Democracy is more than a regime. Its maturation mediates the contradictions between legally enforced liberty of individuals and the rationality of collective life and their legal equality and factual inequality. This mediation helps to deradicalise society, purge the absurdity of dogmatism and fulfil the rights of citizens. From classical periods of human history to now many, contradictions exist between the state’s imperative for order and struggle of society for freedom, law’s instinct to control and the aspirational passion of politics, leaders’ bent to constitutionalise society and democracy lure for social change and the rule of association to regulate engagement within its writ and leaders’ impulse to expand it to fit citizens’ demands spurred by social media, science and technology.
The social struggles of Nepalis outside the frame of political parties now have set incoherence between their orderly participation and fragile frame of institutional base of parties to absorb them. The shifting democratic forms - from the bourgeoisies, representative to participatory - have invented their own type of mediators so that the antinomies between do not breed political division, sadism and anomie ending Laxman Rekha of each national institution.
Political reform The spirit of the Constitution of Nepal as a social contract is precisely couched in to mediate functions of opposites in a rational symbiosis and ease citizens’ participation in democratic public life and its structures such as the state, polity, government, political parties, civil society, local bodies, business and a myriad of vibrant political networks across countless divides. Advanced nations have regularly renewed and renovated the mediators of contradictions. They have achieved both political stability and change as per changing rights of electorates and the zeitgeist. Timely political reforms avert contradictions and keep the resilience of community, tradition and democracy while stale stasis propels the impatient critical mass of society to agitate unravelling the flaws of institutional mediators of democracy’s contradictions.
Nepal’s history of political change can be attributed mainly to two factors: inability of its polity to mediate the aspirations of new social classes internally and incapacity to cope with external demands. In such a context, democratic dynamics become disorderly. The weight of oppositional forces, election, public opinion, education and media linked to science and technology offers huge moral effects on political processes unequal to regime response. As a result, the structures and functions of polity remain febrile in keeping political solidarity with power against the unruly effects of change. The promises of Nepali leaders for better life helped to mobilise the sentiment and energy of citizens but their ascent into power left them displeased thus opening new ground to perturb their emotive socialization.
Nepal’s electoral trends indicate that each time electorates have beaten the incumbent party and catapulted the opposition hoping better prospects for them and their children. Yet, the tenacity of the old political culture of self-promotion, ego and patrimonialism swung them to distraction. The democratic contradiction in Nepal thus ripped wide as the power of authority and its responsiveness to the public witnessed reverse. As Nepalis find their resolute faith of democratic promises defied by the weight of evidence of policy performance, they habitually reframed their faith, no matter how much party intellectuals rationalised in self-deceit. Obviously, democracy wary of atomistic appeal of human nature and nature of government has furnished the needs for power separation and checks and balances in the polity.
In Nepal, however, the rule of law has been melted into politics and political elites have the temptation to change the constitution to fit their agenda rather than changing self thus marking a lack of their constitutional behaviour. The politics of ordinance marks the declining legislative power of citizens. As politics in Nepal stayed within the privilege of impunity, it has stimulated non-political actors -- civil society, business, retired security officials and special interest groups to join politics and stifle its rules. The decline of ideological identity of Nepali parties has eased this passage. It has distorted communication of political idioms to ordinary Nepalis and cadres marking the fall in volunteerism spurred by social instinct.
The bitter linguistic exchange of leaders continues to unblock a space for the intrusion of free-riders into politics devoid of the purpose of politics to attain a good life for Nepalis, a life in which they have opportunity for self-fulfilment. This is a broader mental shift which has eroded the efficacy of Nepali politics to achieve the goals of the constitution. The weak mediating factors have reared the legitimacy crisis of Nepali political life. The influence of external forces into the national life is getting deeper for the heavy reliance of its political economy and solidarity-based groups for the source of income than the internal tax base. This is enforcing outside accountability thus bleaching governance quality.
