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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Efficient Delivery Sustains Democratic Republic

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

Ever since Nepal evolved as a modern nation-state, certain days and occasions have had historic significance. May 28, 2008, was indeed a momentous day for Nepali people. On this very day, the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly made a momentous decision abolishing the 240-year-old monarchy and declaring Nepal as the world’s newest republic. Since then we have been commemorating this momentous day as Republic Day on May 28 every year with a sense of pride.

Truest Form of Democracy

Republic is the truest form of democracy and a sovereign state. Monarchy by its nature is an anti-democratic institution, which always tends to centralise power in the hands of a monarch. People are not considered free citizens but subjects in any active and absolute monarchies. 

Genuine democracy is thus not possible in an active monarchy. However, there are certain monarchist countries where democratic culture flourished but with a cost. In those countries, monarchies surrendered to the people and remained ceremonial with no political or constitutional power. They never tend to step into the political and public sphere except for the one provided by the constitution.

The democratic wave has surged across the world. However, there are certain countries in which monarchies are still active and hold absolute power. In those countries, people are denied fundamental democratic rights.

In the case of Nepal, monarchy always remained a stumbling block to the development and institutionalisation of democratic government. One thing is true: a modern and unified Nepal was created at the initiative and leadership of Great King Prithivi Narayan Shah. But soon after his demise, the shah monarchy remained in conflict within their clan. The clash between Rajendra Laxmi, Prithivi Narayan Shah’s daughter-in-law) and Bahadur Shah (Prithivi Narayan Shah’s younger son)  turned so ugly that it divided the royal courtiers of Nepal into two different camps. The conflict and rivalry in the royal court continued to grow and culminated in Kot Parva or Kot Massacre from which Janga Bahadur Rana rose to power thereby introducing Rana family oligarchic rule which continued until 1951.

With the advent of Rana rule, Shah kings were reduced to mere titular heads and the real power was centralised at the Rana prime ministers who ruled with iron fists. Later Rana prime ministers declared themselves ‘Shree Thin Maharajas’ or mini kings while Shah kings were called ‘Shree Panch Maharajas’. In English, Shah kings were addressed as Their Majesties and the Rana Prime Minister as Their Highnesses. In a way, this system was a kind of duel monarchical rule. 

The political instability the country witnessed from 1951 to 1959 was purely the making of the then kings, namely King Tribhubhan and King Mahendra simply to discredit the political parties and concentrate power at the hands of the kings. The kings were partially successful in it.

The Rana regime came to an end in the wake of the popular movement in 1951, which restored the power and position of the Shah kings, on the one hand, the movement also for the first time in the history of Nepal ushered in a multi-party liberal democracy on the other. Political change, in reality, did not curtail the power of the king; instead, the power was shifted from the Ranas to Shahs. The Shah kings misused the power and trust of the people, often trying to create instability in the country to snatch away the rights of the people. 

The political instability the country witnessed from 1951 to 1959 was purely the making of the then kings, namely King Tribhubhan and King Mahendra simply to discredit the political parties and concentrate power at the hands of the kings. The kings were partially successful in it. King Tribhuvan had publicly promised to hold the election for the constituent assembly to write the constitution but later backtracked and scuttled this process instead of holding the election for parliament under the constitution given by the king in which special rights were reserved for the king. The same constitutional rights were later misused and a royal coup was staged against democracy and democratically elected government by king Mahendra and imposed king’s absolute rule in the name of the Panchayat system for almost three decades summarily repressing people’s basic democratic rights.

The popular movement in 1990 once again forced the king to give up absolute power and restore multi-party democracy. But the kings time and again tried to scuttle the democratic process. 

After the palace massacre in which ten members of the royal family including the then king Birendra were killed, Gyanendra Shah took over the reign, who once again scuttled the democratic process and took overpower. Nepali people then realised that monarchy was the principal roadblock to democracy and abolition of the monarchy was a must for the sustenance of democracy in Nepal. 

Political Transition

Perhaps with this realisation, the seven agitating parliamentary parties and the insurgent Maoists reached a political deal under which the Maoists accepted multi-party democracy and agreed to join peaceful competitive politics whereas the parliamentary parties agreed to the abolition of the monarchy. Finally, the monarchy was abolished by the Constituent Assembly and Nepal was declared a federal democratic republic. 

