Dev Raj Dahal
THE system of representation has turned democracy a viable form of governance. Democratic theories seek to explain the ties of the polity with the state and citizens. Democracy provides wider links for citizens to deploy their representation in the polity and many public and private institutions that impact the decision making system. Through constitution, the democratic polity sets out goals, policies and institutional means and resources to satisfy citizens’ desires, rights and lawful aspirations. This representative link of the polity is the source of its legitimacy. It is mostly derived from elections, public opinion and popular consent while the authority is derived from the laws and mandate of the institutions of the state which has the right to issue, impel and guide obligatory order.
The elites’ competition within political parties secures representation and support from citizens in the political processes. Democracy requires constant lubrication of the process of interconnection between public authorities at wider scales from security, justice, health, education, environment, communication, production and distribution to political mediation, aggregation and articulation of diverse interests of citizens to decision making centres held together by the concept of common good.
Nepali state’s policies of social inclusion, proportional representation and positive discrimination have beefed up representational links to the polity and the state so that gaps between haves and have-nots on political power are fairly moderated. The system of judicial autonomy and review has provided a process of defining the will of the state within the domain of parliament and a check on legislature acting as an extension of political parties and the partisan government so that they do not infringe on human rights of citizens, upset systemic balance and deviate from public and national interests. Obviously, democratic government itself is considered representative of all Nepalis.
Similarly, elected bodies represent the first link of Nepalis to legislative process, a link that legally sets popular sovereignty and legitimacy of state power institutionalised into citizenship rights. As a vital political link representing the will of citizens, Nepali parliament is purely a political arena for electing the political executive, endogenous policy and law making process, problem solver through informed and lively dialogue on issues and fair mediator of rival interests. It seeks to overcome the procedural deficits in the democratic mechanism of representation. It is also their transmitter of legitimating and optimising the process of governance.
In this sense, effective functioning of specialised committees of parliament is essential to strengthen representative links on many vital issues, monitor the performance of executive and other branches of governance and make the government accountable to the electorates. The strength of Nepali democracy rests on their ability to professionally function with technical-political efficiency. Elected local, provincial and federal legislatures offer active projection of citizens’ mandate both to civic and bureaucratic-legal system providing Nepalis vital representational links and institutional resources of the state, a state deemed acting as neutral arbiter.
Nepali political parties are another representative links of citizens where they elect representatives to party organisation and legislatures at various scales. They mobilise voters, collect and express public demands to the governmental sphere. Local social structures of the nation, like Nepali parties and public administration, are governed by the validity of vertical ties. Their adaptation is based on coordination and task achievement. Yet, some elements are crucial to their rationality: specialised functions, self-rationality in lawful-orientation corresponding to integrity, transparency and accountability, execution of the tasks of upper echelon of leadership and mustering support from the general public at the grassroots thus tying the top with the bottom of society.
But, in Nepal, political parties are weak in political socialisation and production of skilled and visionary leaders capable of engaging in a team work and creating effective, orderly and institutional participation in the political process so that alienation and rebellion can be avoided. Socialising citizens and educating leaders who can build institutions they run, uphold boundless outreach of integrity and bring the Nepalis together with a sense of oneness can make a difference in the nation’s life. Ironically, personalised nature of party politics, factionalism and inclination of leaders to join any type of regime irrespective of ideological compatibility and programme orientation indicate that political parties in Nepal are not well-institutionalised to enable citizens exercise democratic choice in the territorially-bounded state, bridge the social and centre-periphery cleavages and increase constitutional outreach to transnational issues entangled in a post-national system of mutual interdependence.
The third representative link is civil society, autonomous bodies created by citizens themselves for the realization of their collective interest and equally constituting a countervailing power. In Nepal, there are myriads of civil society formed as union, federations, associations and countless community groups. Only a few civil society groups are advocating civic education and performing charity works. Most of them are subjected to the direction of political parties, government, dominant groups of society and donors thus fumble on self-accountability. Still others engaged in social struggles for justice, identity and recognition beyond political parties are issue-based and demand the public good for all.
