Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Question of ownership of political process

Yuba Nath Lamsal
The question of ownership over the current political process has emerged as a new issue that is likely to stall and complicate the constitution making process, although all political parties, at least in rhetoric, appear to be committed to early promulgation of the new constitution. This issue has come up more visibly only recently particularly after the November 2013 election results in which Nepali Congress emerged as the largest force while rendering the UCPN-Maoist into a distant third position. But it had always remained in the latent in Nepal’s political spectrum after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on November 21, 2006, through which political parties agreed to hold an election for a constituent assembly with the objective of writing the constitution of the country through the hands of people’s elected representatives.  Now parties have scrambled to own up this agenda as to who first propagated the idea of the constituent assembly in Nepal.
This polemics cropped up when Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, while speaking in a function organized to mark the democracy day last week, said the constituent assembly was the agenda of 1950-51 revolution, which has now come to fruition.  By saying this, Prime Minister Koirala, who is also the chief of the ruling Nepali Congress party, indirectly claimed that constituent assembly is his party’s agenda. These remarks irked the UCPN-Maoist as it claims that constituent assembly is its brain child and other parties including the Nepali Congress accepted it only under compulsion.
Before making any definite conclusion and judgment as to who is right and who is wrong, we need to go little back to history and analyze the events and developments after 1951. It was true that the then king Tribhuvan, who returned to Kathmandu after tripartite Delhi agreement, he had clearly said that a new constitution would be written by people’s representatives, which meant the election of the constituent assembly.  On 18 February 1951, King Tribhuvan announced Nepal’s first experiment of democracy with a historic proclamation which stated that the country would be governed under an interim constitutional arrangement until the people’s representatives wrote and delivered the constitution. But that day never came as king and the Nepali Congress did not think it necessary to hold the election to the constituent assembly to write the constitution rather they opted for parliamentary election. The decision to scuttle the constituent assembly election was more in the interest of the king because the constitution made by the constituent assembly could have curtailed king’s powers, which shrewd and ambitious king Mahendra did not want. The king proposed parliamentary election on the basis of the king’s constitution. The Nepali Congress, the principal party of that time, happily and enthusiastically accepted. As a result, king gave a constitution which reserved special and decisive power with him that proved fatal not only for the Nepali Congress but also the country and its democracy in 1960 as king dissolved democratically elected government headed by Nepali Congress leader BP Koirala and trampled democracy. Had the constitution written by people’s representatives through the constituent assembly, there could definitely have been some clear provisions of checks on king’s power and the king would not dare to take such an undemocratic step. But it was a grave mistake on the part of the Nepali Congress not to understand the king’s design. Only communists demanded the constituent assembly but rest of parties opposed it. Thus, the issue of constituent assembly had definitely been raised in 1951 but this process was scuttled by the king in collusion with the Nepali Congress. Thus, Nepali Congress cannot own up the agenda of the constituent assembly. Thus, there is no truth in Prime Minister Suhil Koirala’s claim.
Now let’s also delve little into some newer developments and also analyze them in the context of Maoist claims. The Maoists are the ones who rejected all political arrangements and agreements from 1951 till 1990 terming them as ploys to ruin people’s liberation struggles.  Soon after the tripartite Delhi agreement brokered by India was signed among king Tribhuvan, Rana rulers and Nepali Congress in the wake of heightened popular movement for democracy in Nepal, Nepalese communists straight away condemned it saying  that it as a ‘betrayal to people and popular movement. Similarly, they demanded the election to constituent assembly to write the new constitution and they kept on repeating time and again. Even when the political change took place in 1990 restoring multi-party system in the wake of popular movement and a new constitution as promulgated, a section of the communists critically accepted the new constitution with reservation on several of its provisions while another section completely rejected it on the very ground of the process adopted to deliver the constitution. The section that critically supported the constitution included the CPN-UML but those who rejected it were the Maoists.
