Democracy in Nepal?
Author: Kamala Sarup
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on 02/23/2005
King Gyanendra tried hard to avoid the declaration of the state of emergency. He asked each of the three prime ministers to form a coalition government and conduct elections and find a negotiated settlement. However, all three failed to fulfill the tasks they promised to complete. During the same period, the ongoing conflict with the Maoist rebels escalated, and now more than 5,000 people have died in the past two years alone.
The Maoist insurgency that Nepal faces currently has caused the death of more than 11,000 Nepalis since it began in 1996. The Maoists, who want to overthrow the government and establish a socialist state, have refused to come into the mainstream of Nepali politics and end the violence.
But even in the face of these problems, lack of proper government leadership has been endemic. When twelve Nepalese workers were taken hostage and killed in Iraq last year by terrorists, there was a massive riot in Kathmandu. Yet the incompetent government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba remained only a silent observer. Consequently, there was much destruction, and even though it was a stupid act on the part of the mob, it was partly the fault of a government that had failed to maintain law and order.
Gyanendra abolished the Deuba-led democratic government in Nepal at the beginning of February because he felt that he had met the end of the road. In order to maintain law and order, he saw no alternative but to declare the state of emergency. The only other alternative would have been to ask the Maoists themselves to form a government.
Still, Gyanendra s actions will not be a final solution. When Deuba was prime minister, the Maoists said they would only negotiate with the king. But now that Gyanendra is in power, they say they will not talk to him. Obviously it is going to take time to see how things work out, yet I envision more trouble for the country and the people.
Even though the rebels have been demanding elections for a constituent assembly that would draft a new constitution aimed at establishing a communist state, it seems that the Maoists are not under any central control any more. They have turned into unruly bandits, and even if the leadership does agree to a settlement, I am afraid the armed guerrillas will not obey the leaders.
Still, the problem of peace remains, and it, I think, is a more pressing one than the reinstitution of democracy. The first priority should be to restore peace and stability throughout the country and combat organized crime and corruption. Nepalese people want peace. Without peace there is no development and there is no democracy. When there is not enough peace and food, the reconstruction and construction of roads, hospitals and schools, is simply out of the question.
As Dr. Khagendra Thapa of Ferris State University wrote:
The bottom-line is 72% of the people are illiterate. About 75% live below poverty level. Average earning of these people is less than 65 cents a day. The actions of Maoists have caused a lot of misery to the common people. Civilian victims of the Maoists atrocities have been the poor villagers. These people were ignored by the political parties. The constant troubles caused by the political parties and the Maoists have destroyed the economy. Tourism industry is just about dead. The party fat cats and their cronies have become rich overnight. However, they tell the people it takes a lot of time to develop under democracy.
Over the last 13 years, six types of governments have ruled the country. We are passing through a very critical phase. Economic disparity, social injustice and rampant corruption made Nepalese people more frustrated. In addition, social inequality stands as a major stumbling block of economic equality. Most of the power installments are located in and around the capital. Addressing the underlying causes of the insurgency widespread rural poverty and the failure to spread the benefits of development more widely is critical for Nepal’s development.
Social transformations will reduce conflicts. If the leaders and the government of Nepal promote education and values that emphasize national and international identification rather than ethnic, religious, tribal or clan identification, then the ethnic, religious, tribal and clan conflicts will diminish, in the long run. If they promote sufficient economic, judicial and political equality, then the people at the bottom of the ladder will not want to topple those at the top. The results of reducing conflict are that when people engage in production and art rather than war, then the killing and maiming are reduced and the general living standards are increased and people are more satisfied.
The recent political developments in Nepal have been of great concern to all Nepalese living both in Nepal and abroad. Indeed, the need of the hour right now is for every concerned Nepalese is to push for national unity, because due to political fractionlism Nepal is starting to show signs of societal fragmentation, a really worrying issue. Due to our precariously unfavourable geopolitical situation, concerned Nepalese must not permit any elements to engage in groupism or fragmentary practices. In this juncture, we Nepali have to play a crucial role in explaining Nepal’s current political doldrums and offer alternatives for national unity.
Peace can be restored in Nepal. Foreign investors can be brought in. Nepal can be made a prosperous country. Let’s hope for security, peace and functional democracy in Nepal. But remember, democracy in Nepal can only prevail if there is law and order.
Bio: Kamala Sarup a freelance writer and the editor of peacejournalism.com.