Friday, March 30, 2012

Class Conflict behind Political Crisis

Yuba Nath Lamsal

With less than two months remaining for the promulgation of a new constitution, black clouds of uncertainty hover in the political sky of Nepal. This is because parties are still not able to arrive at a common ground on some national issues. Now time is running short and the job of writing and promulgating a new constitution would not be possible unless the parties work on war-footing. However, chances to complete this historic task appear to be slim given the lackluster progress made in the constitution writing and the peace process.

These tasks are being entangled in the cobweb of political intrigues and crisis of trust. The political parties do not trust one another. This deficit of trust among political forces is attributed to undependable and vacillating behavior of leaders and discrepancy in their words and works. Parties and leaders hardly practice what they pronounce. They say something and do something else in practice. This is the principal reason for the present political deadlock in Nepal.

Now parties have their own calculation and they are weighing every possibility out of which they are trying to reap political benefit. Parties have different priorities and preferences on different political agenda. Even then there is no unanimous opinion within any party on some national issues. All parties are divided on each and every national issue. This is the reason why parties have not been able to come up with their unanimous official version on various issues. When there is no unanimity within a party, it would be unwise to expect consensus and unanimity among parties of different ideologies and orientation.

Federalism is the most pressing issue that has kept the parties divided. The parties have their own agenda and stance on federal structure. Now federalism has been a new political lingua franca of Nepal and no party can go against this. Previously, federalism was the agenda of the Maoists alone but it has become a national agenda after Jana Andolan II as all parties have accepted federalism. The Interim Constitution has clearly defined Nepal as a federal democratic republic.

But federalism was accepted without comprehensive and extensive nationwide debate on its pros and cons. Leaders and parties, except the Maoists, were not aware what federalism in Nepal would be like. The Maoists had clear concept and vision about federalism and they pushed for transforming Nepal from a unitary state to federal structure. When the Maoists were fighting a guerilla war to abolish the monarchy and establish a federal republic, other parties, too, agreed to Maoist agendas including federalism to spearhead movement against king’s absolute regime. The Maoists raised the issue of federalism with their calculated political move. The Maoists correctly analyzed the political and ethno-cultural situation of Nepal and decided to extract political mileage from the existing ethno-lingual-cultural conflict and contradictions in the country. This is behind Maoists’ agenda of ethnicity-based federal structure in which they are successful and received overwhelming response and support from the hitherto oppressed groups and people belonging to different ethnic and lingual community. This was well reflected in the Constituent Assembly election in which the UCPN-Maoist emerged as the largest party.

There is no going back from federalism and all parties have, willy-nilly, accepted it. But they are being polarized into two camps—ethnicity based federalism vs federalism on the basis of economic viability. Forces pushing for ethnicity-based federalism are in favor of relatively greater number of federal states to accommodate the demands of more ethnic groups. The other camp is of the view that there should be minimum number of federal provinces in order to make federalism economically viable.

The first category of force that is pushing for ethnicity based federalism includes the UCPN-Maoists, Madhesi parties and various ethnic, lingual and indigenous communities. The second category comprises of the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and other parties. But ethnic and indigenous leaders of the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML are also exerting pressure on the leadership to change their stance and position and accept ethnicity-based federalism. Both the camps have their own logics and reasons for and against the ethnicity-based federalism. But the situation is slowly developing in such a way that the voice for federalism in ethnic line is gaining ground because of pressure from the ethnic and indigenous groups.

Republican set-up and federalism are the two radical agendas that the Jana Andolan II has established. And these are the historic achievements that have brought about a new era in Nepal’s political history. One more issue that the Jana Andolan II has settled in Nepal’s political history is the election to the Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution. All previous movements and struggles had been aborted before they completely achieved their goals. The earlier movements had been ended in compromise and the old system and practices were given continuity with some cosmetic changes in the political front. The 1951 movement had the goal of a systemic and radical change in Nepal’s political landscape. But the movement was aborted through Delhi Accord which dashed the hopes of revolutionary people of Nepal for a radical change that included abolition of feudal system and total transfer of power from the Rana oligarchy to the people. The power was simply transferred from Rana family clan to Shah clan and people were deprived of their basic political rights of writing their constitution and determining their destiny. The demand for constituent assembly to write the constitution with the objective of making the people masters of their own destiny had been raised right in 195i. But this demand was rejected in collusion with the feudal monarchy, reactionary parties and external forces. The revolution remained incomplete, which required another decisive revolution for a total change that would make the people the real master of their country. Even limited rights that 1951 cosmetic change had granted were denied through a royal coup in 1961 in which the king took over absolute power and restricted parties and their activities. In the name of Panchayat, the king ruled the country with iron fist denying the people with their basic rights for over 30 years. Deeply disenchanted with the king’s move, people had been organized for a decisive struggle. But the king’s regime was successful in dividing the political forces and people under various pretexts and weakened the movement. On the one hand, people and political forces slowly realized the necessity of a joint action against the King’s absolute regime, the reactionary regime also fell into crisis from within because of contradictions among various interest groups in the Panchayat and conflict of Panchayat with external forces, on the other. This paved a favorable way for a movement and the 1990 political change took place. In 1990 too, the movement was ended in compromise in which it was agreed for the retention of monarchy and establishment of multi-party system.