The 1990 constitution had been drafted by king-nominated nine-member committee representing the king, Nepali Congress and the United Left Alliance (ULF, of which CPN-UML was a part). A section of radical communists, who later got organized under the umbrella of the CPN-Maoist (now UCPN-Maoist), opposed the very process of the constitution-making and instead demanded the constituent assembly to write the constitution. The Nepali Congress had given up the agenda of constituent assembly right in 1951 while the CPN-UML, too, joined NC band wagon as it accepted the constitution, though critically,  made by a committee of nine-hand-picked members. Only the Maoists pursued it as a fundamental demand. After the Maoist launched armed insurgency, the constituent assembly was its major demand. But both CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress were opposed to it in the beginning and were of the view that some amendments could be effected in the 1990 constitution to accommodate certain demands of the Maoists. But the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML agreed on constituent assembly only after king Gyanendra trampled democracy and imposed his absolute regime. As a result, the seven-party alliance including NC and CPN-UML signed a 12-point agreement with the Maoists in 2005 formally agreeing for a constituent assembly election. This is how the issue of the constituent assembly came up in Nepal, which is, therefore, not the agenda of the NC and UML but clearly of the Maoist.
The constituent assembly was definitely an agenda of 1951 but it remained unaddressed for six decades. But it was not an agenda of the Nepali Congress. It was and is the agenda of the communists and at present of the UCPN-Maoist. There should not be any doubt on it and parties should not raise unnecessary polemics on this issue. If the constituent assembly writes and promulgates the constitution, the Maoist agenda will be established and failure to do so will mean the defeat of Maoist agenda. But constituent assembly has now become a national agenda to which all parties have committed. Thus, there should not be any attempts from any quarters to scuttle this process and fail the constituent assembly in the name of taking ownership of this agenda and the ongoing political process. Now the Nepali Congress is in the driver seat of constitution-making process and it will be definitely credited if the constitution as delivered at the earliest.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Systemic dysfunction in political system

Yuba Nath Lamsal

When system fails to function, anarchy creeps into governance. Corruption is not an instance but a tendency. Corruption is amalgamation of opportunity and intention. One may not be corrupt if he/she does not get opportunity to do so. Clean people are those who do not misuse power for undue benefit when they get opportunity.
Breakdown of system makes the situation further worse and complicated that gives rise to pervasive corruption, misuse of power for personal benefit flouting laws and accepted norms. This is a general phenomenon prevalent all over the world. However, Nepal’s case is unique as it is always mired in protracted political transition. Right from the creation of a unified state, Nepal has continued to remain in transition and suffer instability, uncertainty and sometimes anarchy. In this long travel and traverse of building a nation state, Nepal hardly witnessed any sustainable political stability. Although the period of 104 years under Rana oligarchy and 30 years of Panchayat is defined as the phase of stability in Nepal’s political history, this, in reality, was a despotic stability. The despotic stability does not ensure genuine and sustainable stability, which paves the way for popular disenchantment leading to a new type of chaos and anarchy. The 1951 political change brought about an era of multi-party democratic system, but this proved to be an anarchic system and democracy.
Democracy is the system that not only provides competition, freedom, representation of the governance, rule of law and a guarantee of participation in all levels of decision-making process, but also ensures peace, sustainable stability and economic prosperity. However, this is hardly the case in Nepal throughout the history. The period of eight years since 1951 was marked by a height of anarchy that was practiced in the name of democracy. Civil and political rights alone do not guarantee democracy. The real and functional democracy is the system in which people receive quick and efficient delivery of service at their doorsteps and the country witnesses peace, stability and prosperity. When ‘mobocracy’ ruled the roost during 1951-1960 period, the king took advantage of the chaotic situation and stepped in to intervene thereby imposing his absolute regime and denying the people with their fundamental rights. King’s dictatorship reined for 30 years in the name of Panchayat system until 1990 until the popular upheaval overthrew the Panchayat and restored multi-party regime. The period of 30 years under Panchayat was a period of relative stability compared to the situation during 1951-60 period. But this, too, was not a period of genuine and sustainable peace and stability. This was just a lull before looming violent uprising and it did happen in 1990 when a joint movement of the Nepali Congress and communists forced the king to bow down and return the rights of people thereby restoring multi-party system again. Both Rana period and Panchayat period, too, were in transition as dictatorship always awaits uprising and upheavals. It had been expected that multi-party democracy would provide ground for sustainable stability but it did not happen even after the political change in 1990. This change lived short as again another political arrangement had to be brokered following the violent Maoist insurgency that left more than 17,000 people dead, thousands others injured. This political arrangement brokered in 2005 established republican democracy with inclusive representation in all levels and sectors. It has now been more than nine years since the new political regime was installed in the country, the republican system and achievements of the popular movements have not yet been formally institutionalized in the absence of a permanent constitution to be written by the democratically elected constituent Assembly. We are still in transition which has given rise to ills and evils of many kinds in all sectors.
