Domino effectBrexit vote need not be taken as an inspiration for referendum in Nepal
The surprise decision of British voters to leave the European Union (EU) in a historic referendum has sent shockwaves across the world. Stock markets tumbled in all major indexes and the British pound depreciated to a level not seen since the 1980s. This resulted in an appreciation of the dollar, contributing to the weakening of other currencies, including the Nepali rupee.
Much more is at risk here than simply the future of Britain or Europe. After over 70 years since the end of the Second World War, a spectre of right-wing nationalism threatens to sweep across Europe and America and undo the march of liberalism. If Britain, the cradle of modern democracy, freedom and human rights, can succumb to narrow nationalism, what of the societies where democratic values and liberalism are far less rooted?
To much of the outside world, the risks of a British exit from the EU (Brexit) were all too obvious. Besides economic considerations, the victory of the ‘leave’ camp was helped by xenophobia, right-wing nationalism and a narrative against the liberal international order. As such, it has the potential to embolden right-wing parties across continental Europe and beyond. America, another bastion of liberalism, is already haunted by the vitriolic rhetoric of Donald Trump. Many fear that Brexit could spur the rise of right-wing politics, and the worst-case scenario could be the election of Trump as the next US president, not least the rise of other populist parties and leaders in Europe who, in turn, could demand their own ‘leave/remain’ referendum. Little wonder then, the Brexit vote was watched all over the world with bated breath.
The EU is far from a perfect institution. But it is one institution that arose from the ashes of the Second World War and that carries the ideal of an integrated and open society where barriers such as borders and other trappings of nation-states do not impede the movement of people, ideas, goods and services. True, being a union of over 400 million people, the EU has huge democratic deficits. Many in the UK who were adversely affected by the free movement of people felt that Brussels dictated terms and conditions that benefit a small elite at the expense of the vast majority. So the three million EU immigrants who are living in the UK became a key advocacy point for the leave campaigners. They raised the spectre of more immigrants flooding into the UK if the country remained in the EU. So “take back control” became a major theme for them.
In Nepal, the Brexit results have emboldened pro-Hindu and monarchist groups that are suggesting a British-style referendum on major national issues, such as monarchy, Hinduism as a state religion and federalism. That would be a mistake. Indeed, the national debate and the political action on the content and contours of federalism still need to move forward, but a revival of issues that have been resolved in the new constitution will only invite fresh troubles and prolong the volatile political transition.