These days, a rapid political transition is taking place in Nepal – a tiny country on the Himalayas. However, the changes taking place in Nepal are of immeasurable scale and are intriguing the spectators of international politics and diplomacy on an unprecedented level. Nepal’s transformations are noteworthy because this country is characterized by complex interactions of hard-to-solve issues of ethnic, religious, cast-originated, geographic, and regional differences manifested and highlighted by 10 years of armed conflict. These issues are further compounded by gender, economic, educational and other disparities, and also by a labor of transition from feudality to modernity. In this backdrop, Nepal is attempting to develop a system of representation that is fair, futuristic, and acceptable to all. This endeavor of providing fair rule and unity for Nepal’s 28 million people, who are increasingly aware of their rights, is a tall order for any mortal living in this planet. But, Nepal’s rapid march in pursuit of answering the question of “who represents me?” bears potential to become a model for the whole world if it is handled successfully.
The ideal of developing a system of just-representation where people’s values and interests are embodied by their representatives in the parliament is not emerging out of a vacuum. Nepal is attempting to ride on the strides made by world’s democracies when they made transitions from old Anglo-American and elite-centric model to relatively modern proportional representation system but with a heightened meaning into it.
The way Irish democracy solved the problem of fair representation among Catholic and Protestant religious groups in Ireland, Nordic democracies attempted to provide fair representation among organized ideological groups and also to reduce the gender divide in representation. Sweden today sends more than 45% women representatives in its parliament. All these democratic experiments, however, were done in countries with ethnically homogeneous and highly educated population. But Nepal has much more complicated issues at hand, such as those stemming from diversities at their extremes and divides in knowledge and other socio-economic fronts. On top of that, having embarked a mission to write a new constitution by people’s representatives, Nepal has born the responsibility to address the inherent flaws of modern of democracies in representing the views of the majority of ordinary citizens who likely would not belong to any organized political party.
This mission called democracy or “rule of the people” is misguided at times because of the twisting of its definition to fit the convenience of its “keepers.” The domain of democracy appears like some fuzz because of actions and reactions of multitudes of competing interests like: freedom vs. law-and-order, me vs. you, me vs. us, rights vs. responsibilities, wealth-of-an-individual vs. wealth-of-a-nation, money vs. ethics, need vs. want, quantity vs. quality, material vs. spiritual, privacy vs. transparency, public-ownership vs. privatization, consumption vs. preservation, expediency vs. fairness, and so on. The problem is that we want all of them and we want them “now” – a goal theoretically unachievable. Then we become complaisant and allow the discourse to take the path of least resistance, which favors expediency over fairness. Our complaisance makes us purposeless, then makes us seek happiness in a material world, and then leads to an ultimate demise of our spirit of creativity and innovation.
Once upon a time, this beast called democracy was supposed to promote fairness in society. Then a new beast called corporation was born and then multiplied at an unprecedented scale. These corporations were supposed to promote expediency through process and systems. But today the whole world is being corporatized and the process of corporatization has tragically becoming synonymous to democracy, and this has led to a new movement called privatization of the world. We are allowing the corporations to take over all affairs of the world and letting the governments to become subservient to the corporate world. All big “democratic” governments are busy serving the corporate interests than to serve the interest of their ordinary citizens. They are pressurizing small countries to succumb to their grand interests by forcing them to take paths that are destructive, let alone be fair. Nepal adopted a for-profit education and health-care systems and wholesale privatization of everything to serve this world interest. The preservation of people’s interests has, therefore, become more so important today than ever before.
A whole host of issues related to the development of democratic, connected and global world is to be re-thought with the understanding of the present context of the world. This will lead to debates on issues of fairness in party representation in parliament, mechanisms for effective local and geographic representation, mechanisms to permit novel ideas to be debated in society and legislative organs, fair representation of all influencing sectors of society (gender, age, professions, economic classes, ethnic groups, religions, and so on), mechanisms to not let organized politics dominate the voices of ordinary citizens, to ensure that money does not control media-parties-and-vote, mechanisms to reduce income gaps and social divides, to create fair opportunity and access to resources for all, systems for incorruptible governance, channeling human energy to endeavors of prosperity, and myriads of other mechanisms required to advance the democratic development of a society.
Finding a state of balance and fairness in the presence of competing societal factors is what we must try to attempt. Fairness in this context is about meeting or exceeding the expectation of the people, who are permitted to think freely and are given fair opportunity to develop their intellectual capacity. But then there comes a process of transition and a period of transition when there is a monumental task of correcting inequalities and injustices practiced and carried over from the past. Without passing through this transitory process honorably, the dream of giving a level plain field to all will remain a perpetual illusion.
(The author is a former faculty member of Tribhuvan University and holds a Ph D in electrical engineering. He is Executive Director of the Canada Forum for Nepal and lives in Canada)