In the wake of Nepal’s hurried transition into democracy, Nepal government is courting with the rebel leaders just like in the classic play “Romeo and Juliet”, where Juliet (a Capulet) finally confesses to Romeo (a Montague), “My only love sprung from my only hate…Prodigious birth of love it is to me that I must love a loathed enemy.” Such is the real life Shakespearean drama being played out in Nepal’s political theatre where the former enemies, the government ministers and the Maoist supremo (Romeo), like the forbidden lovers from the feuding clans in the play, are now proposing marriage offers (or their eight-point nuptial agreement).
While unquestionably the Nepal government is taking a bold and an important step in the direction of peace and stability in the nation by marrying with the rebels, it has to do so by affirming the democratically legitimate procedural steps with the aim of giving more rights to the people, and not just striking a political compromise and power-sharing between the former bitter rivals. This marriage proposal with the rebels to form an interim government, however, belies and downplays the real crises of rising lawlessness, insecurity, and vulnerability facing the nation and the people.
One can only guess what lies ahead for Nepal. Will this political marriage with the rebels lead towards the formation of a stable, peaceful, and liberal government in Nepal? Or, will it lead to a downward spiral path in creating a centralized, totalitarian regime that encroaches on people’s rights of speech, religion, freedom of the press, equality, and justice? If democracy is a system guided to some degree by the “general consent” of the people then people should be the final arbiter on all the major issues facing the nation. Thus, perhaps it is not too far-fetched to say that because the government’s marriage with the rebels lacks a solemnization ceremony officiated by the majority of the Nepali people, it will likely give birth to a dysfunctional government with power concentrated at the centre and with little, if any, connection with the spirit and aspirations of the people.
Recently, the US celebrated its Independence Day (which occurs every July 4th since independence from England in 1776) and it is perhaps appropriate to highlight this chapter of US history in the context of Nepal’s reemerging democracy. Beneath the creation of the democratic government in the US lies the theory of “general consent” propounded by two influential thinkers: John Locke, the liberal English political thinker; and Monstesquieu, the French Jurist and political philosopher. Locke argued that all legitimate government rests upon “the consent of the governed.” Montesquieu, like Locke, believed in a republican government based on the general consent of the governed but not in democracy founded on majority rule.
While unquestionably the Nepal government is taking a bold and an important step in the direction of peace and stability in the nation by marrying with the rebels, it has to do so by affirming the democratically legitimate procedural steps with the aim of giving more rights to the people, and not just striking a political compromise and power-sharing between the former bitter rivals.
Few political documents have influenced the world quite like the American Declaration of Independence, which owes its roots to the democratic theories of Locke and Montesquieu. This document in part declares, “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Moreover, the experience of ratifying the constitution and formation of the democratic government in the United States mirrors Lockean principles that demonstrate the need to devise procedural mechanisms of consent (i.e. vote) in all major governmental decisions to solidify the connection between society and the government.
The process of popular ratification of the Massachusetts constitution in 1780, for example, represents the oldest effort in the revolutionary period in America and the world to institutionalize and operate the liberal Lockean principles of the origin of government. The key innovation in Massachusetts lay in the process of ratification of its constitution. Massachusetts was the first state to draft the constitution in a special convention and submit the proposal for popular ratification in the many townships in the state by a 2/3rd majority. Thus, the Massachusetts process of constitution ratification process illuminates the direct connection between the “will of the majority” in society-what Locke described as the “natural law of greater force”, with the basic structure of government. The ultimate decision to accept or reject the constitution rested not with Congress (Parliament), nor with a handful of politicians, but with the people.
Accordingly, Nepal government must not espouse archaic, leftist, and totalitarian principles of a bygone era, but affirm the liberal democratic principles and procedures illustrated by the history of making the United States government (and France). The government is merely the people’s servant, and therefore, the Parliament must exercise reasonable, necessary, proper, and just power for the public good. If a government exercises unnecessary, capricious, or improper power that is contrary to the public good then that government cannot hope to last forever. Importantly, a government must not derive its powers from an unwritten “phantom” constitution that has not been ratified by the people. James Madison, the fourth President of the United States (1809-1817), in his “Federalist Papers” argued that the people are the only legitimate fountain of power, and it is from them that the constitutional charter, under which the several branches of government hold their power, is derived.
Madison like Montesquieu also insisted on clear separation of powers and argued that one branch of government cannot become supreme over the others. Madison proposed that whenever any one of the departments commits encroachments and exercises exclusive and superior powers beyond their chartered authorities then the people have the ultimate authority to declare and settle the boundaries and enforce the observance of their constitutional limits. Indeed, in a representative government, the people must exercise their voting rights (their legitimate voices) and wrestle control away from the hands of the politicians on major political questions and issues facing the nation. Thus, if democracy is to succeed at all in Nepal then let’s not negate the democratic legitimacy derived from the “general consent” of the people in the new interim constitution and government.
In conclusion, rule in resonance with the “general consent” of the majority of the governed should be the core guiding philosophy for Nepal’s new democratic government. While it is the law of nature that the majority invariably tyrannizes the minority, it is safer and saner to set the rules in stone and carve out certain rights for protection in the interim constitution, rather than develop arbitrary powers in the context of a particular political problem with its accompanying drama, passion, and paranoia. Else, the government will be endorsing the revival of “Wild-Western” politics where might is right, where the leaders only struggle for power and vie for central role in Nepal’s political theatre without touching the hearts of the audience (people), which may ultimately splinter our nation and tarnish our high hopes for creation of a liberal democratic regime.