Democracy In Delivery :P. Kharel

Perhaps the word democracy is the most often used diction during discussions, debates and public statements whenever the prevailing political situation in a country comes under focus. This has at least been the case in Nepal since the first dawn of democracy in 1951 when the 104-year-old Rana oligarchy ended following a popular movement with a galaxy of personalities at the forefront.

Throughout the 1950s, praises were given to democratic practices to the effect that the country’s development pace would quicken and lead to better living standards. The December 1960 dismissal of the first elected government and the dissolution of the parliament in a royal takeover were followed by the partyless Panchayat. During the near three decades of the partyless Panchayat, too, when political parties were banned, the talk of democracy was the operative word for both sides of the national political divide.  

In response to a massive movement for the restoration of multiparty system in 1990, political reforms were made through a new Constitution. Six years later, fresh campaigns and a decade-long armed conflict were launched, pressing for sweeping political changes. The movements culminated in the Interim Constitution, and eventually a new Constitution was announced last September. Democracy and empowerment of the people are the emphasis today, too.   

This week, that year

What it all boils down to is a universally accepted fact that democracy is essential for modern governance. There is no dispute over its significance and potential for governance of the State in a manner that works for the welfare of all without discrimination whatsoever and that fundamental rights open vistas for equal opportunities.

Now that the Constitution of Nepal 2015 has been duly approved, the challenge is to improve the quality of governance in all its aspects while upholding the country’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. Given the political ups and downs over the past 65 years, popular expectations have naturally soared with the new Constitution formulated by a Constituent Assembly elected in 2013 after the first one could not accomplish its assigned task.     

 

Before touching upon the main expectations of the Nepalis in general, one takes the opportunity to refer to that week in February 1951 when democracy was ushered in. Frequent changes in the government and an array of incidents delayed the conduct of the first general elections that eventually took place in 1959, in which the Nepali Congress won an overwhelming majority.

 

February 1951 marks a special occasion for all Nepalis, irrespective of their particular ideology or bent of approach. It laid down the foundation of a new zeal and determination among the people to openly aspire for a qualitatively better life. On the eve of Democracy Day this week, which marks the ushering in of a new dawn in political freedom six and a half decades ago, Nepalis are inherently exhorted to make a quick and critical review of the period so that lessons are imbibed from the past and initiatives taken accordingly to steer the present national course and ensure a better future.

 

Having been fed promises most of the time all these years that witnessed different forms of polities and various sets of rulers, the people are desperate for measures that visibly improve their living standards in terms of meeting their basic needs like health, education, shelter and employment. They want positive action with visible results, and by no means merely slogans not seriously intended to be fulfilled.

An honest assessment of the prevailing situation is, therefore, essential for new policies and effective initiatives. Democracy, after all, is in delivery, i.e., translating into action what is pledged to the public. Honesty is the first step to positive integrity—political or otherwise. Honesty and sincerity are what sustain integrity.

One of the major means of empowering the people is through maximum popular participation. This means informing the citizens extensively and at the earliest possible time. Any pro-people government abiding by a Constitution that guarantees freedom of expression and right to information engages in a proactive drive for taking the public into confidence through essential requisites of democratic governance like transparency and accountability together with relentless efforts at economic development, among other things. Corruption in a functioning democracy has zero tolerance. 

Looking forward

As a least developed country, Nepal trails behind most countries in many respects, including industrialisation, controlling corruption and employment generation. The world’s No. 1 economy, China is an immediate neighbour while the other immediate neighbour, India, is a fast emerging economy. Well-planned policies, accompanied by long-term vision, should enable Nepal to benefit from the two giant neighbours’ economic march.

At the same time, political determination, supplemented by consistent approach to issues and policies, should steer the country to an extensive diversification of trade while tourism and hydro-power potentials need to be tapped with far greater foresight and matching action than witnessed so far. A firm check on corruption and faithful priority to meritocracy in all sectors and at all levels will definitely boost more effective resource mobilisation and accelerated development pace.

Generation of employment is the most important requisite for the people to be convinced that something durably substantive is round the corner. Acceleration of economic activity and a high degree of employment generation will ensure the stability of a political system, failing which things totter and credibility of the political actors takes a steep fall, aggravating popular disenchantment.

Blaming the past alone does not befit leaders who are slow in meeting some of the promises made to the people, with convincing reassurances that the pace would be stepped up in the ensuing times. Shirking responsibility will not do. The 1950s recorded many leaders who were engaged too much in blaming the more than century of Rana oligarchy. The 1960s through the 1970s and 1980s bore endless criticism of not only the Ranas but also the various party governments during the decade of the 1950s. The 1990s marked vehement criticism of the partyless Panchayat for the slow development activity. Criticisms, however essential, cannot be a substitute for positive action delivery of the promised services to the people.

Clearly, the buck must stop somewhere. Even the best of efforts will find the task ahead very challenging. If lop-sided moves and arguments based mainly on technicalities and opposition for the sake of opposition are to continue at a time when coalition culture is becoming a common feature in forming a government, the script unfolded will read the same old story with only actors changing on stage.

A minimum degree of cooperation from all major sections of the political spectrum and other sectors is, therefore, essential for political stability, democratic functioning of an effective type and economic prosperity—a dream cherished by the Nepalis since the first dawn of democracy.  

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