The present regime in Nepal has been blamed for attempting to push through several controversial bills, including the Media Council Bill and Information Technology Bill, among others. The intention and some provision of the bills are against the basic notion of democracy, writes Ravi Nayak for South Asia Monitor
Nepal is a multi-linguistic, multi-ethnic, multicultural, and multi-religious nation. Within a short span of duration, Nepal has witnessed tremendous political changes. In the last two decades, Nepal moved from a semi-authoritarian monarchy to a multiparty democratic republic; from the Hindu state to a secular state; from a centralized unitary state to a federal democratic state. However, the 1951 revolution introduced democracy in Nepal and again restored after the People’s Movement in 1990. The end of monarchy in 2006 through the People’s Movement brought a new essence of democracy within Nepali citizens. Unfortunately, the same republic democracy seems to tend toward authoritarian due to the present ruling government.
Throughout history, democracy has had multiple meanings. But, the core meaning revolves around some basic elements and they are, the sovereignty of people; majority rule; minority rights; guarantee of basic human rights; free and fair elections; equality before the law; due process of law; constitutional limits on the government; social, economic and political pluralism. But, none of these elements are implemented and exercised by the current regime in Nepal, in the pace it should be exercised. The Constitution of Nepal 2015, defines Nepal as a federal democratic republic and provisions three tiers of government: local, provincial, and federal. If stakeholders succeed to manage the new federal structure of Nepal then there is immense potential to promote local democracy and equip citizens with fundamental rights. The current regimes created the ambit where expressions of people are curbed, where majority decisions are kept aside, where bills are brought to circumscribe freedom to press and speech.
Nepal being the democratic nation, the government should prevent rule by autocrats, guarantee fundamental individual rights, but the current government’s actions seem antagonist to the principle of democracy. The fundamental notion of democracy is that all people should be treated equally. Unfortunately, in Nepal, the present regime provides more privilege to its nearest one and is brutal and harsh towards those who criticize. Nepal increasingly appears to be governed based on exclusion, intolerance, and the notion that some citizens are more equal than others.
The current K P Sharma Oli government has attempted to hijack Nepali people’s freedom of expression through several means. Like, the recent incident of Radio Nepal, state-owned radio station, deleting the interview of former PM Dr. Baburam Bhattrai for his criticism of the Oli government, apparently under government pressure; hacking of a news portal Kathmandupress.com, an online news portal, and deleting one of its news report critical of the government by PM’s IT advisor, explicitly portrayed that, the present government is decreasing the value of democracy. In a democracy, freedom of the press is bedrock.
Any law which brought to curb the freedom to press should be scrutinized so that it is not misused. The freedom of expression/speech in a democracy is an essential right and in the context of Nepal, this right is even ensured by the Constitution. But, the present ruling government has shown continuous disregard for this freedom. It seems that the prime minister is surrounded by the dictators who punish the people who disagree with any thought of the government. Cyber laws are important. However, authorities should not use them as a weapon to curb public opinion. In a democracy, a person should not be arrested and punished for expressing his/her personal opinion and criticizing the government. But, In Nepal under the present regime, it seems that they are misusing the law by arresting and punishing those who are expressing their opinion or criticizing the government. The present regime is using the provision of law as a weapon to curtail freedom of speech, which epitomes in the arrest of ex-secretary Bhim Upadhyay.
Democracy can’t exist without dissent. The beauty of democracy is criticism. Along with the opposition, there must be criticism to keep democracy. It is considered that regular elections and voting of a highly popular government with a majority make a country democratic. Even China claims the same. indeed it is not democratic in any genuine sense. It is not only about the popular support of policy decision rather policy decisions themselves must be made via democratic processes. These processes nevertheless are not seen in Nepal as the recent ordinances brought by the government, first, related to the splitting of political parties and second, amending the procedure for filling up the posts in the Constitutional Council, amid the corona pandemic was brought through the undemocratic medium. But with nationwide wide criticism, even within the ruling party, the ordinances were rescinded within a week. Such government steps challenge democracy and keep it in threat.
The present regime in Nepal has been blamed for attempting to push through several controversial bills, including the Media Council Bill and Information Technology Bill, among others. The intention and some provision of the bills are against the basic notion of democracy. The proposed bills are to clampdown on civic rights and freedoms. Though the prime minister has expressed commitment not to transgress and infringe upon the human freedoms and rights of the citizens, the incumbent government’s initiatives to centralize power and institutionalize authority at Singha Durbar – the seat of power - has given room for doubts on its democratic federalist credentials. In Nepal, it seems that leaders have a very narrow understanding of democracy. So far, they think democracy only means winning the election and remaining in power.
The current regime is continuously attacking freedom of expression and the media. The role of the media as a watchdog of democracy in Nepal has also been eroded. The main threat to democracy is political leaders' intolerance and disrespect for their opponents. Also, some of the leaders are increasingly using hate speech towards the press and some communities. The present government should accept the truth that the government is serving a democratic nation where people have a voice.
(The writer, from Janakpurdham Dhanusha, Nepal, is a student of National Law School of India University, Bengaluru. The views expressed are personal and are not necessarily shared by editors of South Asia Monitor)