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


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