One vital democratic mediator is the judicial system. But the early socialisation of judges and lawyers on partisan cognition and activism has animated now into a row between judges and the legal experts crying for the resignation of chief justice and his defiance. It has wreaked fatal injuries to the autonomy of courts as impartial adjudicator of justice and turned it into a political arena for power struggle, unable to institutionalise professionalism, protect constitution, civil rights and power balance. The integrity of the justice system in Nepal is bound up with the ability of judges to dispense fair justice above the corruption of partisan logic and legal cavils where innocents are victimised but keep the higher plane of public reason and post-conventional morality, justice and duty.
This is an important mediator of contradiction between power, authority and wealth on the one hand and the light of wisdom, public opinion, social feedback and constitutional spirit on the other. The discursive formation of law through the parliament Nepal is precisely designed to set the validity of vox populi, experience of citizens, deliberative tradition and universalisable interests of all citizens without exception and doctrine of necessity. It can rescue democracy from muddle.
Nepali civil society groups, filled with feeling, empathy and emotional confidence, have to selflessly cater to the power of bridging and bonding social interest. They need to be locally rooted, oriented to ordinary citizens and engaged into civic education providing them training on rights and duties, knowledge about the constitution and institutions of democracy and internalisation of democratic ideals and practices. They are mediators of contradictions created by the unmediated dialectic of democracy and market economy and civic equality and laissez faire. Democratic-sensitive civil society can link Nepalis to cosmopolitan norms, a sense of universal belonging owing to their entitlement to human rights and a part of the global community without flagging the contractual duty of citizenship.
They need to diffuse mediating ideals into the entire spectrum of Nepali life and translate their ideals of freedom, justice, solidarity and peace into simple local idioms, in usable and systemic form to stitch politics to constitutional path. It is vital because party schools of Nepal only indoctrinate in close loop, the Election Commission offers only voters’ information not critical ideas for voters’ choice and democracy projects of donors once seen highly messianic are now withdrawn into oblivion. Most democracy building projects have just frittered away. There is a great merit of civic education in constructing civic culture as active citizens are powerful enforcers of leaders’ commitment to their promises and enable them to pass reflective judgement on human condition.
One, however, must be cautious in the capacity of Nepali civil society. They only raise demands and rights and drive citizens to an aspirational impulse unmatched by their own educational ability on enlightenment, transparency and performance. This means they need to enter into the concept of citizenship building from the grassroots so that Nepalis are capable of building trust across their families, kinship, territory and party and widen the horizon of politics beyond excessive party-minded thinking to build national public culture of democracy.
Independent media of Nepal can become an effective mediator of debate about individual, group, public and national interests with the constitutional conceptions of freedom, justice and order, democratic conception of life and reform culturally relativist political culture which is inconsistent with the native tradition of tolerant enlightenment. Many Nepali political parties seem weak to imbibe democratic constitutional practices and shape compatible aspirations for a shared future. For example, Nepali Congress and CPN-UML are plagued by deep factionalism, Janata Samajbadi Dal advocates multinational state, it and the Maoist-Centre parade presidential form of government, ethnic parties advocate for ethnicity-based federalism, Maoist-Centre and Madhesh-based parties demand fully proportional election system while others are bent on either amending constitutional along fault lines of polity, or its replacement by people’s republic thus putting a brake on its consolidation.
It is absurd to think that political parties, leadership, constitution and institutions organized around pre-modern identity politics are capable of rationality of modernity of impersonal state and impersonal citizens and foster community spirit at various scales of life. The surge of multi-participatory networks, movements and institutions outside political parties’ frame has increased self-awareness of citizens about what the template of democracy is, how it works and how it resolves its own contradictions. The appropriation of democratic tradition of politics in Nepal can only furnish a shared semantics, a common ground for all natives, resolve the contradictions between post- traditional law and pre-modern politics for the mediation of diverse interests, ideologies and identities and shape a stable democratic future.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)