequently. The 'yes-man' attitude has increased in the country since the restoration of democracy in 1990 and mushroomed with the beginning of the post-conflict transitional status in the country.
Nepal faces various alarming social problems, and they tend to magnify when the process is accompanied by the negative impact of the decade-long conflict. One of the stakeholders of the Peace Agreement, then King Gyanendra lives in isolation and is in a 'wait and see' mode. The situation of the country is fragile and deteriorating. Political instability, social disharmony, thinning nationality, rampant corruption, unemployment, youth drain, brain-drain, proliferation of small arms, transnational crime, haphazard urbanisation, bhagbanda of key posts, weak security, a dearth of accountability and poor economy prevail in the country.
Numerous Terai-based armed groups pose a security threat and could disrupt the elections. They have already carried out violent activities, but they are politically isolated even more than before. Several criminal gangs may try to take benefit of the election atmosphere or be used strategically by other forces. Grudges against the report submitted by the Local Level Restructuring Commission (LLRC), inadequate acts and regulations, statements by various leaders, armed rebels (in the Terai and eastern mountains) could pose a major threat to the election.
People fear electoral violence. Major incidents in Kailali, Janakpur and Saptari-Rajbiraj have laid the foundation for the uncertainty of the election and put the question of socio-geographical integrity while implementing the national constitution.
Similarly, it is not possible to render professional service and security with locked hands, frazzled police morale and politicised civil service. The Nepal Police, the key pillar of internal security, is in a state of disarray without its organisational leader, the Inspector General. People fear that the uncertainty and transitional situation might be replaced by a state of emergency. Some intellectuals have even expressed the probability of the repetition of a situation where the chief justice becomes the head of government as in the past.
The question now is, will the Nepalese politicians and elections lead the country towards the democratic ambitions of the people they struggled for? Will it be able to instil the faith of the future generation in national politics and leaders? What are the root causes behind the defect in the national political system and who are responsible? What could be the best solution? These questions need to be addressed by the people (especially the youth).
There are other alarming voices for the 'Right to Reject' and voting rights and access to the Non-Resident Nepalis and other Nepalis who live abroad. Some people have even been asking for a referendum on national issues.
The rule of law, code of conduct, good governance, harmony and peace need to be maintained. All parties have to prepare and should move quickly into a campaign mode. Provisionally, the endowment of "power to remove difficulty" as mentioned in Part 33, Article 305 in the Constitution of Nepal shouldn't be used without a situation of emergency.
Meanwhile, the failure to implement the constitution could be most vulnerable and disastrous, thus it is strongly recommended to develop and enhance the capabilities of the national army for its dual roles of dealing with both conventional and low-intensity military warfare and insurgency as per the shifting paradigm of security.
Hence, election management, political initiation with active participation and operational strategy must follow from the top. It is assumed that the national security force is capable and well prepared to implement their in-depth security strategies and integrated mobilisation for normal and adverse situations as per the need of the situation.
The forthcoming elections are an opportunity for the Nepalese at getting a taste of a federal republic democratic system. Nepal will have to face serious consequences and hardships if the constitution is not implemented. It could even be symbolised as a failure of the existing political system. Anything may happen.
Meanwhile, the substitute for democracy is democracy. Vedic socialism, grounded on the system of the soil and nationality, can be the best ethos. The political leadership must be responsible towards humanity, Nepal and the Nepalis wholeheartedly. Everyone is seeking his rights and identity. Internal and external interference are on the rise. Against this backdrop, the leadership should cash in on the sentiments of the people and parties. For this, a transformational leadership is the need of the hour. Our country is sick. The leaders must diagnose this context and resolve it by staying within the national paradigm.
(The author is Additional Inspector General (Retd.), Armed Police Force)