This perpetual transition that Nepal has been undergoing since its founding is the fundamental reason for pervasive and rampant corruption deeply embedded in our society. It has been a long-held tradition and social practice to be proud when one amasses property through corruption. The post Jana Andolan-2005 period has become even more infamous for corruption and misuse of authority by people in power. The election system is such that one cannot dare contest parliamentary election if he/she does not have at least 10 million Nepalese rupees. You can now imagine how these people who get elected after spending such a high amount get return. Obviously, politicians and leaders have to indulge in all kind of moral and immoral dealings to earn the money spent during the election. This has made mockery of our democracy and democratic election. So corruption has thrived with political protection in Nepal. Thus, the tall talks of corruption control are mere farce and it cannot be rooted out in Nepal unless electoral system was reformed. For this, fully proportionate electoral system could be one remedy.
That is the reason why former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”. Churchill must have visualized these evils in the democratic set up. However, Western countries and politicians including Churchill himself defended democracy not because it was a good system but it was the only way to prevent the onslaught of socialism that had already been established in the Soviet Union (now Russia).
We all know that the system isn’t working under the present political set up. But there is no alternative as socialism, too, suffered huge setback in countries where it was experimented, practiced and preached. With the collapse of Soviet Union, socialism, too, collapsed in Soviet Union and some East European countries. China has communist government but it has opened up its economy and embraced some tenets of capitalism to attract foreign investment and boost Chinese growth and economy, which Beijing calls as socialism with Chinese characteristics. With pursuing reforms and opening up, China has achieved marvelous economic growth and prosperity. North Korea is a hermit republic and very little is known about this country where communist regime is in place. Cuba and Vietnam are other countries that claim to have been practicing socialism or communism but it remains to be seen whether they, too, represent genuine communism and socialism. Despite setbacks, socialism has still its appeal worldwide.
Although socialism is communist connotation, many anti-communists people in the world, too, advocate socialism within liberal democracy and some have even succeeded in implementing and practicing. People like Willy Brandt of Germany made socialism within liberal democracy a reality, which has been followed by many in other countries mainly in the developing world. Brandt named this mix of socialism and liberal democracy as ‘democratic socialism’, which even Nepali Congress have adopted as its guiding principle but practiced the other way round. Liberal democracy and capitalism are like two sides of a coin. But capitalism that the Western countries champion has miserably failed to deliver and address the problems, instead has given rise to global economic crisis and chaos. The present economic crisis that the world in general and the Western countries in particular have faced is due to the nature of capitalism. This has been proved that capitalism cannot solve economic problems of the people but only complicates them. Socialism, thus, is an alternative— better alternative. But it has to have human face and accept competitiveness like the one introduced and practiced by China. Be it capitalist or communist, there must be high degree of accountability, zero tolerance against corruption, representative system and electoral reforms which alone can make the system functioning and successful. Perhaps, our leaders, too, will give a serious attention to these factors as we are in the process of writing a new constitution to chart out the future course of our politics.

Can Parties Be Prepared To Make Sacrifice?

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Nepal is currently passing through a critical phase of history. This is critical in the sense that decisions and developments in the next few weeks or months will have great impact on fate and future of Nepal and the Nepalese people. Unlike, other previous cosmetic changes in the country’s political front; this political phenomenon will mark a clear systemic change, which perhaps is the second of its nature in Nepal modern political history since 1951.
