Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Political Bone Of Contention

Yuba Nath Lamsal
The protracted power tussle between the ruling and opposition parties and their calculated divergence on multiple issues is nothing other than their lack of confidence on their organisational strength and popular base. Viewed from their track records of at least for the last one decade, if not more, none of the political parties seems to have lived up to general expectations of the people.
Key forces
In the political spectrum of Nepal, four forces hold the key role. These key forces are the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, CPN-Maoist Center and Madhesis. The Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) has recently emerged as another force to reckon with especially after the merger of the two factions of the RPP. An extreme leftist force is also trying to emerge, but its presence has not been felt significantly visible in Nepal's political landscape so far.
In the Constituent Assembly election held in 2013, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML emerged as the largest and the second largest party, while the CPN-Maoist Center emerged as the distant third. The Madhesi parties also fared poorly in the election in their own constituency—Madhes, despite their crusade for the rights and the interest of the Madhesis.
Although the CPN-Maoist and the Madhes-based parties fared poorly in the election, Nepal's current politics still continues to be revolving around agendas of the CPN-Maoist Center or the Madhesis. The Constituent Assembly, republican set-up, inclusive democracy, proportionate electoral system and federalism are definitely the Maoists’ agendas. The Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML in the beginning opposed these issues, but accepted with hesitation after the king took over power and tried to marginalise the political parties. Under compulsion, the seven parliamentary parties agreed to join hands with the Maoists against the king. Similarly, the Maoist accepted multi-party democracy under compulsion as they were not in a position to achieve their goal through their own strength. Finally, both the parliamentary parties and the insurgent Maoists joined hands against the king. It worked as the movement not only restored democracy, but ultimately abolished monarchy.
The Nepal Congress (NC), right from its inception, stood for constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy. But the NC was forced to go for republican set-up as the monarchy betrayed time and again and tried to trample democratic system. When multi-party democracy was established in 1951, the NC trusted the monarchy, but the king later betrayed by disbanding the elected government and sending the leaders of the NC behind bar. Despite this, Nepali Congress did not learn a lesson, but continued to support the monarchy. However, the communists had always been demanding a republic. The NC realised in 2005 that as long as monarchy remains, democracy in Nepal will not be safe and stable. Thus, monarchy was finally abolished after the success of the April Uprising of 2006. Similarly, several other issues were forcefully established after this movement.
The Constituent Assembly was yet another key agenda of the political movement of 2006.  The Constituent Assembly had been demanded right from 1951. Even the king of that time had declared that the constitution will be written by the people's elected representatives. But the king did not honour his own words and scuttled this process. This issue came to the fore more forcefully once again, the credit of which goes to the Maoists.  As far the federalism is concerned, both Maoists and Madhesis should be given credit. The Maoists had first raised the issue of federalism, but it was the Madhes movement that established federal demand more strongly.
Now federalism has been the principal bone of contention as the entire political quarrel is revolving around federalism and issues associated with it. This is because federalism in the first place was introduced without homework. Federalism in itself is not a bad idea. But debate should be held if a tiny country like Nepal really needed federalism or genuine decentralisation could have been better. Federalism was viewed as the prescription of all problems.
Federalism is something that empowers local people and decentralises authority of the center to the local level. Based on this principles and needs of the country, federal provinces are determined and the state is restructured from unitary state to a federal system. But it has not been the case in Nepal at present. The way federalism is being defined and federal provinces are being crafted, it gives the impression that small unitary states are being created out of one bigger unitary state. In federalism, it is not only the federal provinces, but all local units, too, are supposed to be autonomous. But there are demands from certain quarters that local units be kept under the provinces, which may not be in true spirit of federalism. Thus, this is one of fundamental flaws in the understanding of federalism in Nepal.
Second, there has never been a debate whether Nepal needs federalism or not. Third, if Nepal really needed federalism then what kind of federal model or how many federal provinces would be appropriate for Nepal.  The way federal provinces are being crafted, or the way some groups are demanding, it seems as though they were not going for genuine federalism, but demanding federalism just for their own political gains. Federalism unites and empowers people; and ensures better delivery of services at people's doorsteps. In our case, issue of federalism has created more rifts among the people and parties. Whatever is the case and cause, we have already declared Nepal as a federal democratic republic from which we cannot go back. We now need to take into account the fact that federalism is for development of the country and the people. So federalism should be made manageable and federal provinces should be crafted in a way it serves the broader interest of the country and it unites the people. It should by no means create conflicts.

