70th National Democracy Day
Nepal celebrated 70th National Democracy Day on Wednesday by organizing a special ceremony at the Nepal Army Pavilion in the capital. President Bidya Devi Bhandari, Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Speaker of the House of Representatives Agni Prasad Sapkota, National Assembly Chairperson Ganesh Prasad Timilsina, cabinet ministers, members of parliament, high-ranking government officials and people from various walks of life attended the ceremony. Nepal has been celebrating Falgun 7 as the democracy day to commemorate the day when century-long Rana rule came to an end, the country embarked on the course of adopting democratic system of governance. In 70 years since this historic day, Nepal’s democratic journey has witnessed several ups and downs.
The change of 1950 proved to be short-lived when in 1960 then King Mahendra took absolute power in his hands by dissolving the democratically elected government led by BP Koirala and imprisoning leaders including Koirala himself. The king justified his move by citing misrule, corruption, lawlessness and erosion of national sovereignty. The country was plunged into party-less Panchayat system for 30 years—until 1990—when Nepali Congress and other left parties launched agitation to restore democracy. The success of the 1990’s movement marked another watershed movement in the struggle for democracy in Nepal’s history. The 1990s change, again, failed to address the aspirations and hopes of the poor and the marginalized. As the governments of the day failed to live up to their promise of equality, justice, rule of law and economic development, Maoists launched war against parliamentary democratic system itself. The decade-long armed conflict pushed the country decades back in development. As the parliamentary parties failed to deliver up to the expectations of people and as Maoist war was threatening peace across the country, King Gyanendra again in 2005 usurped all executive powers in his hand—much like his father King Mahendra had done in 1960. Only when Maoists and parliamentary parties together fought against monarchy, they could pave the path for leading the country toward democratic republic system.
This brief review of the country’s struggle for democracy could be instructive for political parties today to look back and reflect on how they have been ruling the country since 2008, when the country bade farewell to monarchy adopted federal system. Now under the new constitution, Nepal has total of 761 governments functioning in local, provincial and federal spheres. Unlike in the past, there is no imminent threat to the democracy but people’s grievances against political parties are rising mainly because they have failed to deliver on their promises of rule of law, development and prosperity. People have started to compare the political leaders in power with kings and queens. This sense of resentment among people against the very leaders and the system which they themselves helped install in the first place does not bode well for the future of federal democratic republic of Nepal.
Thus as we celebrate the 70th democratic day, here is a lot for the political parties and their leaders to learn from their own past struggles for democracy and what happens when they fail to live up to the democratic norms and values. They need to live up to the promise of development and prosperity and bring programs to change the lives of people significantly. Development without democracy is as bad as democracy without development. Political parties in Nepal have shown the tendency of undermining fundamental principles of democracy such as press freedom, rule of law and addressing basic livelihood concerns of the common people. The current democratically elected government led by Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli has not been much different in this regard. Political parties themselves have become the force to abet corruption and misrule rather than institutionalizing good governance and rule of law and delivering on development. This is what poses the threat to our democracy today. Political parties, especially ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), need to realize that undemocratic forces have thrived whenever the forces entrusted to safeguard democracy have failed on their duty. They need to realize that if there is any threat to democracy today, it is their tendency to become unaccountable to people and engage in securing power and wealth for themselves. Alternative of democracy is democracy itself. These wise words by American president Ronald Reagan are worth recalling: “Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.”