Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Local Polls Bolster Democracy

Yuba Nath Lamsal

The federal structure of the state has been touted as one of the key political achievements of the Jana Andolan II of 2006 in Nepal, which was formally codified in the constitution in 2015. Under this system, there are three tiers of governments comprising central, provincial and local structures including central government, seven provincial governments and 753 local units (municipalities and village councils). This constitutional provision was already exercised and experimented over the last five years which have mixed experiences.

Now the local elections are again going to be held and the date of which is just over a month away. On May 13, 2022, the elections in all 753 local unites will be held to choose representatives for manning and running the local bodies. Political parties are on the field rolling their sleeves to muster popular support so that they can have their grip in local governments.

Foundation of democracy
This is the second time the election for the local bodies is being held after Nepal adopted the federal structure. The first election for the local bodies was held in 2017. Local bodies are what political scientist Dev Raj Dahal has called as ‘laboratories of democracy’. Local bodies are the ones that strengthen democracy at the grassroots level. In other words, local bodies are the foundation of modern democracy. The representatives of the local bodies are more directly linked with the people and the issues that have direct bearing on the people. In the absence of effective and functioning local bodies, the concept of good governance and local self-government remains only in papers.

With the announcement of the local election date, the Election Commission (EC) is working on a war footing to conduct the election on the scheduled date and in a free, fair, peaceful and credible manner. Normally, the EC seeks 100 to120 days for the preparations of the elections and the government announced the date giving sufficient time for the Commission.
Periodic elections are the basic precondition and tenets of democratic polity. But not all elections are democratic and free. Holding election alone does not meet the preconditions of a functioning democracy. Even elections are held under authoritarian regimes but such elections are mere show pieces and often doctored to deceive the international community. Such elections do not reflect the people’s free choice.

The real election should be free, fair and impartial in practice wherein the voters exercise their franchise without an iota of fear, pressure and influence. Democratic elections must meet and maintain certain universally accepted standards and norms. If these universally accepted principles, standards and norms are not met, the entire exercise of holding the election will merely be a farce. Perhaps national and international observers, too, will monitor the election process and voting procedures to ensure that the sanctity of democratic election is maintained and no anomalies will be allowed in the entire process.

Holding elections is a long tradition and practice in Nepal. Even during the party-less Panchayat regime, elections used to be held but that was not on multi-party basis but on individual basis. The elections during the Panchayat were not construed as genuine and democratic ones as those opposing the regime were not often allowed to contest the elections and there was the pre-condition that the candidate had to take the membership of any of the sister organisations of the Panchayat.

The EC is the constitutional body that has the sole authority and responsibility of holding elections. It existed even during the Panchayat era and conducted several elections. But it was only after the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1990 the elections on pluralistic basis started being held. Since the multiparty democracy was reinstated in 1990, three parliamentary elections and two local elections were held. After the 2006 political change, two elections for the Constituent Assembly were held and the second Constituent Assembly delivered a new democratic and inclusive constitution which, for the first time in the history of the country, declared Nepal as a federal democratic republic.

The new constitution has not only transformed the country from the unitary state to federal structure but also stipulated the mixed type of election — the first past the post and the proportionate representation in order to ensure representation of different ethnic communities, gender and regions. This is a new but successful experiment in bringing the hitherto unrepresented and under-represented communities and section into the mainstream of the politics and decision-making. However, the representatives of the local bodies namely municipalities and village councils are elected directly from the people under the first past the post system.

Local elections provide best opportunity to directly reach out to the people. In fact, the local representatives are the ones who have direct touch with the people and familiar with the local needs and problems. The local election, therefore, builds strong bonds between the people and the representatives and parties. The voters need to choose the best from among the candidates not based on political leaning but based on the competence, honesty and integrity of the person. This will make the local bodies more effective, functional and deliver services in the true spirit of good governance.

Popular participation
Democracy is an arduous process that constantly needs to keep people involved in the democratic decision making. This is accomplished through popular participation in the electoral process. Election is the system which makes politics responsive and accountable. The election is not merely a one day event on the polling day but a constant and continuous process right from the formulation of election policies and laws to preparing electoral rolls, educating the voters and voting and vote counting.

If democracy is to deliver and be functional, citizens at all levels must be empowered with voice and vote. The local governments are the most important and their activities and performance have direct impact on the lives of people. Thus, it is imperative to strengthen local governments to ensure that democracy takes strong roots at the grassroots level. This alone elevates the quality of democracy. Thus, it is the duty of all eligible voters to participate in the local election and choose the genuine representatives to run the local governments.

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

War Returns To Europe


Yuba Nath Lamsal

After the collapse of Soviet Union, Samuel P Huntington came with the thesis that the future wars will not be between countries but between cultures or civilisations. In his book ‘The Clash of Civilization and The Remaking of World Order,’ Huntington basically points out some key civilisations -- Western civilisation, Orthodox civilisation, Chinese civilisation, Japanese civilisation, Hindu civilisation, Islamic civilisation, African civilisation and Latin American civilisation -- around which the conflict will revolve. Huntington’s thesis comes after Francs Fukuyama prophesised in his book ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ that ideological conflict came to an end with Western liberal ideas reigning supreme over all other ideologies.