The Jana Andolan II of 2005-06 with a decade-long Maoist insurgency in the background brought about a phenomenal change and marked a tectonic shift in Nepal’s political course and system. The 1951 political change had brought the Rana ‘clanocracy’ to an end, hence, heralding a new political era—the era of multi-party democracy. This was systemic change as it ended a dynastic rule of Rana clan in which a clan and dynasty had privileged and prerogative in power and perks whereas people were treated mere subjects to serve the despotic rulers. In other words, Ranas claimed to be the masters whereas they treated people as slaves and servants. The 1950-51 revolution changed this system of servitude rule and paved the ways for a competitive politics wherein ordinary citizens, too, can compete and attain the highest political position of the country.
With systemic political change brought about by the 1951 revolution, Nepalese people got the first taste of freedom, openness and democracy, which is its greatest significance. The country entered into a new era of democracy and people enjoyed freedom, civil and political rights. However, this lived short as another despot emerged in the political scene taking advantage of chaotic situation and instability due mainly to sectarian and self-centered attitude and behavior of Nepalese leaders. Although external factor and conspiracy of the palace (king) had their own role behind the deteriorating situation in the post-1951 political change, the lack of capability of leaders to manage the political dissent and keep their houses in order were more fundamentally responsible for setting the stage for the king to take over.  The root cause was the inherent mistake that revolutionary leaders mainly BP Koirala failed to foresee when the power-sharing deal was brokered in New Delhi to settle the political crisis in Nepal following the heightened revolution.  In the deal, it was agreed to give continuity to the Rana Prime Minister in which Nepali Congress was to join the cabinet under the Prime Minister against whom it had led the revolution. This situation was unfortunate not only for the Nepali Congress but also for entire country. Even if this tripartite (Rana-King Tribhuvan-Nepali Congress) deal had not been agreed upon, the Rana clan rule was sure to crumble as revolution as picking in a swift and effective manner. After the overthrow the Rana rule, Nepali Congress could have formed its own revolutionary government but this opportunity was scuttled in the name of tripartite agreement. As a result, the Nepali Congress had to wait and struggle eight more years to gain power, that too, only after the election. On the contrary, some other less significant parties and leaders went to power between 1951 and 1959 just because of unnecessary meddling of the king.
 It was a blunder on the part of the Nepali Congress not to visualize this scenario. The 1951 revolution and political arrangement made thereafter restored King Tribhuvan, who had virtually abdicated and fled to India, was restored to the throne, which ultimately proved counterproductive to Nepal’s democratic development. Although, in principle, the 1951 political change was a democratic transformation, in practice, it paved the way for transferring power from one dynasty to another—from Rana to Shah. This was yet another blunder as the country’s politics and power revolved around the palace for another six decades until monarchy was overthrown and republican democracy established following the Jana Andolan II.
In Nepal’s modern political history, the 1951 revolution and Jana Andolan II have left their indelible marks as these two events marked systemic change. Other political arrangements were just cosmetic changes, which were mere power sharing arrangement. But both these systemic changes were not properly managed. The failure to institutionalize the 1951 change ultimately led to king’s autocracy. Similarly, the agents of change of 2005-6 Jana Andolan II have also not been able to institutionalize and settle the political arrangement and achievements gained through people’s struggle.
We have now reached a decisive phase of ongoing political process that began after signing of the 12-point agreements  between an alliance of seven parliamentary parties of Nepal ( Nepali Congress, Nepali Congress- Democratic,  CPN-UML, Nepal Sadbhabana Party, Nepal Workers and Peasants Party, United Left Front and National People's Front )  and the insurgent CPN-Maoist ( now UCPN-Maoist) on November 22, 2006. Since then much water has flown down in Bagmati. We have been witness to many tumultuous events in Nepal's political spectrum over the last eight years. The journey of peace that had been expected to be completed in four years seems to be heading nowhere even in more than eight years. The transition has prolonged in such a way that it does not appear to come to an end in anytime soon unless our key political actors do not change their behavior and correct their course of confrontation and intrigue. Even more than eight years since the Jana Andolan II, the country is still unable to conclude the political process through the promulgation of a democratic and inclusive constitution. If this settled was not settled early through mutual consensus and cooperation, the country will continue to suffer more instability which may ultimately led to the situation wherein the historic achievements may slip out of our hands.

