Dev Raj Dahal
Democratic regime is organised within the permanent institutions of the state as they provide hard shell to avert effects of what Hedley Bull calls the ‘anarchic state of global politics where power induced geopolitics, not norm-based democracy, is a guiding constant’. But if the state has defective monopoly on power caused by its inability to satisfy international obligations, needs and demands of societal forces and rights of Nepalis, it cannot mobilise the bonding forces of society for national coherence and regime stability. This power defect of Nepali state has halted the public institutions to act autonomous of political parties and interest groups -- bureaucratic, business and geopolitics -- and create an impersonal constitutional order capable of delivering public good, muster the loyalty of citizens and keep the coherence state-polity-citizen in national space.
Nepali politics devoid of any policy production duty and accountability to sovereign public is losing its lustre in the din of macho spectacles of ruling Nepal Communist Party’s (NCP) split between the government and hostile opposition. Both are seething in a trade of furious tirade, rumbling rivalry to oust each other, capture party offices, row over the control of lower tiers and display of muscular vigour by exciting the eloquence of electrified crowd. It is posing security risks even tempting the starry cast of neighbours. The pliable opponent, Nepali Congress, though forced to lash out the government step finds the downside walk of NCP a chance to shoot self in this catch. Others fuel mass fury carrying its own consequences. The bloated size of politicians has corrupting influence on their self-destructive conflicts.
The nation’s public opinion is torn between the supporters of the dissolution of parliament for next elections recommended by Prime Minister KP Oli and the Prachanda-Nepal faction which wants to revive it either through the Supreme Court or mass protests. The rising chorus of religious, anti-republican and anti-federal aspirations for cultural appropriation is boiling in the streets. This is the only traditional threat for the regime. But this threat is not adequate to heal their cleavages. Inversely, party heavyweights’ own stale style of centralised, top-down politics played on binary code of friend and foe with diverse electorates of the nation holds anti-modern ardour.
Atrophy of institutions
Clientalistic loyalty to leaders is inapt to fresh democratic aspiration that requires impersonal institutions based on rule of law. The rising personalisation of leadership in Nepal at every sphere of public life thus marks an atrophy of institutional culture crucial for the execution of public mandate, attain political stability and business-friendly environment to pursue win-win strategy and foil the scary regime decay. Democracy is a doctrine of choice, not of necessity. Nepali democracy too requires a dynamic balance between the changing aspirations of citizens and leadership imperative for regime renewal, reprogramming and stability for the good of the nation. To recapture the lost vision and unshackle the fetters of external micromanagement, Nepal needs to espouse a sanctimonious tenor in shifting international relations.
The grips of Nepali parties on most of the state institutions, invalid checks and balances, erosion of constitutional bodies and power vacuum mark the vulnerability of regime to the competition of great powers in the nation spotting the question of leadership into sharp focus. Their performance is marred by a lack of leadership for a long time and becoming a recruiting ground for political leaders on the basis of patronage system, not merit, efficiency or performance. The deficiency of national perspective in the execution of their duties chokes the line of authority, integrity and responsibility to elicit the trust of cynical citizens. Only the Nepal Army seems to be a non-partisan state-bearing institution. Other bodies operate under the command, control and influence of fractious political leaders. They, therefore, face the shortfall of trust.
Nepali media and independent civil society often expose the dearth of their constitutional behaviour, honesty and impartiality. This is the sign of their deinstitutionalisation and dysfunctionality in keeping constitutional safeguards against governing institutions and resolve conflict through deliberation and dialogue in the parliament. The extra-parliamentary mode of conflict resolution through external agencies, all-party committee or few top leaders’ consensus without broad consultation signifies the want of inner party democracy where affected have a chance to participate thus making possible to ease internal social cohesion, political inclusion and pan-Nepali destiny around the ideal of citizenship.
In Nepal, regime instability has occurred because each government created more losers than winners of political game. Nepal’s history reveals the fact that losers rejoiced all regime change -- democratic or authoritarian because they did not have ownership, stake and knowledge of its performance and any hope of doing better than the previous regimes. Nepalis were not given suitable civic education enthusing in them civic values and virtues of democracy, its transparency and accountability in the acquisition, transfer and use of political power. Habit-driven leaders fall sort of institutional learning or acquire the experience of history so as not to recur the past failures. Considering the past as an “enemy,” they are disinclined to learn the lessons of history or the contribution of historical figures to national sovereignty, security and stability.
