Republicanism: Despite Progress, Challenges Remain

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Nepal's shift from monarchy to republicanism was a watershed moment in the country's history. However, the republic's roots have not yet penetrated deep inside Nepali society, which was ruled for more than two centuries by Shah Monarchs, who began to lose the people's confidence as they placed self-interest above responsibility and ignored public opinion. The absolute reign of the Shah Kings was characterised by a poor economy, a dismal state of development, and the violation of democratic rights.

As political parties argued for a republican state, the movement against monarchy gained traction. After the then-King Gyanendra became more tyrannical and usurped power by dismissing the elected government on February 1, 2005, political parties led people to an uprising against the King's authoritarian reign, opening the path for republicanism. On Jestha 15, 2065 BS (May 28, 2008), Nepal became a republican state with the first sitting of the Constituent Assembly. The transition was completed when the elected president and vice president took office.

The decision to make the country a republic was a demand of the country's then-rebel Maoists. Following the then-monarch's absolute rule, the rebels' demand was achieved, as the 2007 uprising forced the then king to step down. This has restored peace in the country, since Maoists have entered mainstream politics by laying down their weapons.

Benefits of new reforms

The new constitution, drafted and promulgated by the Constituent Assembly in 2015, has effectively established Nepal as a multicultural, multilingual, and multi-ethnic republic state. Our charter is a progressive and inclusive document that has secured considerable representation of women, Dalits, ethnically disadvantaged groups in federal and provincial parliaments and municipal administration, as well as made our economy a socialist-oriented one. Many fundamental rights are guaranteed under the federal democratic republican constitution, including freedom of expression, assembly, and religion. These rights have been mostly maintained by the government, and there has been a dramatic decline in human rights violations since the monarchy was dissolved.

Republicanism has enabled voters to participate in the political process and hold their elected leaders accountable. The transition to a republican state has increased the scope for civic action, allowing people and organisations to express their concerns and participate in policy-making. Nepal has developed social participation and equality by adopting republican values.

According to experts, the new reforms, which have brought a sense of openness and more freedom, are also beneficial to economic development and has aimed to attract international investment and foster business by emphasising stability, accountability, and the rule of law. Efforts have been undertaken to streamline corporate rules, improve infrastructure development and diversify business and trade, all of which have the ability to spur economic growth and alleviate poverty. 

Meanwhile, owing to republicanism, Nepal's diplomatic relations and international recognition have increased. The Republic of Nepal's engagement in regional and global forums has expanded, allowing for better collaboration in sectors like as commerce, security, and development. The new shift has solidified Nepal's standing as a sovereign and independent nation, facilitating its absorption into the global community.

While the republic has achieved widespread popularity, some political parties, notably as the RPP, have constantly opposed republicanism, federalism, and secularism. Even among communist parties, the Nepali Congress, and a few others, certain groups are opposed to Nepal's new political structure.

Change in attitude

The foundation of a democratic republic demands not just a change in administration but also a change in attitude, thinking habits and ways of life. However, the performance of previous presidents, prime ministers, ministers, and public officials has frequently revealed traces of undemocratic inclinations. Controversies surrounding presidents, from Rambaran Yadav to Bidya Devi Bhandari, have eroded the dignity and image of the office, sparking discussions over the sustainability of republicanism in the country. 

Meanwhile, in Nepal, a nation with over 100 ethnic classes, ethnic or inter-ethnic conflicts have frequently flared up even during the present time. Madhesi people still raise the issue of discriminations over several issues, including the citizenship one. Similarly, rising level of corruption have fueled public dissatisfaction with our system that is only one and half decade old. The recent fake Bhutanese refugee scam, in which former deputy prime ministers, the Home Minister, top-ranking officials, and many middlemen linked to highly-place people have been implicated, has raised concerns about the country's new federal republic style of administration. 

Following the swindle, certain lawmakers and officials have been charged with crimes against the state, the first of its kind since the country became a republic. Corruption scandals of enormous proportions, such as wide-body aircraft acquisitions, Omni, Yeti, contracts to builders, tax evasions, and tax exemptions for larger corporations, are among many instances that have threatened to tarnish the new system.

Political instability is another major source of concern. Rapid changes in governments in the centre and provinces, differences over ministerial portfolios as well as leaders' flagrant contempt for constitutional restrictions, have afflicted our republican system. Political leaders and people's representatives continue to bargain for lucrative political appointments. All of this has increased people's dissatisfaction.

As anti-republican elements such as the former King, his followers, and pro-Hindu organisations in the country and abroad become more aware of the public's growing dissatisfaction with the new system of governance, they are frequently engaged in derailing it. The former King and his adherents, some of whom are party officials, frequently make scathing statements about leaders and the new system.

Fostering nation-building

Having said that, it is true despite Nepal's risky and complex transition from a monarchical and unitary system to a federal republic one, the country has been successful in fostering nation-building and strengthening nationalism through a change in governance and style with the establishment of the republic. The republic's future however hinges on overcoming these difficulties and maintaining the people's faith and trust.  Nepal's republican period has seen significant progress in terms of nationalism growth, nation-state formation, and the establishment of a republican system. Economic progress, social reform, effective governance, and transparency are critical to the success of republicanism. To ensure Nepal's bright future as a democratic republic, it is critical to focus on the ideals of democracy, accountability, transparency, and social welfare.

To sum up, it is safe to state that Nepal has made headway towards becoming a Federal Democratic Republic, but challenges remain. To reach the republic's full potential, the government and political leaders must prevent growing levels of corruption, improve democratic ideals and openness in government, address community concerns, and promote inclusive governance.

(The author is a former managing editor of this daily.)

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