Nepal: Parliamentary System of Government Under Attack from Communist Parties

>> Monday, September 29, 2008

By Ajay Pradhan | September 29, 2008

The undercurrents of the Constituent Assembly deliberations on the structure of future system of government are rising up to the surface. Two major communist factions currently in power have started questioning the usefulness of the Westminster model of parliamentary system. CPN-Maoist supremo Prachanda has reportedly said that his party has no faith in "parliamentary democracy nor can it establish a communist state immediately." CPN-UML leader Jhalnath Khanal has said parliamentary system in the last decade and a half "has achieved nothing."

The centrist Nepali Congress Party leaders Girija Koirala and Ramchandra Poudel have strongly denounced the rhetorics of the two communist parties and cautioned them against attacking democracy.

Two issues are involved here and they need clarification. First, the political intention of the two ruling coalition partners, the CPN-M and CPN-UML. Second, Constituent Assembly deliberations on the future system of government.

From what Prachanda has said in his various interviews, it becomes clear that the Maoists nurse an ambition to usher in a communist utopia, which, in its pure form, is to vanquish all political opposition and run the country under a communist authoritarian rule. Isn't that essentially what King Mahendra did in 1962 when he established the authoritarian partyless Panchayat system of government after disbanding political parties a year earlier? If Mahendra had been Prachanda, he would have gone a step further and, in the name of eradicating feudalism, triggered a massive redistribution of wealth by using force.

A communist utopia is an ideological dream of hardliner Maoist ideologues. Moderate communists recognize that a communist utopia with dictatorship of the proletariat is impractical to achieve or with which to govern or both. Prachanda should have no doubt in his mind that his intention of taking the country down this path would meet with vigorous political challenge, both in the Constituent Assembly and in the streets across the country. Will he be successful? This is a question about democracy.

What is not essentially a question about democracy is the deliberations on the future system of government. I believe questioning parliamentary system of government is not necessarily anti-democratic. However, merely questioning a system of government is not enough; you have to come up with a legitimate alternative. So, what is the alternative the communists have in mind? If they want to adopt an existing government model around the world, they have to bring it forward. Do they want an American system of government where there is an elected executive president with an unelected cabinet, whose power is under check and balance by that of the elected legislative body, the U.S. Congress? Do they want French and Russian models where there is an elected executive president with a prime minister and a cabinet drawn from the elected parliament?

Nepali Congress, too, has to explain why parliamentary system is the only synonym for democracy. This system started in Britain, where there has been a monarchy that is more or less supported and accepted by the public. Obviously, they could not have conceived a presidential system and deprived the monarch the ceremonial role as a head of state. Why must Nepal have a parliamentary system and could not have a presidential system like in the U.S., whose power is kept in check and balance by a powerful legislature? Are frequent fall of a governments and the political king-making role used as a means of political skulduggery by smaller parties in return for political favors from large parties, and party-swapping for personal gains aberration of democracy in the parliamentary system? Does a clear separation of power between the executive and the legislative branches of the government, which is lacking in the parliamentary system, not have its value? I think these are the questions that the political leaders ought to deliberate on in the coming weeks and months and inform the general public.

The elected Constituent Assembly members have a historically important task ahead of them. This is no time for political demagoguery. People are keeping them under lens.


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