The 1990 political change definitely marked the reduction of power of the monarchy, which was taken by the king and his loyalists with indignation. Since then the royalists had been seeking an opportune time to hit back and regain their lost power. The parties mainly the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML failed to envision the looming dictatorial danger. As a result, the dictatorial sword fell on the political parties and the people in 2003 as Gyanendra Shah imposed his absolute regime. This incident opened the eyes of the political parties which, then, joined hands with the Maoists to overthrow the monarchy.

This was the beginning of the real rupture in Nepali politics that transformed Nepal from unitary system to federal structure and monarchical dictatorship to republican democracy. The parties now have the manadate to formally institutionalize this political rupture, which is the achievement of Jana Andolan II.

However, there is a new ruckus among the political parties, which has mainly to do with which political force is to take credit of this political transition. Every party wants to complete this process under its leadership so that interests of its class would be best protected and its influence in the national politics would be dominant. Thus class interests have played fundamental role in the present political situation which is the main reason behind the deadlock.

The clash of class interests does not seem to be settled so easily and so soon. As long as this situation continues to remain, the situation of uncertainty would also continue to exist in the Nepali politics. The constitution writing and peace process are closely linked with this class conflict. If constitution has to be written in time, the class conflict would have to be settled, for which political forces belonging to different classes, must make compromises and arrive at a common point.

Militarization in South Asia

Yuba Nath Lamsal

Militarization has been a part of strategic culture in South Asia and war its end result. All South Asian states were created by the use of brutal force. South Asian countries fought both internal and external wars on various occasions. Before British arrived in South Asia and controlled most part of the region, there were numerous states and principalities that fought one another to have their dominant position. Lured by abundance of natural resources and material wealth, outsiders invaded South Asia. Greeks, Alexander the Great, Mugals and British colonial rulers were some of external invaders that attacked and controlled South Asia to name a few. The war was a part of South Asian culture as military power was the critical component of the rulers. However, it was only the northern empire or China that never exhibited its territorial appetite in South Asia.

It is not only external forces and powers with which South Asian countries had to fight on different occasions, but the countries in the region also fought wars among themselves. Nepal has never been a direct colony and it has always refrained from being under control of any external power. But it has the bitter but proud experience of fighting war with its neighbors to defend its territorial integrity. Nepal fought several wars with Tibet and a decisive war with British colonial power that had its dominant presence in South Asia.

British colonial rulers in South Asia built a military culture and created a strong armed force with the help of which they controlled large swath of land in the region. India has given continuity to the military legacy and doctrine that British left in South Asia. As a result, South Asia, already one of the poorest regions of the world, is becoming a heavily militarized zone. South Asia is the region with three nuclear powered countries— China, India and Pakistan and arms race is picking up in an alarming level with some powerful countries competing to build-up their conventional as well as nuclear arms and ammunition. The over-spending on defense at the expense of other social service sectors like health, education, food security and development, South Asia is likely to turn into a dangerous region in the world with nuclear bombs always hovering over the heads of over one fifth of humanity.

This arms race and military build-up in the region has sent a shock wave to the people in South Asia. The smaller and weaker countries of South Asia are feeling more and more vulnerable. The over-spending on defense is their misplaced priority rendering people more insecure and vulnerable. The governments which have over-emphasized on militarization try to justify their move in the name of ensuring security of their people and defense of the country. In reality, the military power can never ensure people’s security, which has been a proven fact. A country cannot be saved and defended only on military strength. The case of Soviet Union should teach us a good lesson. The Soviet Union was a super power and had powerful military capable of destroying the entire world. But it could not prevent the country from being disintegrated. Now Soviet Union has been disintegrated into many states. Thus, the over spending in military and over-emphasis on military power only augments insecurity among its own people as well as in the neighborhood. Over-spending on military bleeds national economy as it would compel to cut budget in social sectors like health, education and development.

