Nepali Times
Guest Column
Let the people decide


Are we, at last, observing some real political activity from our political parties? The goings on in New Delhi might have resembled a circus but there is a strange euphoria about them.

If there is no hidden agenda and no recurrence of bad behaviour, then this must be taken as the beginning of something positive on the political horizon. According to some of the leaders involved in the Delhi health visit drama, the Maoists are willing to lay down their arms in return for elections to a constituent assembly. Unfortunately, the published 12-point understanding between the parties and the Maoists gives a different picture and, most importantly, maintains an ambiguous position about the monarchy.

The royal government's plans have already been announced: municipal and parliamentary elections. After rejecting outright polls under this regime, the seven-party alliance has gone ahead to negotiate with the Maoists. If-and it is a big if-the Maoists are not playing games with the negotiators and there indeed is an offer to give up the armed insurgency then this is a great achievement.

What are the pitfalls? The same as they have always been: the monarchists don't want to give up their hold on power and the rest of the polity wants to dismantle the royal apparatus.

In the silent majority there is support for neither camp. They would like the king to have an important inspirational role in the future of the nation. After all, he is the descendant of a ruling system entrenched in the Nepali psyche and as such has a useful place as a symbol of unity in an ethnically diverse society. A chastened political leadership should give up the unrealistic and vindictive demand for the demise of the monarchy and formulate a plan to include it in a benign but positive role in a multiparty democracy.

There is no place in the 21st century for the type of royal actions we have been subjected to in recent times. The result for the monarchy has also been dismal: having been spurned by everyone who matters, the king has been reduced to visiting middling officials in grossly under-reported visits to African countries. What sense do these visits make anyway?

But who should decide? The people. They should be given a chance to decide how they wish to be ruled. After all, democracy is 'for the people, of the people and by the people'. But how do we determine what the people want when there are no representative elections and no opinion polls with an ideal demographic reach? We still have that magical option called a referendum. There is a precedent, albeit not a happy one, of the 1980 referendum.
This is probably far removed from the visions of various political forces but such a referendum would have three questions:

. Do you want elections for a constituent assembly?
. Do you want parliamentary elections under the 1990 constitution?
. Do you want reinstatement of the dissolved parliament under the 1990 constitution?

These three questions include the most important wishes of the three protagonists in the conflict. They are very unlikely to be settled either by negotiations or by ignoring them. A referendum is the way out of the political deadlock that will follow the proposed elections if the bulk of the political players boycott them. Legitimacy for the referendum, on the other hand, will be provided by an agreement of the political forces and by the people's participation in it.

Since these are questions of momentous importance for the future of many generations of Nepalis, why should a few political leaders elected many years ago and the wielders of guns decide among themselves what that future should be? Let the people decide and let the leaders who have always pronounced in the name of the people have the courage to empower them do so.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)