Democracy gets reduced to a mere linguistic term when the government that is elected fails to perform according to the aspirations of its citizens who voted it to power. Nepal is at its most crucial juncture ever, in the absence of the basic document needed to govern itself with rational legal authority. The current scenario of political crisis, fueled by ethnocentrism, has only led to a further deteriorating environment affecting the activities of the general masses on a daily basis.
The time has come for the people at large to answer a fundamental question of notable worth—has democracy truly worked? Or is this just a veil to delude ordinary people, with ulterior sinister motives of a few who have concocted the idea to capture complete state power and run the entire nation according to their whims and fancies? The current crisis has been a result of continuous political chaos and piled red tapism of frequently changing heads of state who have shown little concern for the general population.
This evidently leads to the point where we as ordinary citizens are given no choice but to dance to the music of the oligarchs who are a direct assault on democracy. Before I delve into the details, it is crucial to understand briefly the events over the past decade that have landed us in this irresoluble mess.
Two important structural changes took place in the past decade in Nepal’s politics. One, the abolition of monarchy, where the monarch himself abdicated his throne owing to the pressure from the common people influenced by the Maoists. And two, the introduction of the ‘republic’ through an interim constitution—a tool to demonstrate legitimacy to govern and possess legal authority over the people.
Another important renaissance would be the metamorphosis of the Maoists into mainstream politics with their thumping victory in the Constituent Assembly elections. Our government has been weak ever since and politics has been focused not on national interests, but on securing control on party lines with substantial backing from the economic elite.
During this phase, the Constituent Assembly also failed to deliver the constitution due to constant political interference and the dilemma created out of ethnocentrism. Keeping this backdrop in mind, let us look into the actual aspects and features of oligarchy and identify it with the current political scenario of Nepal. The results are baffling. Not only do we find how close we are inching toward this model, but the entire system closely resembles the dark patterns of oligarchic control.
Oligarchy is a system of government in which power lies in the hands of a few individuals or a single class. In modern usage, oligarchy portrays narrow leadership as opposed to democracy, and the tendency for economic elites to emerge as powerful, thereby producing detrimental effects for a democratic government.
Robert Michels, a German sociologist, further came up with the iron law of oligarchy. He said that all large organizations (parties, bureaucracies, government institutions and civic groups) move toward oligarchy as power concentrates at the top where leaders have access to information and funds, thereby directing the organization to their own ends. Michels also went on to say that real democracy has been impossible to achieve—simply because of extensive requirements of the organization—hence giving rise to oligarchy.
According to the iron law of oligarchy, no matter how democratic at the start, all forms of large scale organizations—democratic or undemocratic—eventually and inevitably head to oligarchic governance with authoritarian and bureaucratic structures. Closely looking at the iron law, we can now confirm that any form of democratic government that has a large and extensive bureaucracy is doomed to be dominated by a small self-serving group of people.
Coming back to the political scenario in Nepal, we have seen incidents that have been witness to the fact that there are oligarchs who are despotically pushing forward their political agenda through various methods with substantial backing from the financial elite. Those that came out of the jungles with barely anything went a step ahead on the social ladder securing the best standards of living right in the heart of the capital. The funds, therefore, can be seen as being pushed forward by the financial elites in return for fulfilling their corporate agenda.
Our country has been witnessing a shaky democracy ever since, also more after the abolition of monarchy. The Maoists won the majority mandate in the elections obviously because of the sentiments of the people who actually wanted change, but also through coercive methods. Similarly, there was no opposition all this while—required for a thriving and successful democracy, although the Nepali Congress did loosely play the part.
Other political parties who were active within the framework of the interim government chose to extend alliances and coalitions to have a share in the government and secure their political image amongst party members and affiliates. Nothing was done to improve the living standards of the people, poverty is rampant as ever and the ones who sought solace in the leadership of the Maoists have been blindfolded like never before.
The political players who stand right on top are always parleying for a national consensus government and we have seen such forms stepping in to ease the strain on the political spectrum time and again with major political parties switching leadership positions and exchanging roles. During these switches—rationalized through the interim constitution—democratic values were strictly undermined.
We, as citizens, have limited ourselves to politics laid out strictly on the basis of party affiliation. Hence, if a leader of a major political party cries foul over another or expresses the importance of ethnic federalism, we seldom question and whole heartedly give the leader the benefit of doubt. Never have we had the opportunity to question the actions and failures of the government since the inception of the idea of liberal democracy in the country, where one prime minister does not last longer than the other.
Nepal’s politics is inching toward the model of ‘oligarchy’ and the entire system has come to resemble dark patterns of oligarchic control.
Rotating leadership on the basis of consensus and appraisals to civil servants has been a common sight which has ostentatiously led to corruption and nepotism. National issues are of mild importance but securing one’s political career is deemed necessary. Our national identity is at stake and our state coffers in ruins. It is time the people realize that such a ‘democracy’ is not democracy in the true sense of the word, but only has basic linguistic use so as to elude the people and thwart change. It, in fact, is closer to the notion of oligarchy.
Democracy works only when the masses are interested and they voice concerns, keeping aside their ethnic and party issues. The power to vote is one of the exclusive rights given to an individual and that should be the ultimate decider to bring much needed change for our country. People need to cast aside the strong feelings they have toward their ethnicity and political affiliation and consider themselves as citizens of Nepal, a country that has a remarkable history and whose disintegration none of us would ever desire.