Nepali Times
None of the above

Peel away the layers of skin from Nepali politics, the folds of endless infighting, and you come to the bare bones of what this is all about. It is about where sovereignty should lie. Should it be with the people, or with the powers-that-be? Or, rather, with the powers-that-were.

The Deuba-Koirala confrontation looks like a cock-fight. But don't get distracted by the roosters: find out who is betting on them, look at who is cheering for whom in the stands, waving fistfuls of money, and why. Perhaps Girija Prasad Koirala is right that Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is taking the country back to pre-1990. Perhaps Deuba's mentors are really pulling the strings.

Even so, we may have taken Koirala's insinuation more seriously if it was any one else making it. Coming from a person who during two tenures as prime minister couldn't show the ability to rise above the selfish concerns of his cronies and relatives, it rings quite hollow. And it sounds even more hollow when the kangresis argue that they are the defenders of democracy, when all they have done is misuse our mandate and run the system to the ground.

The November elections, as we argued here last week, were not called by Prime Minister Deuba because he was keen to give sovereign Nepalis a say in getting the country out of the rut. No, he called elections out of desperation to save his own political skin. And now, with less than three months to go for elections, no one really believes it can be a representative exercise in free choice.

What kind of moral mandate will a party that gets 20 percent of the votes have when the turnout is less than 40 percent? Isn't no election at all better than a flawed election? Or are we having an election just for the sake of elections: to have a fig-leaf democracy that is not really representative or accountable?

If we do have elections, let there be a new category in the list of candidates and parties on the ballots: "None of the above". This will encourage Nepalis to say: "I vote because I believe in democracy, but I don't like any of these blokes." And we must bring in a new style of campaigning. Candidates will no longer get up on a podium to give speeches; they will take part in public hearings to answer questions from voters.

There is a strong temptation at this time to wish for a benevolent autocrat to set things right. And to let things drift into a constitutional crisis, so that a knight in shining armour can rescue us from the brink. There is a nostalgia for strongman rule to end this messing around by neo-oligarchs who used democracy to perpetuate their power.

Just a word of caution here. We tried it before, and it didn't work, remember? What to do when neither democracy nor autocracy seems to guarantee accountability? Only representative governments, periodically legitimised by a sovereign people, can be accountable. We can't turn the clock back on that one. "None of the above" can be a plebiscite for genuine people power.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)