Is monarchy the answer to Nepal's 'unsuccessful' democracy?

Nepal scarcely has political ground prepared for the king to return to the throne.  The monarch also blatantly failed to deliver and fulfill their promises even when it had absolute power in the country's economic development, writes Bishesh Joshi and Laavesh Thapa for South Asia Monitor

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The transition from monarchy to democracy has been the zeitgeist of the late 19th and 20th centuries. The transition from democracy to dictatorship or monarchical rule has also been rampant throughout the world. However, it is rare to see a transition from the social contractarian idea of ‘self-rule’ by, of, and for the people to the ‘divine right to rule’ in the capitalist climate.

The political tectonics of Nepal seems to shift in favor of a monarchical rule, abolishing the currently unsuccessful democracy. The pro-monarchy protests and mass agitations have been mushrooming in Nepal as the government was embroiled in its internal vendettas and utterly failed to control COVID-19.  In an unprecedented move, the Nepal Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli last month dissolved the parliament on the recommendations that were duly approved by President Bidya Devi Bhandari, thus pushing the young democracy into an unprecedented constitutional crisis and political turmoil. Elections have been announced for April-May 2021.

A premise is being created in Nepal now to return back to the monarchy after it was overthrown in 2008  following a long movement. The country eventually got a secular, federal, and democratic constitution under which a communist regime came into existence in 2018.

The reasons cited for returning to the monarchy in Nepal are as follows:

*Failures of the state: The inability of the people in power to steer the nation towards prosperity and rampant corruption across the country has enraged the people of Nepal.  According to the recent report released by Transparency International in Nepal, corruption burgeoned by 58 percent in the past year, and the report further said that 50 percent of corruption cases were related to persons, organizations connected with the Prime Minister’s office, and the office of the President. Thus, monarchists believe that the possibility of corruption in a monarchical rule would be less. Since a monarchy will already be replete with the generous pensions and bounties of the state, they cannot be easily bribed like the underpaid government servants and will act in the best interest of the country.

*The citizens have given up on the government that has utterly failed to provide freedom of speech, freedom from exploitation, good policies, poverty alleviation, and proper plans of action to handle the COVID-19 situation coupled with rampant unemployment. Hence, the people of this nation are in the search of an alternative where the monarch might be the worthy replacement to at least provide all the freedoms.

*Centralization of power: People still hold the perception of monarchs as a figure who is loyal and patriotic towards the country. The people of Nepal had high hopes from political parties as people imagined a different era of ‘'New Nepal’' but their dreams shattered as they could witness neither freedom nor development in the country. Monarchists believe that the unending tussle between competing powers and partisan politics in the parliament promotes party interest at the cost of national welfare. A divided parliament generally cannot take any unilateral decision, and pass bills that deliver solutions, while a monarch can act quickly and unilaterally.

*Fracture in the pillars of democracy: Francis Fukuyama, the American political scientist, claimed that democracy was an infallible end in the struggle between ideologies. He believed that democracy’s ability to address the demand for material wealth and its potential to recognize human worth are two major dimensions that ensure the immortality of liberal democracy. However, Nepal is an utter failure to Fukuyama’s hypotheses, because it has neither provided material wealth nor ensured a fair human worth. Contrarily, the rampant corruption has driven the country to poverty, and abuse of court orders and restraint of certain fundamental rights have undermined human worth in a democracy. Therefore, it only seems viable to have a monarch who once ruled the country in Nepal’s 'golden age'. 

The reality of the expectations

It is said that “good intentions are not the sure way to good outcomes, but good actions are.” Democracy never promised development or a utopian world, therefore it is unfair for the monarchists to use a standard of development or socio-economic climate to judge democracy. It is a burden that is to be shifted to the leadership of that democracy and myriad other variables that might have been influencing the social, political, and economic fabric of the nation. The core purpose of democracy is the control that is granted to the people. It is when the leadership goes astray, that people will have the right to step in and correct the government through various instruments available to them in a democracy, like freedom of speech and expression, right to protest, constitutional and judicial remedy, the balance of power, etc.

The people’s belief that a monarch will not succumb to the lures of corruption might appear believable. However, Nepal’s royalty has been notorious for sneaking in gold through the airport, since Maharajadhirajs’ luggage was not to be touched let alone be checked.  But, even if the monarchs were an epitome of incorruptible goodness, corruption is not something that only happens at the top of the food chain. It prevails in the lower ranks, especially the bureaucracy that is the bridge between the monarchs and the people. Like the Bhardars of the medieval Shah Darbar, the modern-day ministers, and officers of the king still have enormous potential to engage in bribery and defrauding the government. 

King Mahendra’s version of good was “One country, One dress, One language, One ruler', while king Gyanendra’s version of good was the king as a parent and Nepalese citizens as children who could not think for themselves. The democratic version of the good of the current Communist government vacillated between whether the Nepali people deserve to have their representative speak for them, or whether the prime minister should time and again act as a parent by dissolving parliament. All that these historic incidents prove is that good is subjective, and thus no amount of loyalty or patriotism would make it correct. 

Fukuyama’s point on material wealth and the ability of democracy to recognize human worth isn’t only reserved for democracy but applicable to all forms of government. A happy population has been the key to the longevity of any dynasties of political legacies. It is when the state loses the grip over the ideological state apparatus that the population wakes up, and prepares itself for a revolution, leading to the demise of the greatest of regimes or dynasties.

The reason for the previous failure of King Gyanendra’s reign too was his inability to ensure the material prosperity of the nation and his failure to control the Maoist movement, who had looted and disrupted the lives of every ordinary Nepalese. 

Is monarchy the answer?

Nepal scarcely has political ground prepared for the king to return to the throne.  The monarch also blatantly failed to deliver and fulfill their promises even when it had absolute power in the country's economic development. Multi-faceted poverty was also prevalent when there was the rule of the monarch. Also, the hereditary rule does not always deliver their best products. This is so especially considering the notorious ex-crowned prince, Paras Shah, popular for his flagrant disregard of Nepali morals, involvement in adultery, and egregious indulgence in drugs.

Thus, what is best for Nepal boils down to a single question: What kind of a leader does it have, rather than the form of leadership? It is up to the Nepalese population to choose. 

(Bishesh Joshi is a second-year student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. Laavesh Thapa is a third-year student at NALSAR University of Law. They can be reached at thapalaavesh55@gmail.com. The views expressed are personal) 

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