Politics Is Virtuous Sphere

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Politics is a virtuous vocation supposed to be dedicated towards the greater good of the citizenry. However, politics, of late, is getting bad name in the eyes of people. Politics has lately emerged as an instrument for personal and partisan benefits. People’s agendas are taking a back seat whereas partisan interests reign the supreme in the domain of politics. Authoritarianism is rising in the world and illiberal trends are dominating even in the established democracies. In the name of election, consents are being manufactured and people’s verdicts being doctored. 

According to V-Dem Institute’s Democracy Report 2023, ‘advances in global levels of democracy made over the last 35 years have been wiped out’. The report says ‘72 per cent of the world’s population – 5.7 billion people – live in autocracies by 2022 and the decline is most dramatic in the Asia-Pacific region, which is back to levels last recorded in 1978’.  The report further states “the world has more closed autocracies than liberal democracies with 28 per cent of global population or 2.2 billion people  live in closed autocracies, while 13 per cent of the population – 1 billion people – live in liberal democracies. 

Illiberal tendency

The report clearly indicates the global trend going back to autocratic and illiberal tendency. Even the established democracies like the United States and India also seem to be moving towards illiberal tendency, which some political scientists call as ‘elected autocracy’. Democracy is, without any shade of doubt, is the best form of government for development and delivery to the people. However Singapore’s late leader Lee Kuan Yew was of the view that autocracies are better for economic development and political stability, while China’s late leader Deng Xiaoping’s thesis was ‘ it does not matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice’.  

However, economic development alone does not satisfy the inner instinct of human beings. Freedom is the inherent instinct and desire of human being and democracy is thus a must. If given the choice between democracy without economic development and economic development without democracy, it would be hard to choose one. Both democracy and economic development are necessary and it is possible in democracy, for which leaders must be honest and committed. Amidst global democratic backsliding, Nepal’s experience in its democratic development is mixed. Nepal is a new democracy which has a chequered history of democratic development with one step advancement and two step sliding back. However, people’s relentless resilience continued to keep the torch of democratic movement alive. 

Democratic development, therefore, saw ups and downs in different interval of history since democracy first dawned in Nepal in 1951. Nepal saw different experiments of parliamentary democracy in over six decades. Parliamentary democracy under constitutional monarch was first practiced. But monarchy always acted against democracy and it proved to be anti-democratic institution. Nepali people and political parties finally arrived at the conclusion that abolition of democracy is a must for the sustenance of democracy. Thus, monarchy was finally abolished and Nepal is now a federal democratic republic. 

Given the electoral system we have adopted, the coalition politics has been our fait accompli.  Our electoral system is a mix bag of first-past-the-post and proportional representation. Both the electoral systems have their own virtues as well as downsides.  It depends upon the ability and intention of the political leaders to succeed the political and electoral practices.  The system is important but system alone does not bring about positive and desired results unless political actors are sincere and competent.

The political instability and frequent changes of government are attributed to the mixed type of electoral system we have adopted. In reality, the electoral system is not primarily responsible for the political instability. The principal factor of political instability is the intention and competence of leaders and overall political culture of the society. Nordic countries have proportional electoral system. But they have political stability and also have achieved high degree of economic development. At the same time, countries that have adopted first-past the post system also have fared well in democratic stability and economic development. 

The United States, Japan and several European countries have majoritarian electoral system and they have both political stability and economic development. It is thus not the system alone but the behaviour and intent of the political parties and leaders that is responsible for the frequent change of the government. Since a single party is less likely to win a clear majority to form the government, parties must develop coalition culture. In the absence of coalition culture, governments frequently change with the change in the make-up of coalition parties. 

Public scrutiny

Nepal should learn from the Nordic countries where pre-election coalition are formed on the basis of ideological proximity and political and economic programmes that remains intact until the next election. Nepal’s political parties and their leaders are under the strong public scrutiny at present. It has been widely felt that they have not lived up to the expectations of the people in democratic delivery. Great thinkers like Aristotle, Plato and Socrates have defined politics as an art of governance for the common good of citizens. 

However, the present trend is going the way Machiavelli defined politics as a craft to deceive people and maintain authority over them. This is perhaps the reason why politics seems to have lost attraction among ordinary citizenry. Ordinary people see politics as a dirty game. Politics is getting dirty by the misconduct of those who handle it. Now it is thus necessary for the political parties and leaders to change their conduct and behaviours and also earn high respect from the people to clean politic.  Only then politics will reign in the mind of people as the virtuous vocation for the greater good of the country and the people. 

(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. lamsalyubanath@gmail.com)

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