The latest case is India’s decision to hike defense spending and its arms procurement. Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, presenting annual budget for the fiscal 2012-13 on March 16, 2012, hiked the defense outlays to 1,93,4.729 billion Indian rupees or 40.44 billion US dollars, which is almost 18 per cent hike compared to last year’s defense budget. India’s hike in defense budget is one of the highest increases in recent years.

India’s move came under the pretext of countering military build-up by China and Pakistan. But in reality, this is not justifiable. Pakistan does not match with India in terms of military weapons and manpower and it does in no way intend to be at par with India on military strength. What Pakistan is doing is to maintain only deterrence. India’s hike in military expenditure and increased import of sophisticated military hardware will definitely compel Pakistan to spend more money on the modernization of its army and weaponry and divert the tax-payers’ money into arms purchase. So far as India’s claim to counter China’s military build-up is concerned, Beijing’s military strength is too large for India to counter. China does in no way compete with India. Its competition is with the United States and its allies. China’s military modernization and consolidation is entirely for defensive purpose which Beijing has time and again stated.

But China is suspicious about India’s military intention and ambition. This is because New Delhi has already brought the United States of America—China’s military and economic rival—to India in the name of India-US strategic partnership. Already suspicious from the strong American military presence in the Pacific region including Japan, South Korea and other countries in the East Asia and also in the South China Sea, Beijing has taken the India-US strategic partnership as a move to encircle China from all sides. In all practical purpose, New Delhi’s intention was to intimidate China by brining the United States. Moreover, the anti-China activities that are being instigated by western countries with support from New Delhi has made China further cautious. With US-India military alliance getting closer and stronger, China, too, will be left with no alternative other than further strengthening and modernizing its armed forces in order to counter the newly emerged security challenge in the vicinity. This is likely to lead to further armed race in South Asia.

India’s large increase in the defense budget has had its negative impact on various sectors and also sent a negative message to its immediate neighborhood and also beyond. While, Pakistan and China have already taken India’s recent decisions and moves with extra caution, other South Asian countries have viewed these developments with much indignation. Already feeling insecure and bullied by India’s high handedness and meddling in small South Asian countries, the hike in defense budget and increased arms import of India has further added a sense of insecurity and fear in the entire region.

India is world’s largest arms purchasing country. A Swedish think tank organization, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), released its well researched report on March 20 this year in which it has stated “India is the world’s largest recipient of arms…India’s imports of major weapons increased by 38 percent between 2002-06 and 2007-11.” New Delhi’s imports of arms include several new equipments ranging from combat aircraft to submarines and artillery.

In recent years, India has bought reconnaissance aircraft from the Boeing worth 2.1 billion-dollars and medium range missiles for 1.4 billion dollars from Israel. So far as New Delhi is not only purchasing arms from Israel but also having strategic and military partnership with the Jewish state. According to reports, Israel has agreed to share its military expertise with India in various fields such as surveillance satellites and space exploration. This is yet other move to intimidate Muslim countries in South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. In practice, Indian defense expenditures have no bounds. In the past decade, India has spent billions of dollars on purchases of arms, planes, radars and ships from the US, Russia, Britain, Germany, Israel, France and other western countries.

Given India’s ambitious defense and military build-up, a Washington-based think tank, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), exposed India’s military intention. The Center has revealed in its report “India’s defense budget has roughly quadrupled since 2001—reaching $36.3 billion in the 2011–2012 budget. Of the total defense budget, approximately 40 percent (some $14.5 billion) is allocated to the defense capital outlay budget.”

Currently more than half of India’s budget is allocated for armed forces, but its major portion is being spent on defense purchases, which leaves less than half for everything else including infrastructure development projects, education, healthcare, poverty alleviation, and various human services. New Delhi’s latest arms purchases will leave even less for what India needs most to lift hundreds of millions of its citizens from abject poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease. Analysts have dubbed India’s ballooning defense budget at the expense of investment in social and economic sectors is nothing other than preference to gun than butter.