Federalism debate
As dispute on demarcation of federal provinces continues to drag on, anti-federalist elements are slowly gaining ground. The second Constituent Assembly election of 2013 too produced a parliament in which genuine federalists were in minority, but the ones who accepted federalism under compulsion are in majority. This is because the federalists, who were in majority in the first Constituent Assembly miserably failed to deliver the constitution and institutionalise their agenda. The poor showing of the pro-federal forces and strong presence of anti-federalist forces should not be construed as being the anti-federalism vote. But one thing we must realise that it is the message of the people that they are not happy with the way the federalism issue is being handled. Similarly, the people are slowly getting frustrated as the federalism issue is polarising politics and prolonging political transition in Nepal. 
The prolonged transition has had a cost in our development and stability. The federalism issue is primarily responsible for the protracted transition as our parties have not been able to handle it and resolve the disputes arising from the issues associated with federalism. Now Nepal cannot afford more transition under any pretext. Political parties are, thus, expected to make a compromise to resolve this issue once and for all so that the current transition will come to an end, and the country enters into a new era of stability.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Local Polls For Grassroots Democracy

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Election for local bodies appears to be round the corner. If all goes well, the local election will be held in next three months. The constitution  requires all three elections should be held in the next eleven months. The three elections are for local bodies (municipalities and village councils); provincial legislature and federal legislature consisting of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly. But uncertainties still prevail.
Limited time
Given the climatic condition and cultural tradition of Nepal, we have limited months for holding the elections. Elections in Nepal are not possible in all 12 months of the year. The period between mid-June and mid-September is rainy season during which our farmers are occupied in agricultural activities. During the monsoon season, the country often suffers from floods and landslides, which may pose difficulty even for the movement of people.
Soon after the rainy season is over festival season begins. Great festivals of Hindus and Muslims fall during this time between September and November like Dashain, Tihar or Dipawali, Chhath and Eid. Similarly, winter is harsh especially in the Himalayan region and elections are not possible there from mid-December to mid-March. Elections therefore have to be conducted either between March and July or in November and December.
The Election Commission requires at least three months for preparations. That means elections cannot be held before June this year. The government has already written a formal letter to the Election Commission asking it to make necessary preparations for holding the elections at the earliest. Accordingly, the Election Commission, too, is making its regular preparations for holding all three levels of election within the stipulated timeframe. But election dates have so far not been announced.
The government is willing to hold all three elections at the earliest and the Election Commission is ready to hold the elections in June or July provided all necessary tools are given to it. But elections are not possible only with the government's willing and the Election Commission's readiness. There are several factors responsible for the successful holding of any election.
The first thing we need to do is to create a political atmosphere conducive for election. The political atmosphere means the understanding and consensus among the existing political forces to hold the election, without which elections cannot be held. Another important factor is the legal tools to hold the elections. The government needs to get the necessary election related laws enacted from the parliament to facilitate the election. The Election Commission cannot hold the election without necessary laws. Some laws have already been enacted, but some more are still waiting for their endorsement from the parliament.The third one is the logistic side including necessary budget for the Election Commission.  After this, the government is required to announce the election dates. If the local election is to be held before the rainy season, election dates must be announced within a week. Otherwise elections may not be possible before the monsoon season, and we will have to wait until November. Once these issues are settled, the Election Commission can expedite all the preparatory works.
As far as the political atmosphere is concerned, it is still not positive. The political forces are divided even over election and other issues that have direct bearing on election. The Madhes-based parties are demanding amendment to the constitution to address their concerns before election is held. The government, responding positively to the demands of the Madhesi parties, has registered a bill in the parliament seeking amendment to the present constitution. The issue concerning the constitution amendment bill needs to be settled for the polls. We must create an atmosphere for all political forces to participate in the election. But this issue is currently getting more complicated. Although the bill has been registered in the parliament to address the concerns and demands of the Madhesis, the  Madhes-based parties have not taken its ownership. There lies their political dishonesty. The CPN-UML has vehemently opposed it and has vowed to fail the bill. As the opposition party, the stance of CPN-UML on the amendment bill is understandable.
But in parliamentary democracy opposition party is called the loyal opposition, which in certain sense is a part of the government.  It is also the responsibility of the opposition party to contribute and help the government in finding solution to the key national issues and problems. The constitution and election are the national issues and it is the duty of all political parties—ruling and opposition—to work together and find an appropriate solution for the larger interest of the country.  The CPN-UML is, therefore, expected to play a more moderate role to facilitate the election.
