Friday, May 2, 2008

Respect Electoral Mandate

With the conclusion of CA elections, yesterday's major political parties and new entrants such as MJF and TMLP are busy interpreting the people's verdict to align with their respective worldviews. Predictably, the next round of politicking will involve sharing the "power pie" through some form of "constitutional adventurism." The constitution will once again be amended to suit what will be sold as an "'X' point" deal.

It is quite surprising to see the traditional democratic forces unable to resist Maoist maneuvers because of the incumbents' lust for power. Apparently, the lust is still alive even after humiliating defeat and the Maoists are positioned to accrue additional mileage by relying on their original formula-extending of olive branches. No matter how morally repugnant and unprincipled the act of sharing power with a party that both the UML and NC rank and file claim, "stole" the elections, the idea of holding onto power (no matter the cost) seems to have taken center stage. Short term power mongering over long term survival is almost certain to yield the consolidation of state power, with the Maoists at the helm.

It is quite surprising (although not completely unexpected) to see the politicians of the NC and UML engaged in talks around power sharing even before they have taken complete stock of what the Maoist win means for their own party structures. The NC and UML should have spent time, thoroughly debating the root causes behind its humiliation at the Maoists' hands'. Certainly, the easy way out of this debate would be to point a finger at honorary Maoist, Krishna Prasad Sitaula (no surprises if the Maoists appoint Mr. Sitaula as a Minister without a portfolio in their cabinet), but this is not where the buck should really stop.

Despite politically aligned pundits and constitutional experts who are working around the clock to spin the Maoist victory (and gain bargaining power for the NC and UML), ordinary citizens who believe in democratic process are not fooled. To them, the poll results speak a single truth: The Maoists have won the elections fair and square and there is no reason whatsoever, why they should not be allowed to lead the next government.

Since the Maoists are carrying out this process democratically, there are no objections to be made. Clearly, in Nepal's case, power to the Maoists has arrived "under the shadow of a gun" with much help and fanfare from their political adversaries for whom the lust for power overrides all other considerations. To be perfectly clear, what we are seeing in Nepal now is not any benevolent act of greater good or consensus building for the sake of multiparty democracy. It is power politics, plain and simple.

Those acquainted with historical facts and interpretations of the methods and tools used by radicals to attain (and cling to) power, know exactly what Nepal has acquired through CA elections. However, they also recognize that subverting the people's mandate (irrespective of how unfairly this mandate was allegedly acquired) only benefits another set of power hungry politicians within the NC and the UML that are hell bent on remaining in the corridor of power even after the humiliating defeat.

The question that remains to be answered is whether the Maoists' ascendancy to power will ultimately benefit the consolidation of democracy in Nepal? Given the scale of the Maoists' victory, they are sure to exhibit ideological rigidity and there is very little the parties like the NC, UML, and the international community can do about it. The incentives for ideological rigidity are largely influenced by the leanings of the electorate, and in our case, voters have made their preference clear.

No matter how bitter the outcome is, we got to accept it. It is imperative that everyone respect the verdict of the CA elections and reward the winner. This is the very essence of democracy - people get to choose who they want their leaders to be. Any leadership structure that fails to place the Maoists at the apex, will be a complete perversion of the norms and processes of democracy and simply put, unacceptable.

In today's Nepal, where the deal based politics is the mantra for political survival, the critical democratic challenge is not only to keep winners from abusing their power, but also to keep losers wedded to the rules of the game. And so far, we have no systematic knowledge of the conditions under which this is likely to happen. The political elites in Nepal lack the required willingness to abide by the rules of the democratic game and accept its outcomes when the outcome is not in their favor. Democracy in Nepal chokes every now and then because of the lack of this consent that forms the foundation of political legitimacy.

Legitimate opposition to Nepal's Maoists has always been forwarded as some combination of the following premises: Principled disagreement with the Maoists' violent and gratuitous methods and/or a firm belief that those who rise to power by subverting democracy, are incapable of functioning within a democracy's paradigmatic construct.

As for the first premise, there is nothing left to say - especially when the people on whose behalf the principled stand was taken, have overwhelmingly voted for the perpetrators of their suffering. As for the second premise, only time will tell whether Nepal's Maoists are truly "Maoists" or power-hungry social democrats who happened to borrow Mao's military strategy as means to an end.

The verdict of the CA elections may be used to as an opportunity to improve consensus building amongst all parties and as a period for deep reflection and introspection amongst the major losers. This is a must if multiparty democracy is to survive over the long run.

While the period of opposition based on Maoist methods has come to a spectacular end, a new era which requires working relationships with supposedly "moderate" Maoists by staying outside the government has just begun.

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