It is because of monarchy, Nepal has always suffered perpetual political transition. Now that we have republican democracy, it is expected that our democracy will sustain and qualitatively flourish in the days to come. However, the quality of democracy depends largely on the wisdom and calibre of those handling the system. Popular trust is yet another key which is attained through the efficient delivery of services to which our political parties and leaders must pay heed to the sustenance and qualitative growth of the republican democracy

 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Tough Jobs Await Local Leaders

 

Yuba Nath Lamsal

The local elections are over. The results from most of the places have already been announced. Nepali voters enthusiastically participated and voter turnout was relatively satisfactory. Elections were largely peaceful, free and fair. The Election Commission, the government, security organs and political parties deserve commendation for their role and hard work in making the election successful, peaceful and impartial. 

This is the second time local elections were held under the present federal and republican constitution which was promulgated seven years ago in 2015. The tradition of the local election in Nepal is not a new as this practice goes back long ago. Even during the Panchayat regime, elections used to be held for the local units which used to be called Nagar Panchayat and Gaun Panchayat. But Nagar and Gaun Panchayats were not independent local bodies and thus such elections were not genuine ones. However people were accustomed with the election despite the fact that elections during Panchayat were not free, fair and independent.

 The election was only among the candidates, which were loyal to the Panchayat and the king. Those who were opposed to the Panchayat regime and those who advocated the multi-party democratic system used to be barred from participating in any political process. In other words, basic democracy and human rights had been summarily restricted and denied during the Panchayat regime. The democratic rights of the people were restored only after the 1990 political change.

Empowerment 

After the restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990, two local elections were held. But the local bodies prior to 2015 were not genuinely local governments and they enjoyed only limited powers granted by the Local Self-governance Act. The present constitution has formally declared Nepal as a federal republic in which local bodies — municipalities and village councils — enjoy autonomous authority. Thus, local elections have institutionalised democracy at the grassroots level and empower the people. Federalism is said to be one of the major political achievements of Nepal which was attained following the Jana Aandolan II of 2006.

 After formally adopting federal model of the government, state was restructured into three levels —federal, provincial and local level. State has been restructured into seven provincial level, and 753 local units (municipalities and village councils) with full authority of governance. The practical experiences over the last five years of federal government have been definitely mixed. The municipalities and village councils have proved their worth which was felt visibly during the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people still argue about the relevance of the provincial governments. They are of the view that two tiers (central or federal level and local level (municipalities and village councils) with full executive authority will be the best option for Nepal. 

However, the constitution has stipulated for three tiers of the federal system including the provincial level and such arguments do not hold any significance at this point and we cannot turn the clock of history backward. We have no option other than working with it and strengthen it. As local bodies are armed with executive powers, it is said that the Singha Durbar (central secretariat of the government) has reached every doorstep of the people. At the same time, cynical views have the day that disparage the present federal structure saying that with Singha Durbar reaching the local level misrule and power abuse, too, have accompanied with it. 

Everything has its both bright and dark sides, so is with the federal system. The defect is not with the system but with those who handle it. Federalism is in principle good that seeks to devolve and decentralise power to the local level and empower people at the grassroots level. If there are any defects in handling with it, there is always room for correction and improvement. The federal system that our constitution has enshrined seeks to empower people at the local level which the unitary model of the past denied. Thus, it is, now, the duty of all to make this system work more effectively and efficiently at the larger interest of the country and the people. 

The local elections have further strengthened and institutionalised our governance system. In the election, the result has been mix. The biggest winner is the Nepali Congress which has own the largest number of local bodies followed by CPN-UML. The CPN-Maoist Centre has come out the third. Other parties including Janata Samajwadi, CPN-Unified Socialist, Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Loktantrik Samajwadi have also made their presence in different municipalities and village councils. It is not the question which party won and which party lost. The fundamental issue is democracy and our constitution have triumphed. 

Periodic elections are the basic tenets of democracy. Holding election alone does not meet the preconditions of a functioning democracy. Elections are held under authoritarian regimes, too, but such elections are only to deceive the international community. Democratic elections must meet and maintain certain universally accepted standards and norms. Despite some drawbacks, our elections meet basic international norms and standards, which international community, too, has recognised and appreciated.

Responsibility 

New and fresh faces have been elected with responsibility of manning the local governments and dealing with the local issues of local people. There are huge expectations of the people, which the political parties and candidates themselves raised through their election manifestos and promises made during the election canvassing. Now people have discharged their duty by participating in the election and choosing their representatives. Now onus lies on the elected representatives to translate the promises made during the election. 

They definitely may not be able to do everything they have promised given the limited resources the local bodies have. But they need to prioritise the issues and accordingly address them.  One most important aspect they need to do is to rise from the partisan mentality on issues concerning local development. The efficient delivery of services and transparency are the foundation of good governance, to which new representatives are required to pay serious attention to their duty. 


