Democracy In Nepal Political Leadership Has Failed The Test : Mukti Rijal
It can henceforth be claimed that Nepal has become the foremost and youngest democratic republic of the 21st century through the abolition of the hereditary monarchy. This is no small political development in the contemporary world even if the dividends of this political leap have not yet percolated down to the level of the ordinary people. And very few countries have the distinction or the privilege to enroll in this category of nations though this is not well acknowledged or discussed enough in the contemporary discourse of political science.
Furthermore, the country has joined the league of federal nations, which is another epoch- making case of Nepal’s transformation from a unitary to a federal one. Theoretically, a democratic republic is itself a very proud, privileged and an enviable political status for any country. Such a country is studied well, and its political institutions become the subject of deeper political analysis in the country and abroad.
In today’s world, many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America are republics. But they are not democratic in the exact sense of the term. They are either dictatorships, quasi-dictatorships or theocratic regimes in broader terms. They may claim to be democratic, and may have some of the democratic trappings and features in their polity. But they are not essentially democratic, as these countries may not have democratic institutions in the substantive sense of the term.
They do not possess several attributes that a democratic country is supposed to have. These attributes are fair democratic elections, peaceful transfer of power, an independent press, a free and competent judiciary and respect for fundamental human rights. In many nations, power transfer through fair and democratic elections is very difficult to happen. The latest developments in some of the African and the Asian nations attest to it.
The democratic attributes well incorporated in Nepal’s new constitution worth noting are a free and vibrant press, independent judiciary and democratically elected government and so on. Democracy indeed connotes the rule of the people, for the people and by the people. A democracy can be of direct type or representative type.
Especially in the representative type of democracy as in Great Britain, decisions are taken by the representatives elected through majority vote. The majority power can often behave as if it were absolute and unlimited. The framers of the U.S. constitution, for example, had described majority power as excesses of democracy that can jeopardise the inalienable rights of citizens. Perhaps the U.S. constitution framers had before them the lone example of the United Kingdom where the parliament had been supreme. Thomas Jefferson, who was among the chief architects of the U.S. constitution had said, "An elective despotism was not the government we fought for."
But Indian democracy is the UK-type based on majority vote.
In Nepal, the new democratic republic constitution was enacted by the Constituent Assembly elected by the people. The Constituent Assembly included and represented the people from all walks and strata of national life. It mirrored the diversity, plurality and complexity of the country. In fact, when democracy is compounded with a republic it is understood to describe a government where most decisions are made with reference to the established laws rather than the discretion of the head of state. It is due to this reason that a republic is incompatible to the notion of hereditary monarchy.
A republic is thus closer to the concept of a limited, constitutional and inclusive government. The notion of republic underpins a constitutionally limited government created by a written constitution, with its powers divided between three separate branches: executive, legislative and judiciary. Conceptually, the notion of republic is wedded to the principle of separation of power with strong provisions of checks and balances. It is premised that the people form the republic form of government and grant to the government only limited powers primarily in order to secure their inalienable rights.
t is often said that the republic bars “the snob rule of a governing elite and the mob rule of the omnipotent majority". Both in principle and practice, a democratic republic presupposes the institutionalisation of limited constitutional governance in which citizens are sovereign and also the fountainhead of state power. Moreover, excessive power of the state organs is checked and balanced to secure, promote and protect the democratic rights and freedoms of the citizens.
As mentioned at the outset, Nepal’s new democratic constitution enshrines the principles of democratic governance as the fundamentals of the new constitutional law. However, it should be mentioned that a democratic republic is not merely a theoretical notion to be written on a piece of paper. It matters truly only if the rulers and citizens free up themselves from the practices and behaviours reflecting those of the feudal despots. Again to refer to Thomas Jefferson who had said that one despot in the form of a hereditary monarch can be more tolerable than many legislative despots who fail to follow the behaviour and cultural orientation befitting a democratic republic.
Crisis of governance
In the case of Nepal and many other new democracies, the basic problem lies in the political leadership twinned with a crisis of governance. The leadership fails to grasp the essence of democratic behaviour and orientation as a result of which several problems and issues do crop up. And when the working style, temperament and orientation of the political leaders and governing elite are not compatible with the values and norms of the democratic republic, functional legitimacy and credibility of the system can be questioned.