Nepali Times
Guest Column
Shock therapy


Given the current economic and political turmoil, it is our moral responsibility to try to break the impasse by looking at solution. What compromise will result in the greatest public good?

Given the near-consensus on a commitment to constitutional monarchy and the multiparty system, a compromise strategy can emerge around the notion of the Constituent Assembly. Such an assembly of elected representatives to draft a new constitution can, if properly handled, serve as a common denominator to bring all the parties together.

There, they can address the anomalies that have contributed to this country's woes: institutional corruption, regional imbalances, lack of separation of power, unstable governments, centralised decision making, lack of transparency in governments and politicos, ignored voices of political and ethnic minorities in public policy debates, and missed opportunity to exploit our vast natural resources for the benefit of the millions.

An election for a constituent assembly is based on an election just like a parliamentary election. Recently, countries like South Africa, Namibia, and East Timor have successfully used this democratic process to form constituent assemblies to write (or re-write) their constitutions. After ratifying the document, the constituent assemblies have then been converted into parliamentary assemblies.

These constituent assemblies used a more inclusive electoral method-proportional representation, where seats are allocated based on the percentage of the popular party votes. Our current method of election is the winner-take-all Westminster model.

Going from historical experience elsewhere, a future constituent assembly in Nepal can also be expanded to include the members of the Upper House to make the process more inclusive and if necessary the chamber may be reformed through fresh election. An all-party interim government may be needed to ensure fairness during the election process.

An exercise in forming a constituent assembly must take advantage of this opportunity to set the following agenda: empowerment, separation of powers, and a code of conduct.

The grassroots must be empowered by devolving decision-making powers through a system of decentralized regional governments. The new constitution should then clearly define the tasks of the three layers: village, region, and center. A proportional representation system would also allow a higher level of representation from the smaller parties and provide a voice to the minorities, and force dominating parties to be more inclusive.

Most genuine democracies have given up the first-past-the-post Westminster model for proportional representation. Put simply, this system puts half its representatives based on the current single-constituency winner-take-all method, and the other half are elected based on the percentage of the popular votes that each party receives nationally or regionally.

The ambiguity of royal powers and responsibilities need to be clarified to avoid future conflict between the constitutional monarch and parliamentary forces. This separation of powers would not completely remove a royal role, especially during the grave national crisis. Similarly, a direct election of the Prime Minister, as in Israel, would make the executive head responsible to the entire nation rather than to his or her party bosses. By allowing the premier to pick cabinet members, with approval of the House, this would reduce conflicts of interest.

There also needs to be an agreed code of conduct: the nation, government, and government resources belong to the people. Through elections, political parties are only temporary custodians. We must therefore demand from them internal democracy and transparency. Irresponsible behaviour by the rank and file can lead to nominations of people of questionable characters, and the whole nation suffers.

The current rift between the king and democratic forces has turned what was once a two-party game into a three-way contest. Even the Maoist leadership has now acknowledged this tripartite power struggle. The king has the backing of the Royal Nepal Army. The Maoists command a sizeable cadre base. The political parties may be floundering at times, but they do have a grassroot base and can claim to bear the banner of democracy. This position may seem stable, but it is a static equilibrium because there is no incentive for anyone to change their conduct. We could linger in this limbo for a long time.

The army will require a significant increase in resources to crush the rebellion, but not without a sizeable human toll. The Maoists will remain relatively elusive but will not be able to overrun the country to establish the one-party communist state, especially since India is now on their trail. The political parties, because of their own shortcomings, are not likely to muster much people's support to repeat 1990 Part Two. But they will remain vocal, increasingly united, and influential.

The country has thus been stagnant for the last seven years, with a deadly outcome that has decimated the economy and resulted in more than 5,000 deaths. What will be the next best move that will bring everyone closer to a solution acceptable to everyone so that the nation can be spared from this mindless carnage?

The current stalemate in Nepal can be broken with shock therapy, and that could very well be a constituent assembly. It will require a cooperative approach, but that may be the only way.

(Alok K Bohara, PhD, is professor of economics at the University of New Mexico, USA.)

A Beautiful Mess

Nobel Prize winning mathematical genius John Nash, in the movie A Beautiful Mind, goes to a bar with his friends, and upon seeing four women including a blonde he observes the following: "If every one were to go after the blonde, the chances are that everyone would all go home without the pleasure of female company. The best solution is to reduce this non-cooperative competitive situation into a cooperation game by changing the strategy by agreeing to ignore the blonde, thereby increasing the chance of going home with the other lesser beauties."

The lesson for Nepal is that competitive non-cooperation with a potentially disastrous outcome can be avoided by following a cooperative game that results in a better outcome for all concerned.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)