(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com) 

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Gorkhapatra Keeps Moving Steadily

 

Yuba Nath Lamsal

“I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever”

These are the excerpts from Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘The Brook’ in which the poet beautifully portrays the life and journey of a river that begins as a small rivulet to grow bigger before joining the vast ocean. Like the poem, the Gorkhapatra had a humble beginning and grew slowly and steadily to become the proud and living history of Nepali media industry.

Writing about the Gorkhpatra is, thus, writing the history of Nepali newspapers and journalism. The Gorkhapatra is the pioneer newspaper in Nepal which began in 1901. The Gorkhapatra is the seed from which Nepal’s journalism grew fast and steadily to become a vibrant media industry.

Generally newspapers and media industry begin and prosper in the open and democratic ambience. The Gorkhapatra publication started when the country was reeling under the family oligarchy of Ranas that denied free expression and dissenting voice. Rana rulers considered education and information as an instrument that may dig a dipper grave for their own demise. Even a sane person would not opt to begin a newspaper when country’s literacy rate was less than 5 per cent, let alone the number of people who could buy newspapers and read. But a reform minded Dev Sumsher Rana took this initiative that sowed the seed of journalism and newspaper in Nepal.

Jang Bahadur Rana, who began the Rana family oligarchy through what notoriously called as the Kot Massacre, visited Britain in 1850. Jung Bahadur Rana was highly impressed by the prosperity and development of Britain. He saw the tradition of British aristocrats reading newspapers during the morning breakfast. It is believed that Jung Bahadur Rana brought a hand-press with him to Nepal from London, perhaps, with the idea in mind to begin a newspaper in Nepal. But it is only the guess work as it did not materialize in Jang Bahadur’s life time. Even his successors did not show any interest as newspapers were considered inimical to the then regime.

Dev Sumsher Rana, who took power after his brother Bir Sumsher Rana’s death, was a reform minded ruler. He tried to introduce some positive initiatives to bring about reforms in the country. Dev Sumsher Rana began the publication of Gorkhapatra, which was also a noble idea of that time as the literacy rate was exceptionally low. It is, perhaps, due to his reforms and liberal approach, Dev Sumsher was forced out of power from his own siblings within a short period of three months.

The publication of the Gorkhapatra started not in a planned way and not with much afterthought. It began with the cynicism of a ruler. As goes the hearsay, a few copies of Gorkhapatra had been printed when Britain’s future king Edward VII was invited for a hunting in Nepal during his visit to India in 1890. Ranas had heard that British royalties and aristocrats had the habit of reading newspapers during their breakfast.  The Ranas ordered to print a few copies of Gorkhapatra to show the British dignitary that Nepal also had newspaper. But Edward did not come to Kathmandu and returned from the far-western Nepal after hunting. This is not in record and has remained merely a tittle-tattle.

The Gorkhapatra has continued its publication without any interruption for over 121 years no matter how difficult and tumultuous period and circumstances it was. There are a very few newspapers in the world with such a long and continued history as Gorkhapatra has. The Gorkhapatra is owned by the government owing to which it is called the government’s newspaper. But the Gorkhapatra is a history and heritage of Nepal and the entire Nepali media fraternity.

In its long history, the Gorkhapatra has been a witness to many tumultuous changes and political upheavals. It saw the Rana family regime, monarchical multi-party system, Panchayat regime under king’s absolute power, restoration of democracy, and the present republican system. In the 121 years, many regimes came and disappeared. Several newspapers were born and perished. But the Gorkhapatra, like Tennyson’s ‘Brook,’ keeps on going and continues its journey. The beginning of the Gorkhapatra was, of course, humble as a weekly one. Later it came out twice a week and finally a daily. Now the Gorkhapatra has become a publishing house with some sister publications like English daily ‘The Rising Nepal’, monthly Literary magazine Madhuparka, Children’s monthly magazine Muna and youth magazine ‘ Yuva Manch’.  

However, a question always hunts the Gorkhapatra as to whom it serves. Being a government owned newspaper, this question will always keep on striking. In response, a former editor of The Rising Nepal had once said ‘The Gorkhapatra serves the people by serving the government’. After the restoration of democracy, another frequently asked question is: Should the government own and run the newspaper in a democracy? Here lies the onus for the Gorkhapatra to give the answer by action and prove its worth and relevance in the days to come.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Macron’s Re-election and Challenges Facing Europe

 Yuba Nath Lamsal

“To understand Europe, you have to be either genius or French”, said American diplomat Madeleine Albright. This sums up the centrality of France in European affairs and so was reflected in the recently held French presidential election.