Constitution and its promulgation have been the catch phrases in the contemporary politics of Nepal. But the possibility of consensus does not appear in the horizon anytime soon. It appears as though these catch phrases are being pronounced by our distinguished leaders only to hoodwink the people, voters and the international community. Parties and leaders are either ignorant of the reality or are simply and deliberately trying to dilute the issues and prolong the present political arrangement as they find it more convenient for their personal and partisan interest. No political party seems to be serious and pragmatic enough to settle the core issues and ways to address them in practical manner.
Parties have their own agenda and calculations and want to reap their personal and partisan benefit out of the present chaotic situation. There are limited choices for the leaders but they are stuck to their own partisan arrogance and they are not prepared to come out of this complex gridlock.  As the constitution is the fundamental concern and priority, parties, too, have their own strategies and calculations to drive the vehicle of the present political course into the direction they desire. Given the circumstantial complexities of the present political scenario and objective reality, the political course does not appear to go along with a particular party’s whim. Moreover, no party is the absolute winner in the Constituent Assembly and does not have strength to deliver the constitution in a way it wants to. This situation and equation in the Constituent Assembly demands cooperation, collaboration, compromise and co-existence in order to steer the nation out of the present political malfunction. All need to understand the fact that compromise means one has to sacrifice some of its agenda and stance. But no political party is prepared to do so. The parties and leaders are of the belief that compromise and sacrifice on agenda and stance will mean defeat in their political jingoism.  But that is not the reality as compromise is the beauty of democracy and fundamental basis for democratic governance. The parties are, therefore, required to realize the present power equation, people’s desire and national necessity and accordingly agree to compromise certain agendas and stance to navigate the country into a safe, peaceful and democratic destination. It is now a huge question whether parties are prepared to make sacrifice for the country?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Democracy, national interest and political behavior

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Apologists of western liberal democracy call it the best political system in the contemporary world. They are of the view that divergent ideologies and ideas exist, grow, expand, flourish and contest in democracy, which sometimes lead to conflict causing even collateral damage. But, according to them, this system provides for a negotiated settlement to all problems, conflict and contradictions through dialogue and compromise. This is their half-baked logic. But it has some degree of truth as some sporadic cases and developments have exhibited so. But this is not always the case. Liberal democracy, which Marxist call as a capitalist or bourgeoisie democracy, provides provision for free speech, freedom of expression and competition in the name of periodic election. However, election alone does not guarantee genuine democracy and there are instances in the world that such systems sometimes give rise to notorious dictators, which have to be dumped in history’s waste bin through popular insurrections. There are countries which have had bitter experience of their electoral and political system that produced tyrants in the name of exercising democracy and adult franchise, which is the fundamental gauge of democratic system. Russia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Ukraine, Georgia, and the Philippines are some recent examples how they suffered dictatorship even though they exercised democracy and free election. Hitler rose out of Germany’s political system under Weimar constitution, considered to be by far the most democratic constitution in the world. Ferdinand Marcos was a popular and democratic leader in Ph8ilippines, who rose to power through popular and democratic election but turned into a tyrant after he rode to power. These are just a tip of iceberg as to how free election and democratic system produce dictatorship in the absence of proper mechanism of check and balance and specific provisions for accommodating dissenting voices including minorities.  The system to accommodate minorities of different manifestations in the political and decision-making system and governance is defined as inclusive or participatory democracy, which is the best approach to address the ills that democracy has faced in different developing countries at present.