Despite being the tenth largest economy in terms of size of the GDP, India is the country of the largest number of poor people. The Indian establishment has not been able to deliver basic services to tens of millions of poor people, who live under sub-human condition. A United Nations report states that India ranks 134th of 182 countries on the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index. It estimated that 50 per cent of the world’s undernourished population lives in India. Nearly 31 per cent of the billion-plus Indians earn less than a dollar a day. But in the name of consolidating its security, it has siphoned off money to defense contracts and arms import. This has two objectives: one is to benefit the arms dealers and politicians through the contract and commissions. The second is to dilute and divert public anger against the government into other areas. The third one is to further intimidate the neighbors and maintain its hegemony in the neighborhood. Thus, the hike in defense budget and heavy procurement of arms is not going to make people feel secure when a large number of people are dying and starving. Instead, it would create human insecurity at home and sent a message of threat to the neighbors.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Insurgencies and counter-insurgencies in South Asia

Yuba Nath Lamsal

South Asia is a region of both insurgencies and counter insurgencies. All South Asian states tend to equate insurgency with terrorism. Their definition of insurgency is to justify their counter-insurgency. The states define insurgency as terrorism and counter-insurgency as their campaign to protect the life and property of the people. However, not all insurgencies are terrorism. Most insurgencies are of political nature that seek to establish their rights. Reactionary and dictatorial rulers define insurgencies as the act of terrorism as a pretext to crush people’s genuine revolt through violent means. But the insurgents have their own language and words to define the insurgency and counter insurgency. According to them, insurgency is revolution to liberate people from the clutches of exploitation. But not all insurgencies are political movement or revolution.

Insurgency and counter-insurgency are two sides of a coin. When there is insurgency, there will be counter insurgency. At the same time, when there is inequality, discrimination, exploitation, injustice, suppression and denial of rights to the people, insurgency or revolt are bound to take place. That is what South Asian countries are experiencing. All south Asian countries have in a way or the other facing this problem although nature and manifestation of insurgencies vary depending on the objective reality and situation of a particular country in the region.

Insurgencies have their own logics. Insurgencies are launched by a non-state sector or by organized political or other groups. The objectives of insurgencies are different. Political organizations and parties launch insurgency for political reasons, while others have their own objective and rationale—which may or may not be vindicated. Some are really fanatic groups that are using violence and threat just to terrorize the people. These groups are purely terrorist outfits which must be condemned and countered by all means. The dictatorial states often equate political insurgencies with activities of fanatic and terrorist groups. More often than not all counter-insurgencies are waged by nation-states to subjugate minorities or marginalized communities' struggle for self-determinism and political freedom and human rights. Various clever mechanisms are being employed by the state to continue with the exercise of centralized and oppressive control. In the name of counter insurgency, many states have built up and deployed armed forces so that the interests of the rulers are served. The interests of the rulers are manifold in counter-insurgency drive. Firstly, they want to wipe out opposition and threat to their rule. Secondly, they want to reap commercial benefit by awarding lucrative contract on purchase of arms and other security related equipment. The rulers deliberately want a pretext for such commercial and political benefit for which counter insurgency is a boon. In the name of counter-insurgency, the reactionary and dictatorial regimes often resort to systematic use of violence against the local communities aiming at creating an environment of fear and facilitating subjugation and eradication of those who join the struggle for self-determination. This violence is often so selective that it targets the particular social group or minority community that has been fighting a liberation war. The Kashmiris in Jammu and Kashmir in India, Naxalites, Nagas, Mizos, Manipuris etc in India, Baluchi people in Balochistan of Pakistan, the Tamil speaking people in North and East of Sri Lanka, Nepali speaking Bhutanese mostly living in southern Bhutan are all victims of such counter-insurgencies of brutal state forces which in other words may be called as state terrorism.

If we look at the cases of individual country in the region, we find both commonality as well as stark difference in the nature and objective of insurgency. Each and every country is in turmoil due to conflict and insurgency of different nature. Only recently, the tiny atoll nation of the Maldives saw a chain of events that have far-reaching impact on this country’s political and democratic development. The democratic set up established only in 2008 saw a rollback to dictatorship because of a bloodless coup engineered by loyalists of the previous dictatorial regime. The democratically elected President of Maldives was forced to resign at gun point by the security forces. Since then protests and political conflicts are regular phenomenon. As of now, the situation in this tiny country is under control, but there are simmering grievances which may erupt into violent insurgency if the conflict and grievances are not addressed and resolved in time.

