February First was no surprise. It was the political party leadership that had an important role in bringing it about. At a time when elections weren't possible, Sher Bahadur Deuba dissolved parliament. Even though he could have extended the mandate of local councils by one year, Deuba didn't and left the villages and districts without people's representatives. None other than Girija Prasad Koirala ruled the country for eight out of the 12 years, yet he did nothing to strengthen democracy, take it to the grassroots and make it more inclusive. He refused to bring the royal massacre to parliament to discuss it. Then there was Madhab Kumar Nepal who jumped ship at a time when the street agitation against the October Fourth move was gathering momentum and declared that regression had been corrected and joined a royal appointed government just because his party got a few powerless seats in the cabinet.
Someone once said, "I'm not afraid of my enemies, I know them: save me from my friends." Nepal's democracy needs to be saved from its adherents, not from its enemies. Driven by a lust for power, they have hacked off the branches, trunk and roots of democracy until there is only a stump left.
Even so, there is no alternative to multiparty democracy. If democratic leaders make mistakes, the right to punish them is with the sovereign people and the rank of file of their own parties. Democracy shouldn't be punished for the mistakes of the political leadership. The alternative to democracy is better, more genuine, democracy. But just the opposite happened here. The leaders made blunders and we penalised the system. It's like setting fire to a bus because the driver made a mistake.
This is our democratic dilemma: democracy can't function without political parties, but the leadership of these parties aren't capable of steering the engine. Restructuring the leadership of the parties, electing new leaders and reforming the parties is the main challenge. There is no point complaining about feudalism in the country if the party runs along feudal lines. If there is no internal democracy within the parties how can they fight for democracy in the country? Democratisation of the parties must begin with:
1 No leader should remain in the same position for more than two terms, or 8-10 years
2 Party leadership should be inclusive of all viewpoints
3 There should be a free marketplace of ideas inside the party but a unity of purpose in implementation
4 A referendum should be an instrument of reform not just for the country but also for party members to have their say
5 an independent ombudsman should monitor decisions and activities.
If they want democracy to move forward, leaders like Girija Prasad Koirala, Madhab Kumar Nepal, Sher Bahadur Deuba, Mohan Bikram Singh and Narayan Man Bijukche should humbly step down. If they don't voluntarily step down, the party cadre should force them to do so.
After that the parties need an agenda. The king's agenda is clear but is the parties' agenda clear? It can't be something vague like 'genuine democracy', it must chart out a path for pluralism and a resolution to the conflict. It could be a constituent assembly election and an all-party conference to take us to the goal of an inclusive, non-dictatorial multiparty democracy.
We must end this excruciating cycle of struggling for democracy and having it taken away. In 1950, we got a sort of democracy, in 1953, it was taken away. In 1959, democracy was restored and in 1960, it was abolished. In 1990 we reinstated democracy and within 10 years, it has gone again. Does every generation have to fight for democracy all over again? We must find a way to make democracy sustainable so no one can ever take it away. It must be the kind of democracy that makes the people completely sovereign, only that will remove the excuse some people have to take up arms.