When French people were voting in the second round of the presidential election on April 24, concerns and speculations were rife more in Brussels, London, Berlin and Washington than Paris. The election results that gave Emmanuel Macron second term in the Elysee Palace defeating firebrand Marine Le Pen was a greater relief for European leaders than Macron himself. Le Pen’s defeat was more to rejoice than the celebration of Macron’s victory in Europe and the western world for two reasons. First, Macron’s victory gives a sense of stability of European Union at least for another five years and secondly Macron’s France will not hobnob with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Macron is pro-EU politician whereas his rival EU-sceptic Le Pen seeks to assert French policy sovereignty in Europe implying that Paris should, if necessary, come out of EU in a way the United Kingdom did two years ago.

The way European leaders were quick to congratulate Macron over his electoral victory underscores its importance for the fate of the European Union. “In this turbulent period, we need a solid Europe and a France totally committed to a more sovereign and more strategic European Union”, was the tweet of European Council President Charles Michel, immediately after election results whereas Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Macron’s re-election was “wonderful news for all of Europe”, which was echoed also from Berlin and other European capitals.

French election was definitely an issue of concern in Europe because EU’s fate is linked with it. But it was also being watched closely across the world because of the position and rhetoric of Macron’s rival Le Pen. The United States and United Kingdom have a little concern over EU’s future. UK has already left the EU and the stability of the EU may not be in its core interest. US, too, does not seem very keen in the proposition of united and stronger Europe and would rather prefer Europe to be more dependent on Washington for security. The United States thus seeks to enlarge and strengthen NATO in Europe.  Macron may not be the best option for the US and UK simply because Macron opts for integrated Europe and stronger European Union with lesser dependent on NATO for European security. Instead, Macron prefers a separate European army under the European Union for its collective defence—an unwelcome idea for the US and UK.  Moreover, the formation of the trilateral security pact called AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and United States) and cancellation of France’s submarine deal with Australia ostensibly under pressure from US-UK had caused friction in France relations with London and Washington. But Le Pen’s admiration for Putin was the raison d'etre for bringing US closer with Macron.

The Ukraine war has focused global eyes on Europe’s changing geopolitics. French presidential election turned out to be a global concern. Russia and China, too, must have watched it closely and keenly. After the Brexit, France, Germany and Italy are the key plyers and powers to decide the fate of the European Union. For Russian President Putin, Eurosceptic Le Pen was better choice and Macron’s victory was not welcome news, whereas outward looking Macron may be more comfortable for Beijing.

Given the changing global geopolitics, international balance of power and Europe’s current situation, France’s role seems is central in Europe. After the Brexit, EU is more or less Franco-German-Italian project. The European Union was created with economic consideration rather than political and security motives. Behind its creation, Germany was the key factor as Berlin looked for a secured European market for its huge export. Germany is the largest economy in European Union and fourth in the world. Its economy is export based as German export is equivalent to almost half of its total GDP. Of the total German export, almost half is exported to European Union countries. France is the largest military power and second largest economy in the European Union while Italy is the second military power and third largest economy in EU. Thus, the role of France, Germany and Italy is more important in the EU than other countries although all 27 members of the EU have equal status in theory. But, in practice, countries are not equal when it comes to exercising power, so is in the European Union. Thus, powerful countries exercise more power to influence others in the decision making.

Looking from outside, Europe seems to be united as European countries more or less share many commonalities including race, religion, culture and moral and political values. Deep down in the core of their sentiment, Europe is a house divided. Distrust is high among EU countries. Germany, France and Italy are the dominant force in the European Union. But they also do not trust one another. Germany is suspicious of France and France distrusts Italy whereas Italy is not comfortable with both Germany and France. So is the case with Poland and Germany. Only the Russian threat factor has kept them united.

Europe is the leader in the world in invention, innovation, exploration and even destruction. Europe is home to major civilizations and many innovative ideas and movements. All political ideologies including capitalism, socialism, democracy, socialism, communism and social democracy were born in Europe. Europe combined is still the largest economy and largest military power in the world. But their mutual distrust led to series of wars in Europe. Europe’s history is the history of war. The first and the second world wars were also basically European wars that saw history’s largest human casualties and worst collateral damages. The Ukraine war is the newest manifestation of this inherent European character.

The existential crisis the European Union is facing especially in the wake of newer developments in the eastern flank of Europe begs much from Macron re-election which has greater ramification as well as has raised expectations for the future of Europe. Macron has twin challenges of cohabiting with the diverse political spectrum at home from communists to far rightist elements and take along the European Union countries comprising different interest and facing multiple challenges. It remains to be seen how things unfold and how Macron handles the new challenges.

 (published in TRN on May 4, 2022)

https://risingnepaldaily.com/news/10745