Afghanistan is currently worst hit by insurgency and wars. As a part of international war on terror, multi-national (NATO) forces are in Afghanistan which are trying to maintain peace and order in this country through the use of force. However, foreign troops and Afghanistan’s regimes have not been able to restore peace order. Incidents of attacks, fights and explosions are daily occurrences. The international troops arrived at Kabul to wipe out Taliban Islamic extremists from Afghanistan but Taliban are the major security threat not only to Afghan regime but also to the entire western world. The Taliban are definitely down but not totally out. There is a strong likelihood that once the foreign troops leave Afghanistan, Taliban may again capture power sooner or later.

Pakistan is another country that has been badly suffering from violent insurgency. Islamic militants are waging an armed insurgency against the government of Pakistan. Pakistan has been working hard to contain Islamic insurgency and terrorism but has not been fully successful in completely curbing violence in this country.

Sri Lanka has just recovered from the long civil war that was fought on ethnic line. The minority Tamils waged a deadly armed insurgency against the government dominated by Simhala majority. In some points of its insurgency, Tamils had gained upper hand. As a result, the Tamil Tigers had been dubbed as world’s deadliest fighting machine. But recently, the government has been successful in defeating and totally wiping out the Tamil separatists. The core strategy of Sri Lankan government’s counter-insurgency was an attempt to weaken the resistance by disrupting the demographic composition of the Tamil dominated areas through destroying the continuity in traditional settlements pattern. One cannot accept the objective of the Tamil insurgents as they sought a separate Tamil state out of Sri Lanka and they did not enjoy mass support, which ultimately led to their defeat. Sri Lankan government had applied brutal force, which was subject of condemnation. But the objective and modus operandi of the Tamil insurgents were more dangerous.

Bhutan is often called as a Himalayan Shangri-la. But Bhutan is no longer a Shangri-la. The Dragon kingdom is boiling from within as there are simmering differences and grievances inside Bhutan. For the last one and a half decade, people of Bhutan are seeking democracy and freedom. More than 1,00,000 Bhutanese of Nepalese were forced to flee simply because they demanded freedom of expression, democracy, religious and cultural freedom.
Although Bhutan now claims to be a democratic country, its democracy is merely cosmetic and people are yet to see real democracy. As Bhutan applied brutal force to suppress the demand of democracy, freedom, religious, ethnic and cultural rights of its people, some armed groups have reportedly been created in order to launch armed insurgency so that Bhutanese rulers would be forced to accept genuine democracy.

Nepal is yet another country that experienced height of insurgency in the past. The UCPN-Maoist launched an armed insurgency seeking to overthrow the monarchical system and establish a republic democracy. More than 13,000 people were killed in the decade-long insurgency in Nepal. Now monarchy has been abolished and federal democratic republic established in Nepal. The insurgency has now come to an end following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Treaty four years ago. But chances of revival of insurgency cannot be totally ruled out as a section of the Maoist is talking of insurgency. Moreover, the political process that is underway in Nepal has not moved ahead as it had been expected. Many ethnic and other groups have come up with their own set of demands and demanding that their concerns be addressed in the new constitution. It appears impossible to address all demands of all groups. This situation is likely to invite fresh round of conflict in Nepal.

The other country that has been facing fierce insurgency is India. Insurgencies of different kinds are taking place in India. These insurgencies are of different nature. The Maoist insurgency is principal domestic security threat. Insurgencies of different nature are taking place in Kashmir, Nagaland, Gorkhaland and north eastern part of India. Kashmiri people are fighting for the right to self-determination. Nagaland insurgency is seeking a separate Nagaland state and so are insurgencies in the north east of India. India is currently is the country of numerous insurgencies,

Insurgency is the violent expression of grievances. If the state or the government does not try to address and resolve the genuine grievances of the people politically, it may ultimately have serious repercussion on country’s unity and territorial integrity. The counter-insurgency approach that the countries of South Asia have adopted may weaken insurgency temporarily but people’s grievances would continue to grow which would be counterproductive in the long-run for country’s security and unity. Thus, effective political tools and method of negotiation are the best approach not to address the concerns of the agitating groups and forces and bring them to political mainstream. The South Asian countries are, thus, expected to apply the political method of negotiation in order to deal with insurgency that will alone ensure peace and stability in the region.

