Yuba Nath Lamsal
Democracy, in theory, is collective self-rule which implies that people oversee their affairs on the basis of collective consent. When it comes to practice, this has hardly been at work in the present complicated word. In ancient Athens, the true concept of democracy used to be practiced through the participation of all eligible citizens. Athenians would gather in the city center where they would collectively take decision on each and every issue of national significance. These decisions used to be binding for authorities and they had to implement without any question. In this self-functioning type of system or democracy, each electorate directly participated in the decision-making process and governance. This was called a direct democracy, which is the mother of democracy in the world.
With the march of time, the social fabric, demographic pattern and society itself underwent phenomenal change and transformation. With the demographic pressure, social structure and relations got complicated. The old systems that had been in practice for years, decades and centuries were replaced by the new and improvised ones to cope with the new changes in the social, political and cultural spheres and challenges. This also brought about a change in the thought process of the people, their style of functioning and decision-making.
The old system of practicing direct democracy became virtually impossible to implement in the present complicated world with the rapid population growth followed by urbanization of villages and cosmopolitanization of cities. The old system of direct democracy was replaced by the representative system in which electorates would choose their representatives to take decision on their behalf. This system is in vogue in the world at present which we call the liberal democracy.
The liberal democracy is being portrayed as the only legitimate political system of the people. The system of governance or liberal democracy was born and nurtured in the Western capitalist countries and was later put in test in other countries of the world, as well. Since it is their brain child, the Western countries champion, advocate and defend liberal democracy and try to establish and institutionalize it in the world as the best democratic system of governance. To them, any other form of political system challenging liberal democracy is tantamount to authoritarian system devoid of popular legitimacy. However, all other forms of system are not authoritarian and all political system based on Western political values alone may not necessarily signify genuine democracy.
Given the great debate going on in the global level, it seems that the dispute is focused not on the form and fashion of the political system but on values it champions. It is the clash between two value systems— the oriental and western values. In other words, the row is between individualism and collectivism and between the person and the community or society. The countries in the Western World are the advocate of individual rights and they have based quality and class of democracy on the level and extent of individual rights and freedom. However, the oriental countries focus more on community rights and interests than personal pursuit. This is the fundamental difference on the model and definition of democracy in the world.
On the definition as well as priority of rights, too, there is a marked difference and discrepancy. Western and Eastern societies are far apart on what should be the priorities of individual rights. Should the civil and political rights or right to life be the priority for an individual and government? The Eastern and the Western worlds are divided on this issue. The Western countries that espouse liberal democracy are of the view that individual freedom and rights make one free and ensure freedom and democracy. However, in the definition of Eastern countries, right to life, which includes access to and availability of food, housing, and clothes, are the basic rights of every individual. One has first to remain alive and grow healthy to enjoy other rights including the civil and political rights. In the absence of right to life, other rights become meaningless. This is what the socialist and communist countries and people also tend to believe. This divisive definition on democracy has led accusation and counter accusation between the supporters of Western liberal democracy and socialist/communist followers. The advocates of liberal democracy call the communists and socialist as tyrants because they deny civil and political rights in the name of guaranteeing right to life or economic and social rights. However, the socialists and communists deny the charges and instead dub the Western democracies as the mockery of democracy. They call the Western liberal democracy an exploitative system under which a handful of elites rule over the large majority of the people under the façade of democracy because the majority of people are deprived of basic necessities.
Both the views and thoughts have their own logics, which may or may not be true in real sense. But what is true is that an individual first needs to survive, grow and develop to enjoy other rights. An individual would be able to enjoy his or her democratic rights only when he or she is alive. In this sense, the right to life should be the paramount concern for every individual. The conditions that ensure one’s survival includes food, housing and cloths, which are the most fundamental human rights of every individual. Once the basic necessities for survival are guaranteed, one needs the right to access to health care facilities and education for his or her growth and development. These rights are required to be guaranteed in order to enable a person to exercise and enjoy one’s own freedom and civil and political rights. In contrast, however, those who champion individual freedom and rights are of the view that one is born free and must remain free irrespective of his or her economic background. According to them, freedom is an essence of humanity and one can prosper and progress only when one enjoys his or her free status and right. This debate has given rise to dive between the two different sets of ideologies which can be categorized into two groups: pro-right group and pro-life camp. Capitalists are pro-rights and socialists or communists are generally known as pro-life groups.
Amidst this raging debate, Nepal’s political pundits, parties and forces, too, are divided into pro-rights and pro-life ideologies. Being a communist party, the UCPN-Maoist leads the pro-life camp in Nepal. The Nepali Congress represents capitalists and forces that support liberal democracy and it is known as pro-rights group. All other parties are rallying behind and revolving around these two main forces. This ideological rivalry is the main cause of present political deadlock in the country. This sharp difference was more visible in the constitution-making process. As the Constituent Assembly and all other political agenda that are on table at present are definitely the Maoist agenda. The UCPN-Maoist wants to institutionalize these agendas and some other progressive provisions in the constitution that would ensure basic tenets of right to life and some structural changes in the political, social, cultural and economic system of the country. However, the Nepali Congress and its allies are not keen on structural change but want to maintain status quo with some cosmetic changes in political system. The showdown between these two forces was more visible when the issues of federalism and state restructuring had to be settled in the Constituent Assembly. This showdown not only stalled the entire political process that had started six years ago after the signing of the 18-point understanding followed by Comprehensive Peace Accord but also led to the demise of the popularly elected Constituent Assembly.
Now the situation in Nepal is so critical that anything can happen anytime if political forces do not realize and collectively act to find an amicable solution. Domestic reactionary elements and external powers are active to reap benefit out of this present uncertain situation. So the politicians need to come down from their perches and sit down across the negotiating table to sort out their differences and strategize the future course of action. The stubborn political and partisan divide under the guise of ideologies and political stance must be put on hold at least for the time being and focus entirely on finding the way out to save the country from falling into yet another crisis and conflict.