There can be debate whether or not the demands of the Madhes-based parties are justified. But the Madhesis have become a force to reckon with especially after they have virtually kept the country's political process in hostage. In a democracy individuals and political parties have rights to express their disgruntlements and grievances in a peaceful manner. In this sense, we have nothing to say against the Madhes-based parties as their protests are peaceful in nature. But one thing that needs to be debated as to why the Madhesis are not taking the ownership of the constitution that was written with the participation of more than 90 per cent people's elected representatives in the Constituent Assembly and endorsed by two-thirds majority. If we believe in democracy, we must accept its rules although we may have our own disgruntlements.
The Madhes-based parties look determined not to let the constitution be implemented, which is something not understandable. But the constitution is fully at work and we are only in the process of enriching it.  Under this constitution two prime ministers were elected in which the Madhes-based parties also participated. So this is not the question of implementation of the constitution, but the question is how to enrich and further consolidate it. The Madhes-based parties have expressed reservation on certain provisions of the constitution. They have the right to dissent because the constitution itself has given them this right. It is also the duty of the Madhesi parties to defend this constitution instead of condemning it because it has institutionalised the achievements of several people's movements including the Madhes movement.
Sooner the better
There can be no excuse to hold the election. The local election has not been held for almost two decades. In the absence of local election and people's representatives, junior officials are running the local bodies. It has had negative impact on the development activities and service delivery in the local level. If the constitution amendment is the obstacle, all the political parties, including the opposition, need to find an amicable solution to create an election-friendly environment. If federalism and the issues related to federalism are the bone of contention, the local election can be held on the basis of the old structure. Election alone strengthens grassroots democracy. If local election is not held in June or July, it may not be held in 2017 because election for federal parliament will have to be held in November- December. Now we are running short of time. Political parties are, therefore, expected to settle the disputes and differences to facilitate early election. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Understanding Of History

Yuba Nath Lamsal
Most people often tend to define as well as believe that history is the documentation of the past events. It may be true, to a large extent, as history contains and compiles every incident and every bit of information that takes place in the past. However, history is not merely a record of the past. A real and genuine history is the objective analysis and interpretation of the incidents taken place in the past from which lessons are leant to cope with the present situation and chalk out the future course.
History deals with both documentation as well as its interpretation of the past events. The proper study and analysis of past is a must to exactly understand and ascertain the present situation. In the absence of understanding the past and objective analysis of the present, the forward journey often becomes difficult and the vision for the future gets blurred. Ignorance or distortion of history leads to failure in achieving the goal set forth. Study of history and its objective interpretation is, therefore, a key to success in every sector, including the political life of a person, party or a nation.   A successful or visionary leader first studies history and makes correct analysis of the present state from which he/she embarks on the forward march. We, therefore, must study history to exactly ascertain the present situation and, accordingly, plan the course of action for the future.
Nepal's history is checkered with full of twists and at the same time plenty of absurdities and contradictions. Many interesting yet intriguing incidents have taken place in our history that roughly dates back to around two thousand years. But tradition of record-keeping and history writing has been a recent phenomenon not only in Nepal, but in entire South Asia. Our history, mostly ancient history, is based more on mythology, assumption and speculations rather than based on facts. Lack of factual data and authentic information vis-à-vis our ancient history writing has often led to rival interpretations on some our historical events. Although some stone scriptures of the Lichchhivi period give some idea about our ancient history, they are not sufficient. Our authentic history begins only after the rise of Malla dynasty in Nepal during which the tradition of lineage writing and record keeping, although on personal basis, started. But this, too, was not scientific and these records were not safely preserved. Foreigners, especially the British, were the first ones to write Nepalese history, and other historians, including the Nepalese still base their research and history writing on the works of the British.
It is also said that history is written by the victors. In the case of Nepal, it is also true. The Anglo-Nepal War of 1814-16 was a watershed in our history in which Nepal lost almost a one-third of its territory to the British. A clause of the Sugauli Treaty signed between Nepal and British-India in 1816 after the war had a provision that had allowed the British to establish residency (embassy) in Kathmandu. 
