When the late Girija Prasad Koirala led the 2006 popular movement against the monarchy, his main goal was to establish ‘full democracy that nobody can ever wrest’. Other goals included bringing the autocratic monarchy to an end, reinstatement of the then dissolved House of Representatives, holding of Constituent Assembly elections, restructuring of the state to resolve political, social and cultural issues and conflicts related to class, caste, gender and region, as well as the establishment of permanent peace. Six years on, worrying trends loom over our democracy, threatening to reverse the gains made in favour of democratic pluralism.
With the midnight assault on the Constituent Assembly (CA) on May 27, Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai appeared to be in a celebratory mood to announce fresh elections to the CA, vowing to wrest ‘two thirds majority to establish a single identity ethnic federalism’. This has created institutional and constitutional crises, prolonged the life of the Bhattarai government, and turned transitional uncertainties into a national crisis.
The government is merely a ‘caretaker’ for now and hence, can make no decisions that have long-term implications. Nonetheless, the PM conveniently set aside the spirit of the interim constitution to conduct the business of the government “consistently with the aspirations of the people’s movement, political consensus, and culture of mutual cooperation.” The PM’s words on use of executive powers as if it is a full-fledged government, appear to resemble the spirit of ‘by virtue of the State Authority as exercised by us’, used by King Gyanendra on February 1, 2005.
The emblem of any democratic government is its accountability to the public for its policies, actions, or inactions. Accountability works on an ethical foundation. Without it, the government loses its identity of being a publicly elected body, and tends to become arbitrary - preoccupied with self-serving personal and party interests.
The final goal of the popular movement of 2006 and the election to the Constituent Assembly was to institutionalize the democratic system based on the rule of law and respect for the rights and interests of its people. Unfortunately, governance in this country has come to be defined by one ordinance or another. This is a betrayal of popular mandate, and negation of the democratic process. The peace process seems like a strategic move of the Maoists establishment to cover up for their brand of authoritarianism.
A TALE OF TWO KINGS
In the midst of the 1990 pro-democracy protests, King Birendra invited the imprisoned leaders of the banned political parties agitating for the restoration of democracy to his palace and engaged them in talks to find a way out of the crisis. The late king offered them the prime ministership, lifted the ban on political parties, and expressed his willingness to work with them. He promulgated a democratic constitution, which relegated his role to that of a constitutional monarch, shedding his absolute powers.
Contrary to that, King Gyanendra followed the Mahendrapath, started dismantling the democratic institutions and changed the prime ministers like a pack of cards. He imprisoned the popularly elected prime minister and ruled the country directly. Instead of engaging national political actors to democratize the non-democratic elements, King Gyanendra vowed to crush the then raging Maoist insurgency. In 2006, however, the king had to relent to the rising popular will.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
Today, the government maintains a conspicuous silence about the activities of International Non-Government Organizations (INGOs) in the country. No mechanisms exist to regulate, monitor, and account the flow of resources into the country, their allocation, and utilization. The funds bypass government channels. An effective mechanism needs to be put in place to recognize the good work done and penalize those for going beyond their mandated areas.
However, no amount of foreign aid can contribute to national development and protect the rights of people if the element of national commitment is missing, and the national authority remains considerably weakened in the absence of democratic institutions. Aid has failed to reach the local people, motivate them and give them a sense of belongings in grass roots activities. About 1200-1300 youth leave the country every day, as the government has no capacity to give them jobs.
While Nepal needs the continued goodwill, enhanced support, and cooperation of the international community, it must be acknowledged that it was the disproportionate sufferings and sacrifices of the Nepali people that have paved the way for honoring the rights and interests of the people in the country. We are a country peacefully co-inhabited by multilingual, multicultural, and multiethnic people. The selection of human rights cases by the human rights community has been guided by strategic expediency. And that seems to have given rise to the demand for single identity ethnic federalism in the country. Nepal alone can protect the rights and interests of its people.
Nepal is located in a dynamic, yet volatile region. The global limelight is now shifting from the Atlantic to Asia—thanks to the economic power engines that India and China have emerged as. The US has made Asia its priority, considering it as a major source of global stability.
The entire Himalayan belt appears to be emerging as a decisive factor in maintaining the balance of power for global peace and stability. The New Silk Road initiative along the traditional routes that once connected Asia with Europe further brings the Himalayas at the center of economic and strategic cooperation and competition. Nepal matters to the security of its neighbors and beyond, with a potentially significant impact in the wider region. Its geopolitical centrality is becoming evident in the evolving strategic scenario.
The government´s brief is to build on what has been achieved so far, follow the spirit of constitution, engage with national leaders and avoid duplicity in domestic and foreign policy.
Back in 1976, BP Koirala said the lack of unity in the nation had helped foreign interests initiate intrigues and make Nepal a center of international conspiracy. The protracted transition today is compounding uncertainty, confusion, instability, and economic stagnation. The double standards displayed by the Maoists, as exemplified in the expressions of PM’s own cabinet members and party colleagues towards democracy and foreign policy, will greatly complicate the security and economic environment across the Himalayas with wider ramifications.
It is time that we face the facts with a more objective and rational view of the growing complex situation. The interim constitution is a transitional document and cannot hold fort for long. The government should lead by example, build on what has been achieved so far, follow the spirit of the constitution, sincerely engage with national leaders within the democratic framework and avoid duplicity in domestic and foreign policy. The alternative is fraught with devastating consequences for the nation. Noted diplomat Yadu Nath Khanal once said: ‘If home policy is mismanaged, internal rulers are changed, but if foreign policy is mismanaged even the existence of the country may be endangered.’
The author is former ambassador/permanent representative of Nepal to the United Nations