Editorial | Democracy or kakistocracy?

Democratic values undermined, institutions heavily politicized, meritocracy completely neglected, rampant corruption and nepotism unabated. Nepal, many believe, is heading toward a democratic kakistocracy.

NL Today

  • Read Time 3 min.

Loktantra Diwas [Democracy Day] is being marked across the country today to commemorate the sacrifice the people from various walks of life made to end the absolute rule of the king and to lead the country to a federal democratic republic. It was no small feat for the society that had reeled under the years of misrule and autocracy, with the agencies of people and their aspirations for freedom, justice, equality, development and good governance completely undermined.

As such, the Loktantra Diwas, in principle, has been an occasion for the people to cherish the moment of change and hope for prosperity and development. Back in 2006, there were high hopes among people. Political leaders, who had earned bad fame for their proclivity for corruption and nepotism, had promised to ‘correct’ their ways of doing politics by being accountable to the country and the people and by raising themselves above petty politicking.

They had us believe that ‘people are the masters of their destinies.’ They told us that with the success of the movement for democracy and republic, the country would no longer have to witness the misrule, that good governance would become a norm, rather than an exception, and every Nepali citizen, irrespective of his/her race, class, creed, geographical orientation, would be equal in every respect.

Sixteen years down the line, nearly all of those hopes and aspirations remain unrealized. General people feel that those promises for change, equality and good governance are nothing more than dead words.

As things stand, those in power have rarely cared to deliver the services to the people. People struggle against bad governance, rising inequality, astronomical rise of inflation and a life of dignity, prosperity and equality–the values the constitution of the country has enshrined as the sovereign duty of the state toward the people–remain a mirage. 

Sixteen years down the line, nearly all of those hopes and aspirations remain unrealized. General people feel that those promises for change, equality and good governance are nothing more than dead words.

The politicians in power present themselves as being more equal than others,  pretty much in the fashion of George Orwell’s 1945 satirical novel Animal Farm. As a result, a large number of people in the country have lost faith in the politicians and they feel that they are destined to suffer at the hands of a bunch of incompetent rulers for whom their own self-interest is above all else.  The ideals of democracy have fallen into the shadows of kakistocracy.

The result is there for all of us to see. People are frustrated and have given up on hope for the better days to come.  This will have a bearing not only on the lives of the people and political institutions–the growing detachment of people from politics bodes ill for the hard-earned political system for the sake of which people sacrificed their lives.

It is a matter of grave concern that politicians in power have stopped listening to the plight of the people and they seem to be trigger-happy in what they achieve for themselves and their near and dear ones. Equally frustrating is the fact that they have remained indifferent to the call for reforms, better governance, and greater accountability continuously raised by the media, civil society and the intellectuals at large. Power remains concentrated in a handful of leaders and voices raised for reforms are deliberately neglected. 

The country is embarking on elections for local levels and provincial and federal parliaments this year. But there is a little hope among the people that the new leadership to be elected in the local, provincial and federal spheres will mark a shift toward accountable politics and governance. Nearly all the political parties who ruled the country since 2006 are complicit in killing hope and turning democracy into kakistocracy. These political parties may continue with the business as usual attitude at the cost of their own peril and the hard-earned political system. The warnings are on the wall. Politicians need to take them really seriously. While we strongly believe that civil liberties and political rights should not be curtailed under any pretext, we also call upon the political leadership to reflect on the mistakes they made over the years and ensure that they deliver on the promises of change and development. On this note, happy Loktantra Diwas!