Some British expatriates who arrived in Kathmandu after the establishment of the British residency wrote Nepal's history based more on the lineage stories and oral accounts than the scientific researches. The history books written by the British and foreigners give only rough idea of Nepal's ancient history. They do not reflect the real picture of the society of ancient Nepal. The Nepalese ancient history is, therefore, incomplete and inaccurate. After the Anglo-Nepal war and Sugauli Treaty, British boasted as being the victors and they wrote the history often trying to demonise the Nepalese and distort Nepalese history. Later some Nepalese wrote history books, but their works, too, were heavily based on the works of the same British historians rather than conducting scientific and objective research. As a result, different historians have different versions of our historical incidents and historical personalities.
Baburam Acharya is one of the noted Nepalese historians who has made some comprehensive researches on Nepalese history and his works give a better and more authentic picture of Nepalese history. Acharya's works, too, have some drawbacks as he tends more to eulogise the rulers or the kings of that time. In the absence of uniformed version in the analysis of history, disputes occur even on the role of some of our historical personalities. The polemics on Prithvi Narayan Shah and his role can be taken as an example. He is, no doubt, a great historical personality, who laid the foundation of a unified and modern Nepal, which was historical necessity. But some people tend to underestimate his historical role and try to demonise him as cruel feudal tyrant.
Prithvi Narayan Shah was, no doubt, a feudal ruler. But what we must take into account is the fact that the period was feudal. The British were imperialists and their cruelty had been even harsher. Moreover, Nepal of that time was like a military state and was virtually at war completely focusing on the unification of several scattered principalities. During the war, some cruel incidents might have occurred, but they should not be generalised just to demonise someone who has played a historic role for unifying Nepal. There are also some diverse views even in the understanding of Nepal's unification. But Nepal's unification was historical necessity, and it was done at the initiative of Prithvi Narayan Shah.
Nepal is a diverse country with diverse cultures and ethnic groups. But it does not mean that there should be diverse and conflicting understanding of history. History should by no means be distorted or misinterpreted to suit the personal interest or the interest of a particular group or section, which only creates division in the society and country. While some outside  scholars or researchers  have come up with their own version of our history, we simply tend to believe them and stir unnecessary debates even on some non-issues. We have hardly made our own efforts to conduct scientific research and accordingly write our authentic history.
Nepal has been in perpetual transition right after the Sugauli Treaty. This perpetual transition is partly due to our lack of uniformed understanding of Nepal's history and partly due to external elements.
Systemic change
Regime changes have been frequent in Nepal, but systemic changes are a few. We cannot expect visible changes when regime change takes place except the change of players in the power game. Systemic changes are supposed to bring about drastic change in the power structure as well as in the governance. In Nepal's case, even systemic changes did not bring about significant change in the overall governance. In the modern history of Nepal, three major systemic changes have taken place.
One was the political change of 1951 when Rana's family rule was overthrown and democracy was established under constitutional monarchy. In the absence of effecting some sweeping changes in the governance, Nepal again reverted to king's authoritarian regime within a decade. It took 30 more years to overthrow the king's absolute regime.  A popular movement of 1990 forced the king to remain as a constitutional head of the state and restore multi-party democracy. It was the second systemic change. However, the king again took over power and tried to impose authoritarian rule. The third systemic change took place when the monarchy was abolished and Nepal was declared a republic in 2008. Even the systemic changes have not brought about significant change in the overall governance as well in the life of people. As a result, transition in Nepal has been perpetual phenomenon, which is partly to do with the lack of understanding in history and partly changes in governance.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

No Alternative To Elections

Yuba Nath Lamsal
It has been more than 16 months since the new constitution, drafted by the Constituent Assembly composed of people's elected representatives, was promulgated. Yet the politicians and pundits are of the view that the constitution is yet to be fully implemented. According to them, the constitution will be fully implemented only when the three tiers of election are held.
Clear provision
The three tiers of election include federal parliament at the center, provincial parliaments and local bodies. Elections are, beyond any shade of doubt, necessary in a democracy. The constitution of Nepal has clearly specified that the present Legislature-Parliament will cease to exist from January 21, 2018, which means the election for the lower chamber of federal parliament or the House of Representatives must be held before that. The National Assembly, the upper chamber of the federal parliament, cannot be formed without holding the elections for the provincial parliament and local bodies. The Constitution, in its Article 86 (2), has a clear provision that out of 59 members, 56 are to be elected by an electoral college composed of members of the provincial parliament, chiefs and deputy chiefs of the village committees and mayors and deputy mayors of the municipalities. The rest three will be nominated by the government. This clearly implies that the federal parliament cannot be complete without elections for all three levels.
