Nepali Times
Guest Column
Mandated legitimacy


On the opposite page, CK Lal contended two weeks ago that Deuba holds office at the pleasure of the king ('The lure of legitimacy', #203), and gives his audience a lesson on the evolution of American foreign policy, alluding to 'regime sponsors looking for peace and stability rather than democracy and justice'.

Without doubt, American foreign policy has transformed in response to the threat of terrorism. And in the process of the war on terror, the US has forged alliances with the likes of President Musharaff in Pakistan, Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and Iyad Allawi in Iraq. All of these offer examples of 'mandated legitimism', and yet, given the state of geopolitical affairs, are indispensable forms of governance. While these examples pose a complex system of double standards and hypocrisy to some, they exemplify skillfully crafted, credible policy initiatives to others.

Lal's implicit suggestion of the US as a 'regime sponsor' is not uncommon. His play on reductionism by superimposing past outcomes on current trends however, is self-defeating. Nepal's current situation is not a consequence of the 'certainty' fostered by 'dictatorial strongmen', it is a direct by-product of a number of factors, the ineptitude and lack of culpability of past, 'legitimately' elected officials, being the most prominent. Lal's assertion that 'competence and cleanliness aren't attributes that determine the fate of a government' is absolutely correct in the context of a semi-functional or even, dysfunctional democratic environment such as Nepal. In any functional democracy these attributes serve as the hallmarks of credible candidacy.

There is a payoff between liberty and the promise of peace. The question is, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Perhaps the more relevant question is, how much liberty are we willing to forego in the present to ensure that upcoming generations are extended the full spectrum of liberties in the future? What is the cost of Deuba's premiership as a form of 'mandated legitimism' versus the cost of daily riots, general strikes, or the potential benefits of a negotiated peace?

Lal extends an argument that pecks at every possible flaw in Deuba's nomination as prime minister, but eludes every opportunity at referring to alternatives and purposely avoids any reference to the immediate past. Lal champions a brand of legitimacy that can only come from the ballot-a virtual impossibility considering the present security situation in Nepal. But does the inability to democratically endow legitimism necessarily imply that the Nepali state remain without a constitutionally mandated government to run it? Isn't this alternative precisely what the 1990 People's Movement was designed to eradicate?

More alarming is Lal's subtle suggestion that vigilantism will reign supreme over due process and the established laws of the land. To insinuate that Girija Prasad Koirala's 'negotiations' may prove to be the solution to Nepal's ailments is a bold proposal indeed.

Perhaps Koirala's efforts would have appeared more genuine had he focused on negotiations prior to Deuba's re-instatement. And on whose mandated legitimism is Koirala operating? Is it Lal's column that provides him de facto legitimism?

If a debate on legitimism is the goal, perhaps the right thing to do would be to first create a level playing field by critically examining the legitimism of every past elected official (or for that matter, any member of civil society). Deuba may not be a 'legitimate' representative of the people (according to Lal's definition), but as the last democratically elected premier he is the closest thing Nepal has.

The very criticism of Deuba that Lal offers, is what makes him the right man for the job. Getting Deuba out of office a second time will not be as easy, and therein lies the fallacy of Lal's position: Deuba's sponsorship includes his party, his constituency and the broader alliance. Provided the democratic environment is brought back on track, Deuba's subservience to the king is limited to the king's stature as a constitutional figurehead. For all intents and purposes, Deuba, by consent of his political alliance (which in turn represents the people), has the necessary legitimacy to govern the country.

Dipta Shah is a graduate student of international affairs in New York.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)