Political parties and democracy

By Yuba Nath Lamsal

It is said that political parties are necessary evils. Many people may not like the way the parties are acting. But the political parties are needed for the sustenance of democracy because democratic polity does not function without vibrant political parties. Any political system without political parties cannot be called democratic polity. Democracy is the political system that requires competition among different political actors which alone makes the system functioning and accountable to the people.

Key Component

People’s participation is a key component of democratic system. People’s participation can be best assured and guaranteed only in democracy. It is the political parties through which the people’s participation and sustainability of system is possible. In the absence of political parties, mobilisation of the people and ensuring their active participation in the political and developmental process would be next to impossible. Participation and institution are two part of a coin. Political system is an institution or platform and people’s participation is action. Participation without institution is often chaotic which is likely to serve only a handful of ruling elites but not the larger mass of the people.

Similarly, institution without participation would prove to be meaningless and hollow exercise that only breeds dictatorship and authoritarian tendency. Thus, democracy and people’s participation are so closely interlinked that one cannot exist in the absence of another. Indeed, democracy cannot survive without vibrant people’s participation and genuine people’s participation may not be possible in the absence of real and functioning democracy.

Fair participation within a framework of legitimate institution enables citizens to express their opinion and grievances as well as defend their interests without any kind of fear. This is the best approach to hold officials accountable to the people, which is a must in democracy. Political parties are also institution through which democratic exercises are conducted. Parties are, therefore, both institution as well vehicle to ensure vibrant and competitive people’s participation in political process. In democracy, different political parties and interest groups exist and they compete among them to have upper hand in politics and grab state power. The parties have different ideologies, political orientation and goals. The parties pursue different policies and programmes to achieve the goal set in the ideology. Herein lies the fundamental differences and competition among parties. If the parties have compatible ideology, goals and orientation, they cease to remain separate parties. But the case of Nepal is different as there are different parties with similar ideology, identical goals and uniformed orientation.

The parties often compete and sometimes cooperate. Election is the highest form of competition among political process. But more shrewd competition is required in the sphere of governance and only the party or parties that fare better in service delivery would win the heart of the people and become dominant in politics. Put simply, the political parties are the main vehicle and driving force to mobilize people and ensure wider popular participation in the political process that, in real sense, energises the democratic process and strengthens democratic polity.

It has been widely accepted the crucial role of political parties in the democratic political process. Political system is a body whereas political parties are its soul. If the role of the political parties is minimised or political parties are marginalised, democratic system automatically gets weakened, which naturally becomes vulnerable to assault from dictators. It is this reason why dictators first attack the political parties and tarnish the public image of principal leaders to portray negative image of the parties and leaders in the eyes of voters and the people. Once they are able to ruin the image of parties and their leaders, it becomes easier to destroy the democratic system and institutions. This was the exact case when feudal monarchy trampled democratic system and imposed dictatorship in 1960 and again in 2005 in Nepal.

Nepal is currently passing through a political transition and is in new political process. Political transition is always painful but its outcome can be blissful provided positive results are borne out. In the same manner, Nepal is in the political labour pain and it is trying hard to give birth to a vibrant political system that could make democratic and republican system irreversible and people’s fundamental rights well entrenched into our daily life. But the way developments are unfolding in our political landscape, it breeds more frustration than enthusiasm and optimism.

The ongoing political process, which is also called the peace process, began five years ago and was expected to be complete within two years. It was called peace process because the very objective of the entire exercise was to institutionalise peace and democratic achievements. However, it’s been more than five years since the peace process began but the political crisis continues to linger on.

Given the critical nature of politics and conflict when the peace process began, it was not wise enough to expect the completion of the entire exercise in two years. The political exercise was not just for a regime change but a systemic transformation—transformation from monarchical system to republic set up and from unitary state to a federal mechanism. It takes long and adequate time to resolve disputes on different issues and arrive at a conclusion concerning political, systemic and governmental transformation. It was a near-sight, immaturity and tendency of taking everything for granted of our political parties that has given rise to uncertainty and confusion in the country and distrust among the political parties.

Key Concerns

As political parties are the key players as well as principal stakeholders of the ongoing political process, they must lead this process forward. Peace, stability and security are the key concerns of the people. However, the parties’ efforts appear to be mere perfunctory. Its raison d’ĂȘtre is the deficit of trust among the parties.

