Thursday, April 26, 2007

Referendum on Monarchy

After the Election Commission (EC) made it public that it was not possible to conduct Constituent Assembly (CA) elections on time, the swords are out once again against the monarchy. The major political parties that love to hate the monarchy do not, however, seem to be on the same page when it comes to the efforts that are needed to uproot the monarchy. The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) wants a republic declared immediately, whereas the United Marxists Leninist (UML) wants a referendum on the monarchy. As far as the Nepali Congress is concerned, it opposes both the options. It appears that, the political parties are trapped in a political quagmire of their own making.

In the present day Nepal, bitterly divided along the lines of political ideology and ethnicity, the monarchy, as an institution means different things to different people. For some, it may be a symbol of unity, for others however, it is a symbol of aristocracy, of feudal honor, and of baseless deference.

Some people see it as an institution that is crusty, not very modern, and not aesthetically appealing, like an old mansion that is practically not worth the hassles of upkeep, but one which people would rather keep than lose. They think abolishing the monarchy would simply not be worth the bother. Others see it as a sign of aristocracy and feudalism which are, according to them, the main reasons behind our faltered attempts toward prosperity and the creation of egalitarian society. The perception is largely based on one's own political leanings and socioeconomic background.

As far as the general public is concerned, they simply want their basic needs to be fulfilled. They want the government to focus on things such as ensuring the food security, education, and providing the universal healthcare. In a country where thousands of children die due to diarrhea, what more should poor fathers dream beyond the health and well-being of their siblings? Thus, for those who live below the poverty line, the issue of monarchy is irrelevant. All they want and long for is fulfillment of their basic needs. But for our politicians, who have taken constituents for granted and successfully worked their ways around the judiciary in the past when on the wrong side of the laws, except for the royal institution there is no audience they ever fear. Thus, they need to do quite a bit of explaining to prove that their dislike of monarchy is not solely based on their fear and why the royal institution is sole perpetrator behind our backwardness.

In today's dyspeptic politics, wherein mutual admiration is in short supply, it is not surprising to see divergent views on divisive issues such as the fate of monarchy. There is nothing wrong with that. The political parties are entitled to their stand on the particular issues. However, the burden of understanding the political and social ramifications of the stands taken by the political parties rests on us.

The nation's eldest democratic party is not comfortable toeing the line with the Maoists and the UML when it comes to the route that needs to be taken to get rid of the monarchy, which is practically a “dead horse.” This is mainly because the NC is yet to heal its finger burnt from the last referendum on palace held on May 2, 1980.

The Maoists' desperateness to declare the country a republic is to create power vacuum. With each passing day, the Nepali people are getting suspicious about the Maoists' commitment towards peace, freedom, and democracy. So, the best option at hand for the Maoists is to ensure a power vacuum by declaring Nepal a republican state and fill it.

While the Maoists are in mad rush towards declaring Nepal a republic state, the UML, which is a relatively moderate communist group does not want people to perceive them as a clone of the Maoist party and are thus vouching for a referendum on monarchy. For the first time ever, the CPN-UML has taken a political stand that is pro-people and politically correct. They should stick to it. They should do it for two reasons: first, it will help them with their “product differentiation.” The unequivocal support by the UML of the Maoist proposals in the recent days has left many baffled and their head scratching trying to understand if they actually have anything different to offer. Second, it will leave an impression on public that UML is pro-people party that believes in peoples' right to choose and not a party of aspiring totalitarians. It will help people, who are utterly confused and are having hard time understanding the basic difference between these two communist groups due to the unequivocal support for the Maoists by the UML's rank-and-files.

It is necessary to hold referendum on monarchy because certain decisions are best taken out of the hands of representatives and determined directly by the people. It will help encourage public discussion through which assenting and dissenting viewpoints can be expressed and a majority decision can be formed within the society, which is extremely necessary to put this ever lingering issue of the monarchy to rest once and for all for greater good.

As it has become evident that CA elections are not practically feasible and the declaration of republic through interim parliament is not widely accepted, conducting a referendum on monarchy is the best game in town. It is high time that we detach the issue of the monarchy from the other pressing issues such as introducing a more proportionate electoral system, a more independent judiciary, securing law and other issues pertaining to the livelihood of those that are at the bottom of the pyramid. It is necessary to put the issue of monarchy to rest once and for all because it is being mischievously used as a “punching bag” by many politicians to hide their own fallacies, incompetence, and failure to practice pro-people politics. We cannot and should not stick to this unproductive issue for ever. It is a verdict time, after which, hopefully our politicians will learn to accept responsibilities for their failures.

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