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Democracy Nepal

Multiparty Democracy  in Nepal

Widespread prodemocracy protests toppled the panchayat system in April 1990. The king appointed an independent Constitution Recommendation Commission to represent the main opposition factions and to prepare a new constitution to accommodate their demands for political reform. On September 10, 1990, the commission presented King Birendra with the draft of a new constitution, which would preserve the king's status as chief of state under a constitutional monarchy but establish a multiparty democracy with separation of powers and human rights. As agreed upon earlier, the king turned the draft constitution over to Prime Minister K.P. Bhattarai and his cabinet for review and recommendations. The draft was discussed extensively and approved by the interim cabinet. A major obstacle to approval was avoided when the commission removed a disputed provision under which both the constitutional monarchy and multiparty system could have been eliminated by a three-quarters majority vote of Parliament.
 Democracy in Nepal

On November 9, 1990, King Birendra promulgated the new constitution and abrogated the constitution of 1962. The 1990 constitution ended almost thirty years of absolute monarchy in which the palace had dominated every aspect of political life and political parties were banned.

The constitution, broadly based on British practice, is the fundamental law of Nepal. It vests sovereignty in the people and declares Nepal a multiethnic, multilingual, democratic, independent, indivisible, sovereign, and constitutional monarchical kingdom. The national and official language of Nepal is Nepali in the Devanagari script. All other languages spoken as the mother tongue in the various parts of Nepal are recognized as languages of the nation. Although Nepal still is officially regarded as a Hindu kingdom, the constitution also gives religious and cultural freedom to other religious groups, such as Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians. The preamble of the constitution recognizes the desire of the Nepalese people to bring about constitutional changes with the objective of obtaining social, political, and economic justice. It envisages the guarantee of basic human rights to every citizen, a parliamentary system of government, and a multiparty democracy. It also

aims to establish an independent and competent system of justice with a view to transforming the concept of the rule of law into reality.

Other safeguards include the right to property; the right to conserve and promote one's language, script, and culture; the right to education in the student's mother tongue; freedom of religion; and the right to manage and protect religious places and trusts. Traffic in human slavery, serfdom, forced labor, or child labor in any form is prohibited. The right to receive information about matters of public importance and the right to secrecy and inviolability of one's person, residence, property, documents, letters, and other information also are guaranteed.

Part three of the constitution provides for the fundamental rights of citizens. Although some elements of fundamental rights guaranteed in the 1962 constitution are reflected in the 1990 constitution, the latter provides new safeguards in unequivocal language and does not encumber the fundamental rights with duties or restrictions purported to uphold public good. All citizens are equal before the law, and no discrimination can be made on the basis of religion, race, sex, caste, tribe, or ideology. No person shall, on the basis of caste, be discriminated against as an untouchable, be denied access to any public place, or be deprived from the use of public utilities. No discrimination will be allowed in regard to remuneration for men and women for the same work. No citizen can be exiled or be deprived of liberty except in accordance with the law; and capital punishment is disallowed.

In addition, sections on fundamental rights provide for freedom of thought and expression; freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms; freedom to form unions and associations; freedom to move and reside in any part of Nepal; and freedom to carry out any profession, occupation, trade, or industry. Similarly, prior censorship of publications is prohibited, and free press and printing are guaranteed. Unfettered cultural and educational rights also are guaranteed. Articles twenty-three and eighty-eight provide for a citizen's right to constitutional remedy. Any citizen can petition the Supreme Court to declare any law or part thereof as void if it infringes on the fundamental rights conferred by the constitution.

Rights regarding criminal justice include the guarantee that no person will be punished for an act unpunishable by law or subjected to a punishment greater than that prescribed by the laws in existence at the time of commission of the offense; no person will be prosecuted more than once in any offense; and no one will be compelled to bear witness against himself or herself. Inflicting cruelty on a person in detention is prohibited, as is detaining a person without giving information about the grounds for such detention. Further, the person in detention must be produced within twenty-four hours of such arrest before the judicial authorities. Any person wrongly detained will be compensated.

