Nepali Times Asian Paints
Guest Column
2007 to 2007


The Nepal monarchy was restored from the imprisonment of autocratic Rana rule in 2007 BS with a short-lived flowering of multi-party democracy. What an irony that 2007 in the AD calendar has the prospect, in the name of democracy, of abolishing the monarchy and retreating to the autocratic rule of an all-powerful all-party prime minister.

A republic declared through the new constitution will clearly bolster the Maoists' flagging political credibility and personally benefit the new Jang Bahadurs among the political class, including those dreaming of being president.

But what will be the gains to the general Nepali populace from a republic? This question is hardly ever raised by the communist republican alliance, nor by the wavering factions in the two Congresses vying to out-republic each other and, most disappointingly, not even by the civil society republican movement.

When 2063 AD comes around, will the gains from the 2063 BS Jana Andolan be better consolidated in terms of a higher standard of living for Nepalis if we opt for a republic now? Will a republic mean more investment in physical and human capital? Higher and more equitable economic growth? Will our overseas labour export consist of skilled professionals (engineers, accountants) instead of the domestic helpers and construction workers of today under a monarchy?

A simple but illuminating framework to answering these questions is in the adjoining table that lists 15 each of the top and bottom 20 countries of the world ranked in terms of their Human Development Index (HDI) in 2006. The table also lists their purchasing power adjusted per capita income.

Is it a coincidence that among the top 20, there are ten independent monarchies and three more (Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) that are constitutional monarchies under the Commonwealth, recognising Queen Elizabeth II as their ceremonial head of state. And in the bottom 20 there is not a single monarchy.

Indeed the bottom list contains the former monarchy of Ethiopia, which at rank 170 out of 177 has little to show in terms of human development gains from its 1974 revolution that deposed Haile Sellasie. Indeed, the major achievement of republican Ethiopia has been the loss of Eritrea.

Given that there are only about 30 independent monarchies in the world (and another 15 in the Commonwealth) is it just co-incidence that 10 out of 30 are in the top 15 list on the HDI? One cannot claim there is some deep causal relationship between institutions of monarchy and development. But this is surely evidence that the reverse proposition now so widely conjectured in Nepal-that the monarchy will hinder the all-round development of a new Nepal-is also false.

Nepal, as indicated, has an HDI rank of 136. The lowest ranked current monarchy is Swaziland at 146. Two other ex-monarchies not ranked in the 2006 HDI are Afghanistan (a republic since 1973) and Iran (since 1979). Ethiopia, Iran, Afghanistan: is that the company we seek, instead of Norway, Sweden, Japan?

The main difference between the top and bottom ends is, of course, the quality of their political and economic institutions, developed under the rule of law, which have safeguarded individual freedoms and promoted economic growth relying on the market mechanism.

Faith in the rule of law is also reflected in how real or imagined political opponents are treated. If, as the new political pundits claim, only a republic will safeguard Nepal's democracy in the long-run, this is ultimately a confession that the new Nepal they aspire to politically will be no different from the old, except for a change in dramatis personae.

Countries by HDI rank Per Capita Type
Top 15 GDP (US $)
1. Norway 38,454 M
3. Australia 30,331 CR
4. Ireland 38,827
5. Sweden 29,541 M
6. Canada 31,263 CR
7. Japan 29,251 M
9.Switzerland 33,040
10. Netherlands 31,789 M
11. Finland 29,951
12. Luxembourg 69,961 M*
13. Belgium 31,096, M
15. Denmark 31,914 M
18. United Kingdom 30,821 M
19. Spain 25,047 M
20. New Zealand 23,413 CR
138. Nepal 1,490 ?
Bottom 15
158. Rwanda 1,263
159. Nigeria 1,154 C
160. Guinea 2,180 C
161. Angola 2,180
162. Tanzania 674 C
164. C?te d'Ivoire 1,551
165. Zambia 943 C
166. Malawi 646 C
167. Congo, Dem. Rep. 705
168. Mozambique 1,237 C
170. Ethiopia 756
171. Chad 2,090
172. Central African Rep. 1,094
176. Sierra Leone 561
177. Niger 779

C= in Commonwealth with own head of state,
CR= in Commonwealth with Queen Elizabeth as head of state.
* Luxembourg is officially a Grand Duchy.
Source: UNDP, Human Development Report 2006.

PJ Thapa is an economist based in Canberra, Commonwealth Realm of Australia.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)