The political parties not only compete among one another but at times they collaborate on certain national issues. The parties compete during election and in the process of governance. They compete to justify the validity and worth of their ideology, political policies and programmes and also their ability to translate them into action. They compete to prove that they are better and more capable in the delivery of services. But they are required to collaborate and cooperate at the time of national crisis.

The present situation of Nepal is definitely critical one. In this critical juncture of history, Nepal needs more collaboration and cooperation of parties rather than unhealthy competition and rivalry. There could be a rivalry and competition among the parties to have their agenda included in the new constitution. But rivalry in the entire process and attempt to link the political process with the government is definitely harmful. The priorities of the country at present are the constitution writing and conclusion of the ongoing peace process, which are and should be the priority of all political parties. There should be positive rivalry and competition among parties as to who can make more meaningful and better contribution to accomplishing these twin tasks. But the parties have linked the entire process with government and power. What we have seen is the tendency of political parties to pursue the constitution writing and peace process when they are in power and create obstacle when in opposition. This is the fundamental obstacle on the path of completing the political process in the country and herald a new era of peace and stability. This tendency has arisen out of deficit of trust among the parties.

Competition and collaboration among the parties are equally important that alone can make democracy vibrant. But our parties collaborate on issues in which they must have stiff competition and they compete when they are required to collaborate. On issues concerning perks and facilities, they collaborate, no matter whatever it is. But they clash on national issues and pursue with their own partisan agenda be it peace, constitution or country’s security, economic and foreign policy. This exhibits what parties’ priorities are and where from they are being operated. There are two clear sets of forces in the country. One is progressive force that wants clear rupture with the past and wants to begin afresh with radical change in all fronts. There is another force that is desperately seeking status quo. The clash of these two sets of forces is behind the political deadlock which has made the country hostage. Now the time has come for the people to rise once again and exert pressure on the status quoist forces not to block the political process but accept the changes and transformation so that the country would march forward with radical and progressive agenda. This would be the basis of a stable, peaceful and prosperous Nepal.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Nepali Politics: Dispute On Non-Issue

Yuba Nath Lamsal

Political parties are the key players in a democracy. In the modern political life of any country and society, political parties serve as lifeblood. The parties are principal instruments that must have the responsibility of mobilizing different interest groups into a democratic polity that fosters competitive governance and peaceful co-existence. Democratic polity is the system that ensures better access for the people to political and decision-making process. The parties that prove their worth in this competitive process and win the hearts of the people by better delivering services can be established in politics and prosper. The failure in these acid tests, parties and leaders would be destined to perish and finally dumped into the trash of history.

The political system can be worth calling democracy only when people feel ownership over the political process and decision-making. People feel ownership in the political system only when their participation is better ensured in the political and the decision-making process in practical sense. The fundamental duty of the parties is to bring more and more people to the systemic activities of the political process.

Democracy is the political system that is owned by the people, creates mechanism to work for the overall interest of the people and ensures that people are involved in the political and decision-making process. This is why democracy is said to be the system of the people, operated by the people for the interest of the people. In the Athenian government of early days, all adult citizens used to directly participate in the political process. The Athenian democracy is described as the mother of democratic exercise in the world. Citizens of Athens used to assemble in one place and decide each and every issue by majority. This is called direct democracy. The direct democracy is also called pure democracy, in which citizens vote directly on matters of public concern and every adult citizen takes part in decision-making process. However, the direct democracy may not be possible in the modern politics because of complicated demographic pattern and social structure. Its place has been taken by indirect, which is also called representative democracy. In representative democracy, citizens elect their representatives who take part in political and decision-making process on behalf of their electorates. In other words, this is called a surrogate democracy.

With surrogate democracy being in vogue in the modern world, the fundamental essence of democracy has withered away. The people participate in political process in elections which are held occasionally in four, five or six years. People’s participation is sought only in election and people go to oblivion until another election is held. The representatives make decision and reap benefits in the name of people but electorates are neither aware of the decisions made by their representatives nor do they, in reality, have their consent. The term democracy is, thus, being abused by a handful of elites who claim to be representatives of the people.

Even not all elections are free and fair. Most election are stolen and votes bought. Still they claim that elections are democratic. In this way, modern day democracy is distorted and perverted. How can such political system be called a democratic? Is this the participation of the people? Can people feel ownership over the system and government that is formed on the basis of such fraudulent elections? But people are maimed to accept these systems as democracy. This is not the case of a particular country but a general trend in most of the developing countries where money, muscle power and manipulation of state apparatus have greater say in politics and electoral process.