The local bodies are defunct for more than 16 years since 2002 in the absence of local elections. Junior bureaucrats are manning the local bodies. Local bodies are the ones to execute local self-governance and deliver service to the people. Nepal has already adopted federalism although some of the issues related to federalism are yet to be resolved. In federalism, local and provincial bodies are all powerful and independent to formulate laws, policies and all other stuff except foreign policy and defence. In the absence of election for the local bodies, democratisation and development process in the grassroots has been stalled and will continue to be stalled.
Free and fair election is the soul of democracy. In the absence of free and fair election, functioning democracy can be impossible. In the same manner, free and fair elections are not possible in the absence of democracy. In other words, free election and democracy are closely linked. Although election alone is not democracy, election, of course, is the main basis for democratic consolidation. This also requires early election for all three levels.
Now a debate is underway on the implementation of the constitution. Some pundits and even politicians are of the view that the elections are the basis for the implementation of the present constitution. It is true that all three levels of elections must be held prior to January 21, 2018. But the logic that the constitution will not be implemented without holding the elections looks something is amiss. The constitution has already been implemented as all functionaries of the state are functioning as per the constitution. The Constituent Assembly was transformed into the Legislature-Parliament, which elected two prime ministers since then in which all political parties in the parliament participated and enacted several laws. In this process, all political parties in the Legislature-Parliament have exercised their rights. What can be other evidences for the implementation of the constitution than this?
Not all provisions of the constitution are practically implemented at one time, and they are put into practice only when it is required. In the same manner, our constitution has 308 articles, which cannot be implemented all at a time. All necessary provisions and Articles have already been in operation, and the rest will be done as and when circumstances demand. So far as the elections are concerned, they must be held in time for which the political parties and the government are required to create a suitable environment.
It is of course true that all provisions specified in the constitution must be respected and followed, which is the duty of all law-binding citizens. But some political parties have applied double standard as they follow the constitution and participate in the constitutional process when it serves their interest. But the same parties make statement in public that they are not accepting the constitution because their concerns and agendas have not been accommodated in the statute. This is a marked inconsistency on the part of the political parties and politicians more particularly the Madhes-based parties.
The constitution was promulgated legitimately in the participation of more than 90 per cent members of the Constituent Assembly. In a democracy, decision of the majority must prevail while attempts should also be made to accommodate the voices and concerns of the minorities. Moreover, the constitution is not a rigid document but a dynamic one, which can be amended if deemed necessary. The constitution itself has provided rooms for its amendment.
In the spirit of accommodating the concerns of the minorities, the ruling parties have already tabled the constitution amendment bill in the House, which is now the property of the Legislature Parliament. It is the rights of the members of the parliament either to accept or reject or modify the bill. The political parties now need to focus their debate and arguments in the parliament instead of trading blames on the streets.
Coming back to the election again, election is not merely a technical and legal issue but a political one. The political parties first need to create an atmosphere conducive for election. Given the position of the political parties at present, they seem to be divided. The CPN-UML is seeking early election while it is opposing the amendment bill. Likewise, the Madhes-based parties are demanding that the constitution amendment bill be adopted first in order to ensure their participation in the political process. These regional parties are determined to foil the election procedures if the elections were announced prior to the constitution amendment bill. Under pressure from these two extreme views, the government and the ruling parties have adopted a two-pronged strategy to simultaneously go ahead with the election preparation and constitution amendment.
Basis of democracy
Local bodies, the building block of democracy, must be empowered to institutionalise democracy, and bolster developmental activities in the local level. In the absence of empowerment of local bodies, democracy cannot be strengthened and institutionalised. It, therefore, requires holding early election for the local bodies and then provincial election and the election for the federal parliament within one year. Local election should precede the other two if the political course we have taken is to be completed at the earliest. The political parties may have their partisan differences on various issues and matters, which is natural in a democracy. But they must come together on core issue like holding election for which they must find a middle way. This requires flexibility and sense of responsibility on the part of the political parties and their leaders instead of sticking to their personal and partisan ego.
What should be taken into account is that the country comes first ahead of everything. If the country wins, all of us will be victorious. There should not be any politicking in the local election. If anyone is afraid of going to the election under any pretext is an indication that he/she does not have faith in democracy and people. Thus, there is no alternative but to go for the election if we are to strengthen our democratic dispensation and safeguard the political achievements we gained through different struggles of the people in the past.