Democracy is a political arrangement that should give representation to all section and sectors and address the concerns of all. Democracy is not merely an election and also should not be majority/minority phenomenon. In the present day liberal democracy borrowed from the West, winner or majority takes all whereas minority loses everything. Under this system, 51 per cent votes are declared winner, which decides in an arbitrary manner in which the voice and concerns of 49 per cent is rarely given any attention. The 49 per cent voters should also be given their share of representation in decision-making and governance, for which the inclusive and proportionate electoral system has been mooted and exercised. 
The need for proportionate election system and inclusive democracy arose as the political arrangement in the name of liberal democracy failed to manage and accommodate minorities. It is this failure that leads to conflicts of various kinds and nature. This is exactly what Nepal faced and has been facing as conflict germinated, grew and flared up in the past. Our leaders and political parties have still not learnt the lessons from the past and are still bogged down in mere power game ignoring the fundamental issues and concerns of the people and the country.
Democracy should be the system that is required to instill hope among the electorate for safer, better, brighter and more prosperous future. But that has not been the case in Nepal which has bred crises, conflict and confrontation in society. In order to win elections, politicians buy, bribe and still votes with money, muscle, cheap sloganeering and populist promises ignoring the long-term impact and costs of their actions, which sometimes get so complicated that they become chronic problems for future generation. 
Politics is vocation to serve the country and the people. Democratic system encourages and promotes competition among parties and individuals how best to serve the people. In this sense, politicians, leaders and parties are the genuine friends if not servant of the people. But in our case, leaders tend to boast themselves to be masters rather than friends of people, rule rather than serve and take care of their own, family’s, relatives’,  clique’s and party’s interest rather than the broader interest of the country and the people. That is the fundamental reason why Nepalese democracy has not taken deep roots and gets trampled in every short interval of time. Let us take a look into our own chequered  history of democracy and political development. Nepalese have to fight three crucial struggles for democracy as the people’s polity became victim of misrule of near-sighted and self-centric and party-centric politicians that gave rise to ambitious tyrants to trample democratic system. In 1961, king Mahendra crushed democracy, banned political parties, sent leaders behind bars and imposed his absolute regime. But people did not rise against this undemocratic action, which further encouraged the king to prolong his tight control over the country. Had the people come to streets against this move, the king would have been forced to immediately withdraw it and restore democracy. But nothing happened because people were fed up with the misrule and ugly wrangling among parties merely for power. The democratic period between 1951 and 1959 was the height of unique instability, frequent change of governments and mudslinging among leaders and parties that gave rise to public apathy out of which the king took advantage. Leaders failed to learn lessons even after the restoration of democracy in 1990 and again partisan interest ruled the roost where key parties confronted both on the streets and in parliament. The interest of the people and the country took a backseat whereas the interests of people in power, their clique, party and families got priority. This situation added more fuel to King Gyanendra’s ambition and the king again trampled democracy. Again people rose in the name of Maoists’ insurgency and peaceful popular movement of 2005-6 and established republican democracy. After the 2006 political change, it had been expected that leader and parties learnt lesson and changed their behavior and working style. It was, however, proved that habits die hard and leaders and parties continued to  function and behave in their old style. As a result of the leaders’ unpredicted and self-centric behavior and activities, Nepal has been in political transition for the last seven years since the political change in 2006. The Constituent Assembly was formed twice through democratic elections but the constitution has not yet been delivered and there is still no certainty that the country would get the new statute in any time soon. This is because parties’ failure to accord priority to the country and the people.
We got democracy and our institutions were not democratized. Out leaders working style, function, attitude and thinking have not been democratized. In our democratic system, leaders are acting in their undemocratic thinking and style, which has created contradictions and mismatch between rhetoric and action. This is the fundamental problem of our times. If democracy is to take a root, parties and leaders need to be democratized first and their action should be in compatible with the universal values, principles and spirit of democracy. Otherwise, authoritarian tendency will continue to rein the country. In the past we had a king and now we have several kings, which is the most unfortunate for the country. The present political deadlock in the country is the result of this tendency. If the country is to be relieved from the crisis, stalemate and problem, the leaders and parties are required to be democratic and accord higher priority to the country.