Monday, May 24, 2010

Nepal after 28 May 2010 (Published in People's Review, 27 May 2010)

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!


Akash Bhairab said...

What a fascinating piece. I also completely agree that all of this so called change is "claimed" to help the common man. All of this is done in the name of the common man, and also with active proselytizing in the name of God. What falsehood!
I agree good old Carter need not help out on this occasion.
Finally a small correction, Plato predated Christ so the date would be not 1600 year but more like 2500 years ago. Plato could have been Buddha's contemporary.

Subodh said...

Great evaluation of our political ethos and the bankruptcy of the new Nepal. And brilliantly written. The conclusion I am afraid will remain a dream for some time to come, but hey, who knows? We have seen stranger stuff in the past decade!

Horatio said...

Thank you for the above two comments, and the chronology correction, Akash Bhairab.

Govind said...

Hi Birat.Well written but I fail to see how to institution of monarchy will hold or unite the country if socio-economic and political aspirations of the people are not met.Look at Thailand unraveling before our eyes.
Let me quote Churchill,"Democracy has its failures but its the best of the worst as a system of governance!"

Horatio said...

My dear Govind, monarchy does NOT exclude democracy - the whole point of my article. I have also pointed out that Churchill's own country still maintains a monarchy.

Anonymous said...

I fail to see or even faintly comprihend how the out dated, totaly redundant institution of monarchy will hold or unite Nepal. Pray... who will this logical, benevolent monarch be? Isn't past performace an example of ones capability, honesty, greed & a sense of being a die-hard ego maniacal air head? I mean give me a break.... enough of one is a God King...... NO ONE!!!! I fear it just a handful of couriters who in relaty loose everything as in reality they have really nothing to loose....except the wrong notion that they are
someone'... a sad & violent imaginary delusion....or are we vacillating between the diabolic devil & the deep sea? Somehow I feel the deep sea might be a better chance.

Horatio said...

Anonymous, I am not pushing for a "God King". Please read my article carefully. The point is that a constitutional monarchy and a functioning democracy are not mutually exclusive.

Your republican ranting, that too anonymously, must stop! See what your republicans have done last night. You want to be fooled for another year and ad infitum?

Anonymous said...

Plato's Philosopher King has been well recognised by all poiltical pundits as an utopia and among the pundits of all times stands out his own pupil, Aristotle!

The effects of well written first 2-3 paras were completely diluted by the plea to the Nepali people to take a walk back on the tested and failed road. King Gyanendra proved time and again that he is no Philosopher King! Had he been that, the country that you and I call ours would not be in this soup in the first place! Mr Thapa, K, please hear this!! King Birendra, we have all conceded was bit of a philosopher too but unfortunately surrounded by rogues not very different in appearance from the ones we have been witnessing in the present political arena. King of Thailand, I am afraid, is philosopher no more. The picture of himself that he thrusted upon us with his guile all these years and wished all along that we would retain in our minds as indelible marks of benevolent ruler has simply faded. He is a crook and is looking fully so now.

I am inclined to agree with Churchill; governance is a dirty profession. The worst comes when one person inherits the right to govern! Sense from the 'anarchy of all', which is what democracy is, takes a long time to emerge. Eight hundred years on, England is still gathering that sense. It is the hardest way to gather sense but it is the surest way to do so. The swim across the sea of monarchy completed, it has not been easy to wade through the hard rocks of the shores. The unmarked path ahead is not easy but hard to tackle. Taking this challenge on, I tend to believe, is the only sensible way out. Is there somebody in the crowd who knows best the next island we are going to encounter after touching this shore?!!!

Horatio said...

Anonymous, but why are you talking about King Gyanendra? I am talking about the INSTITUTION of monarchy, not any individual. Please do not read more into my piece than what it says.

Horatio said...

Like I said in the last para, I was dreaming of course. The CA has been extended:
(a) 90 minutes PAST the deadline of 28 May midnight;
(b) for 1 year, while the Interim Constitution specifies that the extension can be for only 6 months (in case of an EMERGENCY);
(c) of course the only "emergency", I presume, was the imminent need for the CA members to continue receiving their pay and perks.
And so...the People of Nepal keep getting fooled!

John M. Kelleher said...

This anonymous troll's nasty little rant against the King of Thailand tells us as much as we need to know about him. Thailand's current stark political polarization only underscores the Crown's relevance to that country's parliamentary order. Only a lunatic, a fool, or a blind iconoclast would try to peddle some half-baked vision of a republican Thailand.

Since you seem rather fond of bringing Churchill into your arguments, you might wish to consider the Conservative statesman's own views on monarchy's role within a democratic framework:

>> "The House of Commons has lifted our affairs above the mechanical sphere into the human sphere. It thrives on criticism, it is perfectly impervious to newspaper abuse or taunts from any quarter, and it is capable of digesting almost anything or almost any body of gentlemen, whatever be the views with which they arrive. There is no situation to which it cannot address itself with vigour and ingenuity. It is the citadel of British liberty; it is the foundation of our laws; its traditions and its privileges are as lively today it broke the arbitrary power of the Crown and substituted that Constitutional Monarchy under which we have enjoyed so many blessings." <<
--- Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons, October 28, 1943

Note the very clear distinction which Churchill makes between the "arbitrary power of the crown" and the "constitutional monarchy under which we have enjoyed so many blessings." If you care to actually read Biratji's arguments in favor of a parliamentary monarchy, you will see that he is endorsing the latter, not the former.

It is so amusing to see someone writing from the perspective of a Nepali ganatantrabadi pontificating on the English "still gathering that sense" of democracy after 800 years of "swimming across the sea of monarchy." The U.K. is everything that it is today thanks to the fusion between the Crown and the representative organs of parliamentary government. Nepal is everything that it is today thanks to a messy and poorly-planned separation of the two, carried out in a manner which had little or nothing to do with "democracy."

Armchair commentators like you and your ilk would have us continually smashing ourselves against the rocks, confident always in that elusive island "just over the horizon," rather than admit that you simply don't know where the hell you're going.

Horatio said...

Right on, John - and so profoundly put!