The constitution lays down various directives in matters of political, economic, and social development, and foreign policy. These lofty policies are guidelines to promote conditions of welfare on the basis of the principles of an open society. One objective is to transform the national economy into an independent and self-reliant system by making arrangements for the equitable distribution of the economic gains on the basis of social justice. The constitution stresses the creation of conditions for the enjoyment of the fruits of democracy through the maximum participation of the people in governance of the country. Other aims include the pursuit of a policy in international relations that will enhance the dignity of the
nation and ensure sovereignty, integrity, and national independence and the protection of the environment from further ecological damage.

Reality of Democracy Exposed in Nepal's Coup

King Gyanendra's decision to dismiss the government and suspend people's rights on Feb. 1 has transformed Nepal overnight from a constitutional to an absolute monarchy and has turned the country's 1990 constitution into a meaningless document, negating years of struggle by the Nepalese people to form a multiparty democracy. While Gyanendra deserves all of the condemnation he has received since his Feb. 1 coup by human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and others in the country as well as the international community, Nepal's political parties must also share the blame for their own demise and that of democracy and human rights in the country; for during the 15 years in which various political parties held the reins of government, they failed to meaningfully respond to the needs of the people as Nepal remains one of the poorest nations in Asia. Instead, Nepal's politicians over this 15-year period sought to use their political position to enrich themselves.

Democratic Republic of Nepal

Sadly, this scenario is familiar in many countries in Asia. Candidates often view the electoral process as merely an investment as they seek to attain a seat in the country's legislature, and hopefully later a cabinet position, from which they can inflate their bank accounts and recoup their financial investment that has been spent to bribe voters and fund a small army of thugs to intimidate their opponents. In these types of "democracies" prevalent in Asia, self-interest is much more powerful than public interest; public service becomes private service. In fact, Nepal's king used corruption to partly  justify his coup, and the Maoists, whose defeat the king used as another explanation for his grab for power, have built their movement on the backs of people's poverty that was not effectively addressed under multiparty democracy. Consequently, the notion that legislators, prime ministers and presidents represent the interests of the majority of their people, most of whom are poor in the region, is confined to a theory of democracy but not the reality of democracy as it is widely practiced in Asia.

Nepal's multiparty democracy, however, was not the only loser on Feb. 1 but also people's rights as the king abrogated everyone's constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly and the media's freedom of the press. These rights, of course, must be immediately restored to restrain the nation from plunging into an orgy of violence. Otherwise, valid concerns that innocent people will be killed and injured in the crossfire between government security forces and the Maoists will materialise into reality. The abolition of these rights creates the conditions for a reign of lawlessness to establish itself and with it a descent into violence and anarchy. Violence though will only declare a "winner" temporarily after the loss of much life. In the end, the issues that spawned the violence, that engendered the Maoist insurgency, such as poverty, still need to be resolved through discussion and the political will to bring about change. The present denial of people's rights though prevent this exchange of ideas from taking place and instead lift up violence as the only option. The false ideology that "might makes right" only leaves many people dead - more than 11,000 individuals at the present time since the civil war with the Maoists began in 1996.

In theory, democracy and human rights mutually reinforce each other with democracy offering a political system with checks and balances and an independent judiciary for the latter to be realized and a respect for human rights providing the political space for the former to be fully exercised. Thus, as Nepal's political parties rightly clamour for the restoration of people's rights and attempt to organise protests for the reinstatement of the constitution and multiparty democracy, it would be wise for them to reflect on the meaning of democracy. They must concede that the present denial of their civil and political rights has roots in their apathy toward promoting and protecting the socio-economic rights of the Nepalese people; for when the king dismissed the government, the people did not flock to the streets to protest his move. And why should they? In their eyes, they had lost nothing.


Now Nepal is "Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal"

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