It is not unusual, especially in our New Nepal, for anyone speaking for monarchy, in whatever form, to be viewed as a far-right “royalist” who wants to revert to the good ol’ feudal days. Let me qualify everything written below by saying that I am for a constitutional monarchy and full-fledged multi-party Democracy in Nepal. Let me further qualify that monarchy is treated below in its institutional capacity to unite a fast disintegrating country and to maintain its national identity and sovereignty.
Since Marx is being quoted so often and so haphazardly these days, let me go back some 2,000 plus years and talk about Plato and his The Republic, a fundamental exposition of political theory. Plato expounded that those who have the most intelligence, strength and courage are the ones best suited to rule; rule by the best - the Greek word for which is “aristocracy”. The term “aristocracy” has since been denigrated to mean government by people of the highest social class or by hereditary nobility. The true meaning of the word is simply government by those who have the greatest virtues to govern. Plato relegates democracy to only a step above tyranny. For him, a “Democratic government” holds out the promise of equality for all of its citizens but delivers only the anarchy of an unruly mob, each of whose members is interested only in the pursuit of private interests. Sound familiar?
Ancient Greek utopian political musings aside, 21st century reality is that democracies are the order of the day. A “representative democracy” (and here the definition of the Founding Fathers of the United States is relevant) is where representatives of the people are elected and whose power to govern is limited by laws enshrined in a constitution. This is the “constitution” which the 601 members of our Constituent Assembly failed to draft over the past two years – the time they were given by the last election to achieve this momentous task. “By the people, of the people, and for the people” is the ringing cry of democracy. But who are the “People”? In Nepal, is it the 85% rural population, 50% illiterate, 35% subsisting below the poverty line? Are they being represented adequately in government? Or are they being led like sheep by politicians with only self-interest in mind?
In juxtapose, modern monarchies, in all cases, are symbols of continuity and statehood. The majority of monarchies that exist in the world today are symbolic, whether they are termed “ceremonial”, “figurehead”, or “constitutional”, i.e. they do not have political power. Cambodia reverted to a constitutional monarchy, enshrined in its 1993 constitution, after the tumultuous years of the communist (Khmer Rouge) holocaust and Vietnamese domination. In Spain, Francisco Franco ensured the resumption of a monarchy upon his death in 1975. Malaysia, certainly one of the foremost democracies in Asia, elects a king every five years from among the hereditary rulers of the nine states of its federation. Japan’s emperor continues to serve as a symbol of nationhood and unity. Thailand’s king, the longest reigning monarch in the world currently, is revered by his countrymen. The monarchies of the United Kingdom and Europe remain while the nations themselves are fully functional democracies. Surely, there is much to be learnt from the monarchies of the nations mentioned above – which, incidentally, are all Democracies.
Is it then far-fetched to assert that the institution of monarchy can still promote stability and a national identity in Nepal? Here is an institution that survived 240 years through many challenges, not least of which was the 104 years of the Rana oligarchy. It is surprising and sad to see the achievements of King Prithivi Narayan Shah in creating a single unified Nepal in 1769 marginalised by the republicans. Did not King Tribhuban snatch back democracy from the Ranas in 1950? Did not King Birendra surrender to the wishes of the Nepali people to have a multi-party democracy in 1990?
Here we are, 3 days before the deadline for a new Constitution. As already mentioned, the 601 members of the Constituent Assembly have been unable to draft a new constitution within the stipulated time of two years. These members were voted into the CA with the primary purpose of drafting the constitution. They have failed miserably. The political culture in present-day Nepal can only be termed anarchic. The country is held hostage by the three major parties. The Maoists claim to speak for the people, like all communist parties do. “Claim” is the operative word here. Yet the political parties are horse-trading to extend the CA further, maybe even for a year more. What for? The legitimacy of this CA ends at midnight on 28 May 2010. The People had voted in the CA for a purpose. The CA has failed. Let it disband and disburse!
What then remains? There is the hastily concocted Interim Constitution, which has been amended many times already indicating its weaknesses. There remains the 1990 Constitution which was hailed as one of the best in the world. That constitution must come into force. Yes, a constitutional monarchy is part and parcel of the 1990 Constitution. But let us not forget that it is a democratic constitution, a result also of a Jana Andolan.
As a simple layman and a citizen of Nepal, let me take the liberty of outlining, in an almost naïve format, what should happen after 28 May 2010. We are all allowed to dream. The CA becomes null and void. Go home, CA members. As protector of the current interim constitution, the President appoints a caretaker government while the modalities for the reinstatement of the 1990 Constitution are being worked out quickly. Within a week, lest that much-feared “vacuum” sets in, the 1990 Constitution comes into force. The caretaker government proceeds to organize the next election, within six months. Nepal pulls back from the brink. Of course, this time around, no political party which has its own army must take part in the election. Further, the fairness of the election must be scrutinised effectively – Mr. Carter, please stay away this time!