It’s been the same old story for many years on Loktantra Diwas (democracy day) which is marked on Baisakh 11 every year. We have the same set of political leaders preaching us about the boons of democracy, telling us the stories of how they fought for it against autocratic regimes and how democracy is again in danger. Such rhetoric is likely to be repeated this year too but it has never dawned on the political parties and their leaders, who are the democratic actors, that it is their wilful mishandling of the democratic system that could pose dangers to democracy.
The time has come for them to do a serious soul-searching and correct their modus operandi of politics–with a greater sense of urgency than ever before. Here is why.
First, there is a rising wave of disenchantment and resentment among people against the current crop of political leaders who are running the show in the name of democracy. People have lost trust in the major political parties–Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, Maoist Center, and the traditional parties based in Madhesh. They have lost hope that these parties will be able to deliver and they have started to seek alternatives to the existing established political parties. This manifested in local elections when the people of Kathmandu elected a young man as the mayor. People’s loss of trust and faith in the established political parties further manifested in the November 2022 federal parliament elections when they voted Rastriya Swatantra Party to power with 21 seats–an unprecedented success for the very new force which made fighting corruption and ensuring accountability the major agendas during the election times.
The rise of new and nonviolent forces is always a welcome change in a democracy and contributes to making democracy vibrant and dynamic. But in Nepal people’s trust in a new force has some inherent clear message to the existing political forces: You are not inviolable, you are not absolute, and you cannot take people for granted, when you fail to deliver people shift their hope and expectations to a new force.
Along with that the rise of a new force is also a clarion call for the existing political parties that they will become irrelevant unless they mend their ways and work for accountable and delivery-oriented politics.
It is unfortunate that Nepal’s major political parties have failed to understand this basic message. Instead of reflecting on why they became unpopular and why people have stopped trusting them, they look bent on discrediting the new force as a product of populism. This is a gross misreading of the writing on the wall.
As the Loktantra Diwas is being observed, the political parties need to take a leaf out of their own past mistakes and work to correct them. It bears restating that people reposed their trust in the political parties after they promised not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Clearly, they have not delivered on those promises.
Today, political parties are blaming others for trying to subvert the gains of the 2006 democratic movement. The truth of the matter is that people feel alienated from the political parties because they have failed to deliver as per their own promises and people’s expectations. They need to bear in mind that democracy suffers when democratic actors fail to deliver. This applies to all political forces who claim themselves to be democratic in character.