Neither Fukuyama’s prophesy nor Huntington’s claim has come to be a reality. With Russia and Ukraine locked in bloody war, contrary to Fukuyama’s thesis, history has repeated. Unlike Huntington’s treatise, the war is not between cultures but between the two sibling countries.

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict flared up, the United States and Albania moved a resolution in the UN Security Council to condemn Russia for initiating war against a small neighbour Ukraine. In the Security Council, 11 members voted in favour of the resolution while China, India and United Arab Emirates abstained. The resolution could not be adopted as Russia vetoed it. Similarly, a resolution was moved in the United Nations General Assembly in which 141 countries including Nepal voted in favour, while 35 countries including India and China abstained. Nepal made its position further clear stating ‘it opposes the use of force against a sovereign country in any circumstance and believes in peaceful resolution of disputes through diplomacy and dialogue’.

With Russia initiating the war, the world is again moving towards a new form of conflict. It has brought back the memory of the Cold War era when the United States and Soviet Union vied to flex muscles for projecting their influence and power. Russia may have its own logic and argument, but attack on a sovereign country cannot be justified. As Bertrand Russel once said ‘war does not determine who is right - only who is left’, none wins in the war and humanity gets defeated. In other words, war is a crime against humanity, whoever starts.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is not a new but a long-running one. Right after Ukraine declared independence from Soviet Union in 1993, friction between these two countries has continued. But situation worsened after the present Ukrainian President Volodymy Zelensky came to power."

Apparently the war is between Russia and Ukraine. But the crux of the problem is not between Russia and Ukraine alone but between Russia and the United States. Ukraine is Europe’s geopolitical pivot of Europe. The United States wants to take Ukraine away from the Russia’s security orbit and integrate it into the Western camp. The United States is expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s (NATO) eastward. Beginning in 1999, the eastward expansion of NATO has already incorporated Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Check Republic, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
The US and the West want to further expand NATO and their next target is Ukraine and Georgia, which made Moscow more susceptible and nervous. Moscow views Ukraine as its sphere of influence and Ukraine joining the NATO as a direct security threat to Russia.

Until 2004, Ukraine had maintained balanced relations with both Russia and the West. However, Ukraine’s foreign policy equilibrium changed after the President Viktor Andriyovych Yushchenko came to power who adopted pro-west policy and planned to join the European Union and ultimately NATO. However, his plans could not materialise as the then Prime Minister Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych pulled out of the deal to join EU. Yanukovych, too, failed to maintain a balance between Russia and the West and earned the reputation of being a pro- Russia man.

Yanukovych had close personal relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he comes from the Russian speaking Donetsk region. In the 2010 presidential election, Yanukovych narrowly won but his rival candidate questioned the validity of the election results. US often coaxed Yanukovych to join Western alliance against Russia and abrogate the lease of strategic Sevastopol port in the Black Sea. However, Yanukovych not only refused to join the Western alliance but seemingly demonstrated pro-Russia leaning and signed an agreement with Russia extending the Sevastopol port lease.

His too pro-Russia policies annoyed the West on the one hand while public resentment grew within the country against the Yanukovych government, on the other, which he failed to handle properly. The public resentment developed into mass demonstrations. In the wake of the public protest, Ukrainian parliament impeached him. Unable to face massive protest, he fled to Russia in 2014 paving the way for Volodymy Oleksandrovych Zelensky to rise to power as President of Ukraine.

Since coming to power Zelensky as president avowedly took pro-West policy and was eager to join EU and NATO which dismayed Russia. Already alarmed by incorporating Baltic countries and several other east European countries into NATO, Zelensky’s hobnobbing with the West and the US made Vladimir Putin further susceptible. The United States wanted Ukraine to abrogate the deal with Russia concerning the lease of strategically located Sevastopol port of Crimea and intended to have its own naval base in Sevastopol port. In retaliation, Russia annexed entire Crimea and Sevastopol in 2014.

The more Kyiv leans towards West, the more Russia advances westward in Ukraine. The next step Russia did was to recognise two Ukraine’s breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics. Kremlin did not stop there and went further ahead by militarily attacking Ukraine. Russia calls President Zelenskyy as ‘Western proxy and puppet’ and has been trying to defend the attack as an attempt to ‘free Ukraine from Nazification’. Whatever the claim and counter claim, the core goal of Russian attack is to control and protect its Western border and keep the NATO forces at bay by creating Ukraine as a buffer zone.

Domestic politics
As Vladimir Lenin said ‘what Ireland was for England, Ukraine has become for Russia’, Putin too considers Ukraine as Russia’s backyard and the present conflict is the outcome of this Russian mind-set. However, the domestic politics was also partly responsible as politicians often politicised the strategic and foreign affairs for the partisan interest being polarised into pro-West and pro-Russian camps and failing to understand the sensitivity of its powerful neighbour. As John F Kennedy said, ‘domestic policy can only defeat us; foreign policy can kill us.’ Ukrainian crisis is the mix of both domestic as well as foreign policy disaster.

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. 

Published on March 9, 2022 in The Rising Nepal. For original article, visit: