Friday, April 20, 2007

Stop petty politicking

Finally, the Election Commission (EC) has pulled the rabbit out of the hat. With EC's announcement that the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections cannot be held on June 20, the propaganda shop run by the political left is already kicking out conspiracy theories. Instead of owning responsibility for not being able to conduct CA elections on time, the members of the Eight Party Alliance (EPA) are indulging themselves in blame games and mudslinging. They are trying their best to shrug off any responsibilities behind the postponement of the CA elections.

Mistakes have been made by all political parties that are in the government and running the show. The previous Seven Party Alliance (SPA) government's failure to effectively deal with the Maoists and maintain law and order situation in the country and the Maoists' double standard, insincerity towards the peace agreements, and highhandedness are the main culprits behind the postponement of the CA elections.

What our so-called political leaders fail to understand is, error is a part of human's effort to better their life. People make mistakes and it is perfectly normal and humane. Instead of posing as know-it-all gigs, they should apologize for their inability to meet peoples' aspirations. It will not make them small, rather increase their stature. People do make mistakes and are expected to learn from it. Our know-it-all politicians are no exception to the rule. Thus, all members of the EPA, including the prime Minister and his cabinet colleagues should own the responsibility of not being able to hold CA elections on time. Let the era of political righteousness and people-based politics begin.

While the large number of educated people knew very well that under the current circumstances-lawlessness, chaos, and ethnic dissents--the Constituent Assembly (CA) elections could not be held on stipulated date, the majority of the politicians, representing both the left and right margins of the political spectrum, left no stone unturned in persuading innocent citizens that they would pull it off. It's not that our politicians are so “naive” as to not make correct assertions, but they feared political repercussions that come from being the bearer of the news that is distasteful to the citizens. While they were trying their best to persuade citizens that they would hold CA elections at any cost on the stipulated date, many of us could see through their pretense. It was clearly visible that, beneath that sheep's clothing of righteousness, they were satisfying the wolf of their unbridled appetite for self-aggrandizement.

Except for the former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and handful of Nepali Congress's (Democratic) leaders, others did not dare to say in public that it was impossible to hold the elections on the planned date in a democratic, fair, and fear-free environment. The timidity of our leaders shows that they have not shed their old habit of focusing on rhetorical politics in favor of righteous and people-based politics.

Terai has not yet reverted back to normalcy and the Maoists have not yet surrendered their hidden weapons. The Home Minister's deadline for the surrender of additional weapons, which the Maoists have once again defied, has silently passed. When the government offices in terai have been shut down for more than a month now and the Maoists are still roaming around with weapons in the rural areas, what's the probability of having a democratic, free, and fair election? Even if the CA elections were held on stipulated date, would they be democratic, free, fair, and representative? If not, what's the point of having a forced- elections?

Many of our politicians, who initially thought that allowing the Maoists to share power would secure peace and stability, are once again bewildered and seem to think that holding CA elections is the solution to all our woes. If the whole idea behind having forced CA elections is to have an outcome that suits the EPA in the government rather than what people want, we should not be having CA elections at all. The EPA should come to a consensus about what outcome best suits them and get it endorsed by the interim parliament. The whole drama of holding the CA elections and letting it to be stolen at a gun point by the Maoists is not a healthy democratic practice; it is rather a perversion of the democratic process.

There are many, who think that CA elections should be held on the stipulated date because they doubt that if CA elections are not held now, they will never be held. Those vouching for forced-elections should reflect on, whether we want CA elections for the heck of it or we want CA elections to be meaningful and representative? It is not necessarily true that because our leaders in the past failed, the new lot too will fail. The current leaders are probably one of the best lots we ever had. It is just that they have to shun their practice of rhetorical politics and know-it-all attitude in favor of righteous and people-based politics.

What we need to understand is, elections provide a peaceful, democratic means for societies to make collective decisions, and the mad rush towards forced-elections when the environment is not conducive does not contribute towards the very ideal that we are aiming to achieve.

It is necessary to secure peace and stability before holding any election mainly because, in order to establish genuine democracy, societies need to foster the democratic culture and rule of law that guarantees “free and fair elections.” The successful democratization of Nepalese society largely depends on the success of free and fair elections, which form the body of democratic process, and whose realization is crucial for Nepal's transition from the today's situation of political chaos to democratic rule and the process of democratic consolidation. Furthermore, conduction of free and fair elections is a critical step we must take if we are to continue down the path to democracy. Many people, including a greater majority of our politicians, vouch for holding forced elections, without understanding the importance of quality elections. They fail to understand that “free and fair” elections are integral part of the process which guarantees the progress towards a consolidated democracy.

Robert Dahl, in his 1956 monumental work, A Preface to Democratic Theory describes free and fair elections as the culmination of the process, not the beginning. According to Dahl, until most of the fundamental rights and freedoms of democracy have firmly rooted in the society it is not possible to hold "free and fair" elections. Hence, the pre-election period determines the rest of the electoral process and the subsequent outcome. CA elections, if held in the present context, would not reflect people's choice. We must understand how freedom contrasts with coercion. As Dahl explains, freedom implies the right to make choices, whereas coercion, on the other hand, implies the absence of choice. In the present context, people are yet to overcome the Maoists' reign of terror and are not in a position to make choices. Until and unless the covertly stored weapons by the Maoists are harvested and the law and order situation is improved, coercion of the voters cannot be undermined. Furthermore, in societies like ours that have been engulfed in deep-rooted conflict, wherein individual and collective rights have been severely undermined, mere having an election does not guarantee a successful transition to democracy; if that is what we are aiming for.

Instead of owning the responsibility for not being able to fulfill peoples' desire to have CA elections on time, the Maoists and the other communist parties in the government are trying to cover up their insincerity and incompetence by declaring the country republic through the interim parliament. What an example of moral decay.

In Western democracies, political parties do not dare to undermine people's right to decide and conduct referendum on issues that affect the well being of the society. However, in Nepal, those who have never sought peoples' mandate are the ones that are in mad rush and want to deprive people of their right to decide and want to make decisions that are detrimental to Nepal's emergence as a sovereign democratic state through the interim parliament. Nepal will emerge as a democracy only when people are allowed to decide on crucial issues. If politicians' subversion of people's democratic right to choose is not curbed, Nepal will finally end up becoming an unrepresentative and illiberal democracy. Concomitantly, the Nepali people will increasingly alienate themselves from politics and government. Is that what we want?

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