Let the people decideThis election is not just another election; it heralds the start of a new era of politics
Nepal is poised to usher in a new era of political dispensation. The new constitution has empowered the people by restructuring the country’s political system. The centuries-old unitary system of governance, with all the state power concentrated in the Capital, is about to crumble. This will pave the way for decentralisation and devolution of power to the local people, the real source of power as stated in the preamble to the constitution. The general public seems to be excited as the system of governance has reached their doorsteps. Their exhilaration knows no bounds as they are going to elect their representatives after a long interval of two decades.
The Nepali people suffered inconveniences for a long time because of a protracted political transition and long drawn instability. The absence of local representatives for so many years added despair to misery that was brought about by poverty, dearth of infrastructure and delays in service delivery. They were frustrated as they became mere spectators to the misuse and manipulation of financial resources that reached the local level during the last two decades. They are aware that the funds were not utilised for the benefit of the people even if every VDC was provided a political mechanism—a group representing political parties. Now they are optimistic that they will at least have someone who will listen to their grievances, and that there will be someone who will be responsible and accountable to them while utilising financial resources.
They are hopeful that at least the extractive political mechanism formed to run the local level during the prolonged transition period will be eliminated, and that the people’s elected representatives will discharge their responsibilities honestly. It can be hoped that once the election takes place, there are chances that the people will be able to snatch away power from some of the malfeasant officials.
But at the same time, the Nepali people are sceptical that the restructuring of the political system will be properly implemented and their political and economic aspirations will be fulfilled. They still doubt that the mindset of political leaders and their cadres has changed for the better in line with the political restructuring. No one seems to be convinced that the spirit of the constitution will truly be translated into reality, and that the people will really become the source of power.
No one is sure that the dirty election practices of the past will not be repeated. Uncertainties are rife that old political tactics of saam, daam, danda, bhed (persuasion, financial enticement, intimidation and divide and gain power) will still prevail over the public desire for a fair and impartial election. People think that the political change is merely a tale and that no significant change is going to take place.
The way political parties have fielded their candidates does not rule out instances of nepotism, favouritism and cronyism. Elections in Nepal are often pandemonium, and it is not possible to predict the outcome. Many honest and dedicated politicians have not become a candidate because they do not have enough pelf to attract voters, and so they see bleak chances of winning the election. This seems to indicate that power politics is abandoning honesty and integrity and falling into the fold of wealthy people. If money is used to buy votes in the election, we cannot expect a positive outcome.
Proper democratic setup
Even though the long awaited election is approaching, frustration is creeping into the minds of a majority of the people; they believe that unfair tactics will again raise their ugly heads and the level playing ground will be distorted. Some people have already started to comment that the alliance forged between political parties is unnatural, and that it has been overtly motivated by an intention to win the election at any cost. People think it is a ploy to manoeuvre the election results by compromising principles. Many believe that this is not a good sign for a democratic culture. American economist Joseph E Stiglitz has described a similar situation as “the degradation of values to the point where everything is acceptable and no one is accountable”.
A democratic system cannot function properly and constitutional provisions for empowering the people will not have any meaning if elections are not free from unfair practices. Democracy is not merely a right to vote every five years. If the right to vote cannot be used in a fair manner and without undue influence, it cannot be called a democratic setup. If politicians do not listen to the people and act as per their wishes, even the most democratic political document will be worthless. In a well-functioning democracy, what matters is people, not money.
People have long felt that the political culture has deviated from their aspirations and the mandate of the people’s movements.
Political change cannot be institutionalised without the proactive role of honest and visionary leaders and the formulation of proper policies and plans from the bottom of the social classes. The first step can be electing honest candidates. For this purpose, unfair practices seen during past election campaigns should be avoided. The entire election process should be fair to ensure that general interested are reflected in the election results. Fair play and a level playing ground have to be guaranteed. All the political parties should work towards promoting honesty and integrity and discouraging unfair stratagems. Only a fair election can instil hope in the general public for a better future. All political parties and concerned bodies should focus their activities on popular wishes, aspirations and general interests. The people need to be aware of their political rights, and they should not act as mere political pawns. Educated people are expected to play a positive role.
Sharma is a professor of geography at Mahendra Multiple Campus, Dang