Against this background a great debate is underway in Nepal as to what should be the best model of democracy in the present context in which people will have their ownership. With the date for the promulgation of a new constitution drawing closer, this debate has further intensified. However, there is no unanimity on which model of democracy would be best suited to Nepal.

Nepal’s political forces are being polarized into two camps so far as the model and definition of democracy is concerned. One powerful section is of the view that the western capitalist system or multi-party polity is the best option to sustain democratic system in Nepal. But there is equally strong view that multi-party system is capitalist and bourgeoisie democracy which is not genuine democracy that can solve the fundamental problems of the people. According to this school of thought, ‘people’s democracy’ or ‘new democracy’ is the best system that addresses the genuine concerns and solves the fundamental problems of the people. The multi-party democracy is the system that is being practiced in the western capitalist countries whereas the new democracy is akin to what China introduced after the success of 1949 revolution under the banner of Communist Party of China.

The first category of political forces that advocate the capitalist democracy or multi-party system include the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Madhesi parties and some other fringe groups. The other force that is opposed to the western type of multi-party democracy or capitalist democracy comprises mainly the UCPN-Maoist. Recently, the Maoists seem to have backtracked from their stance and accepted the multi-party system but with some changes and modifications. They want to give it a different name as their face saving device. More or less, the western model of parliamentary democracy, which communists describe as a capitalist and bourgeoisie democracy, has been accepted as a political model to be adopted by Nepal. But there are still differences among political parties on the exact form under the western multi-party democracy.

There are mainly three models of multi-party democracy in the world, although some argue that there are as many models of democracy as there are democratic countries in the world . The British system, which is called parliamentary or Westminster type of democracy, US model or presidential system and French model or mixed system are the three major models of democracy under capitalist multi-party system. The political models Switzerland and South Africa are practicing are also taken as alternative to three models that are being experimented in the world. But Swiss and South African models do not present any special features to be called the alternative systems.

The present debate in Nepal is not between the systemic models based on ideological divide but between different sets under the western capitalist system. The Nepali Congress is determined not to move an inch from its stance of parliamentary democracy or Westminster model. The Congress is of the view that in a newly emerged democracy, the best model is parliamentary form which maintains perfect checks and balances among three branches of government. It is true that checks and balances are necessary for a functioning democracy which would prevent any kind of dictatorial tendency in the leadership or government. In parliamentary system like that of United Kingdom, India, Japan and a few other countries, the prime minister commands the executive powers whereas the head of the state is titular with no power to exercise. The Prime Minister is elected by parliament who can remain in office as long as he commands support of parliament. In that sense, the government is in the control of elected representatives of the people and the prime minister is accountable to parliament.

The UCPN-Maoist is advocating presidential system like that of the United States in which president is directly elected from the people for a certain period. The directly elected president cannot be removed by parliament in between, which may ensure more stability. In a country like Nepal where caste, regional and ethnic politics has a dominant role, there are higher chances of hung parliament which would breed ground for frequent changes of government and instability. The marked political instability that Nepal witnessed in the past is attributed to the inherent flaws in the parliamentary system that Nepal adopted after 1951 political change and in 1990. If the country has to see stability, presidential system, according to UCPN-Maoist, is the best option. However, both the systems have their own merits and demerits. It is true that parliamentary system is more likely to invite political instability which was evident in the past. The advocate of parliamentary system have pointed out the danger of emergence of dictatorial tendency in presidential system because, according to their argument, the executive president should not be accountable to any institution. This argument may be right to certain extent but this is not absolutely true. Even parliamentary system sometimes may lead to dictatorial tendency. In parliamentary system, the prime minister has the right to dissolve parliament, which is used as a weapon to tame the House. In the presidential system, the executive president does not enjoy this right.

In between these two sharp and conflicting views, a proposal has come up from the CPN-UML for a mixed model like that of France in which the president is to be elected directly whereas prime minister to be elected from parliament. This is a middle way approach to resolve the dispute. Even in this system, the parties are not unanimous. There is a chance that parties may ultimately agree on the mixed model something akin to French system. But, in essence, there would not be any fundamental difference whichever model under the multi-party system we adopt.