Democracy isn't in great shape. Not just in Nepal, but around the world there is a stench of democratic decay. In western liberal democracies there is voter apathy and ballot fatigue. Terrorism has triggered measures like the American Patriot Act that is an unprecedented erosion of civil liberty. Across Latin America, there is a swing to the left as the past 15 years have convinced the disenfranchised that democracy had become an ideology of domination rather than liberation. And in states of the world's largest democracy across our southern border, control of vote banks at election time is now an art form that has little to do with the exercise of political choice.
Just preserving an electoral process while ignoring equity and inclusion is not sustainable. If mainstream groups just perpetuate their privileges and entitlements through the ballot box and use polls to hold on to power, democracy turns into a sham. The most stable societies are those where democracy has leveled the playing field, distributed resources, devolved power and given the majority a share of prosperity. Regimes that provide only the facade of democracy without the substance may look healthy from the outside are actually rotting inside because those left out are driven to desperation.
You don't necessarily need periodic elections to ensure accountability of rulers. Besides, how many of our countries had the good fortune of electing visionary leaders who compensate for democratic deficit with a surplus of statesmanship?
These trends have emboldened Lee Kwan Yewists among us who have always admired the strongman approach to fast-track economic development. They compare the Chinese tiger and the Indian elephant as proof that individual freedoms need to be initially curtailed for a society's common progress. Proponents say Nepal's insurgency needed this shock therapy too.
The goal of the rebels is totalitarianism. The antidote is not authoritarianism. It is, as King Gyanendra argued in his royal proclamation of Feburary First, a return to genuine and inclusive constitutional process that is responsive to the needs of the people.
In that sense, nothing has changed after February First: the king and the political parties still need to get together to break the stalemate. Not because the international community is breathing down their necks but for the sake of peace, national reconciliation and Nepal's longterm development.