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Editorial | How not to let Nepali democracy backslide

The frustration the Nepali people express on and off about the system and the political leaders actually stems from the failure of the democratic institutions and leaders in those institutions to deliver.

Nepali democracy is suffering at the hands of those who are entrusted to uphold it.  It is getting late to prevent its backslide.

Theoretically, Nepal has been a democratic state for the last 34 years.  Minus five years of direct rule by King Gyanendra from 2001—2006, it still leaves Nepal with 30 years of active democracy. In 30 years, several elections took place, several men and women were elected as the lawmakers, several governments were formed—after the promulgation of the federal democratic republic constitution in 2015, we have had as many as 761 governments from the local to provincial to federal levels. In all these, democratic processes have been followed.

But a democracy is much more than elections and government formations. Among many other things, it has to ensure the rule of law, it has to follow the principle of checks and balances, it has to follow the principle of fair representation and inclusion, every citizen is equal before the law and the law is above all things, and, above all, the government has to conduct according to the people’s will and interests.

If you judge Nepali democracy from the above mentioned standards, the standards which are universally accepted as ideals by the countries which follow democratic systems of governance, one would jump to the conclusion without a second thought: Nepali leaders—from 1990 down to this day—have failed to uphold democracy.  Come to think of it. A leader convicted in the lynching of police personnel and a toddler is given presidential pardon.  A rape victim has to wait for years to get justice.  Leaders facing serious allegations of misappropriation of funds enjoy ministerial positions. Parliament fails to expose the wrongdoings of the government and hold it accountable, the judiciary fails to deliver justice on time or delivers faulty justice, principle of fair and inclusive representation is bent by the political parties to elevate elites to power, and the government functions as if it is above the law and does not give a hoot about what the people want, what the people think and why the people elected them to power in the first place.

Democracy has been abused as a tool by the political leaders to rise to power and give legitimacy to the illegitimate conducts they often indulge in. Deliberately.

It is when the leaders entrusted to uphold democracy in its true spirit and the institutions which are meant to safeguard democracy themselves erode or fail on their duties that people begin to think dictatorship was better. The frustration the Nepali people express on and off about the system and the political leaders actually stems from the failure of the democratic institutions and leaders in those institutions to deliver.

In this inaugural editorial, therefore, we call on all the political leaders who have been in charge of democracy for several decades now, to look back and reflect where and how they failed in consolidating and strengthening Nepali democracy.  If the leaders continue to undermine democracy and people’s aspiration they will not only put the system itself into a complete disarray but also become agents at whose hands democracy may die. Here is a warning note from Steven Levitsky’s book How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future:  “Democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders—presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power.”