In this sense, attentive Nepalis must be able to watch the watchdogs of democracy so that they can effectively monitor the indicators of democratic quality. Obviously media and judiciary in Nepal are vibrant civic organisations that seek to act as a guarantee against arbitrariness of the executive. Media’s support to judicial activism is justified on the ground that it defends public and national interests better than partisan political leaders evident from its array of verdicts. The meditative and collective functions of local civil society add full vigour to forward movement to democracy and provide voice, visibility and representation of asymmetric nature of general Nepali society in legislative power and social change. Only their rational construction can contribute to a legitimate public order affirming the sovereignty of people, their restless curiosity about good life and project welfare nature of the state.
As law has replaced religion’s cognitive, normative and emotive frame in public life and public policy, the efficacy of law rests on its self-rationality, public reason, morality and justice so that its ability to change society is not undermined by the status quo of privileged elites. In Nepal, however, the potential of law for social and national integration is weaker than unique persistence of soft power of rituals, culture, religion and tradition acting as a public sphere. In this context the interest of judiciary to implement all valid recommendations of various task forces is expected to prevent the delay or miscarriage of justice. The same problem lies with financial policies of the political system which is less based on constitutional spirit of social welfare state or attuned to public imperatives and opinion until coronavirus gripped the regime compelling it to become sensitive to public good.
The universal suffrage demands both democratisation of law, representative institutions, parliament, political parties and intermediary institutions of civil society. Yet, their patronage-based politics and market monopoly increasingly defy it generating a tension between social modernisation of Nepali society with the rise of citizens as ultimate judge and traditional style of leadership often fighting for rewards like power, status and privileges. As a result, collective identification of leadership and their voters to the parties is marked by instability affecting their behavioural patterns and maladjustment of minorities to the nation’s civic culture stoking the spirit of antipathy and sullen indifference devoid of representational link. This is because of the intoxicating nature of political power responding only to equation politics, not impersonal one acting as a general trust of all citizens.
Nepali leaders’ inclination to business, not receptive to social movements, in the legislative process continues to skew the representative links of parties to society at the grassroots level exposing their programmatic electoral campaign artificial thus flagging social contract, party-voter ties and act as transmission belt between the state and citizens. The relative competence of Nepali leadership to lead rests on how it increases the efficiency, impersonality and integrity of constitutional bodies beyond polity’s legislative-executive-judiciary circuit and implements decisions and policies. It is important for Nepali leaders to astutely balance its domestic and foreign policies and even manage anti-system opponents and divisive appeals so that geopolitical hawks encircling above do not turn the state into a pressure cooker without any viable safety valve to reduce the pressure and save the nation’s right to self-determination.
Most of Nepal’s political and development policies ended in a sub-optimal outcomes thus morphing into unanticipated complications, not learning opportunities for leaders to resolve inter-party conflict or settle national problems of pandemic, poverty, unemployment, economic stagnation and social fissures. System-insensitive leaders often avoid participatory conflict resolution mechanism because they do not have institutional memory to pass on to the next generations and groom them for able leadership role. The nub of the problem is that when top leaders of Nepali political parties evolve “close loop” to entertain the advice of only their intimate persons they habitually ignore the various sources of feedbacks emerging from opposition, citizens, media, civil society, international community, etc. and learn from their failures which is a vital path to leap forward to democracy consolidation.
The other is the application of discipline-oriented knowledge to resolve complex problems which it cannot solve. An interdisciplinary team of scholars is required in the nation to provide constant inputs to guide policies and help resolve issues of various types. An “open loop” alone can open the scope for youths' demand for leadership opportunity and keep the polity resilient and dynamic. One strategy of strengthening representational link is through the re-politicisation of public institutions on the basis of constitutional mandate of welfare state, the other is augmenting output legitimacy of Nepali democracy by improving stellar performance beyond the demands of organised interest groups struggling for privileges, still the other is renewing internal democracy of parties, their auxiliary organs, unions, federations and associations formed on sectoral lines and transform pre-political groups and rights-based bodies into political and duty-based political culture.
One can see the thickening of their solidarities across the border aiming to bring their pressure on native decision making system. It does not exonerate Nepali politics from the blame culture which deliberately sabotaged each other leader’s image before the public and wheeled political spectrum irresistibly to the direction of right, not the democratic middle as per constitutional vision of Nepal. Promotion of smooth reforms and change in the institutions, culture and psychology of citizens and an improvement in the spike of the responsive capacity of leadership and civic institutions are key multipliers of success in boosting representative links of citizens and bolstering the social base of democracy.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)
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