Their battle against the devolution of power, resource and authority enrages Nepalis’ anticipating democratic and peace dividends. In Nepal, regime instability routinely arose as all the Nepali constitutions have been based on power equation of powerful actors, not general democratic value consensus of actual, potential and left out actors so that its institutions and procedures get credibility thus turning the process compliance habitual. As a result, it has opened the scope for the political culture of negation, alienation, rebellion and conflict making political actors easy prey to predators, parasites and spoilers and getting trapped into an abyss.
Nepali constitution and political parties are aspirational, not stability-driven, subsidiary-identity oriented, not citizenship based, and clientalistic, not fully free of power equation. Too many rights and too few duties granted to Nepalis have hatched populist and identity-oriented politics. The later has fostered fundamentalism that excludes the other and becomes a source of conflicts – identity, interest and ideological oriented with high-octane emotion which are difficult to resolve though their optimisation, democratic compromise or securing the rationality of middle path rooted into constitutional values and goals.
Nepal now finds less convergence of the state, economy, political parties and civil society within the national sphere, a convergence central for regime stability. Obviously post-national constellation of Nepali civil society, political parties, their auxiliary organisations, human rights bodies, media associations, NGOs and identity groups for funding, philosophy, technology, training and implementing agencies are less informed by democratic ethics than an impulse towards refusal to accept Nepali state’s writ over their world. It is eroding the efficacy of its regime to keep their orientation to constitutional imperative of a shared future.
The flow of anti-institutional politics across the party lines propelled by caucus, lobby, interest groups, free riders, cause groups and social movements leverages against political parties, polity and the state. It is opening fault lines of the regime. Many global forces engaged in social engineering of Nepal’s policy, laws and decisions are outside its constitutional outreach. Some are stoking extra-party, extra-parliamentary, extra-constitutional and anti-regime politics fanning cultural transformation of Nepal and adding causes for regime instability, not making it a unified nation in the face of multiple crises.
The gap between flamboyant ideological promises of leaders during elections and political agitations without any policy articulation, resource accessibility and institutional vigour to fulfil implies another sign of regime instability in Nepal. The catch-all nature of all political parties and their rising deideologisation have amplified shifting trends, multipolarised the political landscape and increased the cost of politics while falling any sense of volunteerism of their cadres and voters without economic incentives or other prospects. It has thus emerged a privileged space where corruption has metastasised under the culture impunity. The politics of negation has infused many forms of resistance while disharmony between liberal constitution and illiberal economic policies upended democratic outcome for those below the rock bottom of progress throttling their ability to compete.
Nepali polity has ensured better representation of social classes at all levels of governance. Yet, the demographic necessity of job, income, health, education and planning long-term needs remain. The causes of stability deficits underlined above must be overcome through many strategies within the normative frame of democracy. First, constitutionalisation of all actors of governance helps stabilise the regime. In the interconnected world where disciplinary knowledge, social division of labour and national institutional boundaries in policy making are breaking down only if Nepali constitution can serve a vital compass to navigate the nation’s future.
Yet, it needs to adapt to economic and technological change. The coordination of multi-level governance actors is other areas to resolve common problems of pandemic, climate change, trade, terrorism, migration, poverty, inequality, etc. Enforcement of constitutional behaviour of citizens and leaders, however, requires effective political socialisation as per the spirit of constitutionalism and the rule of law. What one can see in Nepal is cacophonous socialisation by media, political leaders and educational institutions as they are torn between the private and the public and narrate democracy in a variety of conflicting ways.
Second, keeping a balance between political institutionalisation, citizen participation and budgetary support in public works offers a veneer of stability. The synergy of the public, private and charity-based organisations generates better democratic and development outcome beyond wrenching intellectual and moral crisis unable to meet the challenges of change. Democracy in Nepal has opened the prospect for freedom of expression and sprawling institutional growth at the societal level. But the extractive patrimonial political culture of leaders holds no respect for democratic restraints. Third, upholding a balance between state and market and inputs and outputs of the regime helps attain regime goals and secure its stability.
Election may provide political legitimacy to regime but its endurance requires effective pathways of circulation of promising elites as per constitutional provisions, electoral promises, electorates’ preference and changing political economy. Fourth, management of various forms of “opposition” into democratic frame is crucial so that violent ones are brought into compliance to rule. The regime needs to listen more to peaceful protests than armed groups and deliver public good to all citizens. Fifth, Nepal needs a consistency of the constitutional spirit and economic policy fundamentals which are seen so far disharmonious as policies are mainly imported without public knowledge. They are not correctly indigenised to fit national condition. The regime stability rests on how its public and private institutions satisfy public and national interests in a sustainable manner making the future a shared prosperity of all Nepalis.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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