Public Order In Democracy
Dev Raj Dahal
Legitimate public order is shaped by the complex web of laws and institutions operating under the tenets of constitutionalism. It settles the ethical life of society and resolves the dualism between values and facts, authority and freedom, organisation and aspiration and rights and duties of citizens and state. This order amplifies the polity’s ability to protect popular sovereignty as a matter of right. The ideal freedom of individuals rests on inner vigilance while real freedom depends on their just living condition within the needs of community which defines their destiny.
The Constitution of Nepal seeks to optimise the propensity of majority for continual rule and interest of social struggles for the overhaul of institutions, laws and procedures for the distribution of property. It thus reflects holistic vision which is legitimised by popular will and sustained by judicial review and reforms. A rational consistency between native social capital, social, economic and cultural rights and participation in law and policy making can do away with social blindness and control money’s influence outside its orbit. Nepali citizens can directly participate in legislative power at the local bodies and indirectly through their deputies at provincial and federal levels. Their active participation, as a civic duty, spurs openness of public order which is fit for deliberation, inclusion, representation, decisions, co-action and appraisal enabling them to exercise choice governing participatory democracy.
Nepali constitution is now suffocated by faceless globalisation, resistance and politics of difference breeding anomic participation outside the constitutional bound, a bound so vital to concretise public order under the state authority and regulate interest groups, business and civil society driven by informal power network. Nepali polity can beat this problem if laws do not divide citizens on the basis of social strata and differentiated rights. They nurture privileges, not democratic equality, where citizen participation cannot transform the power web. Nepali workers’ participation in global job market has increased, but it has cut democracy’s power to change society through the creative role of youth.
Civic participation can offer policy inputs to Nepali governance and capture the public interest in the synergy of multi-media and multi-associational spheres. They have opened debate about Nepal’s vital issues - leadership, federalism, rule, election, judiciary, parties, civil society, political economy, political culture and the state while citizens’ participation revolves around personalised leadership, not impersonal institutions. Without institutional conduct, leaders have no accountability to their action. It can flag polity’s ability to reconcile rival zeal and bolster the institutional muscle of Nepali state to improve participatory public order.
Education of Nepalis about constitutional ideals is vital to reshape thinking and habits, transform them into attentive citizens and increase their civic competence for orderly participation in legitimate institutions. The stellar roots of its culture are conducive to expose the deception of doctrines. Its old tradition views human nature as a universal part of self-implying what it means to be human, not Hobbesian. As culture-bearing beings, Nepalis are in eternal quest for freedom and progress. Nepali state’s functions are defined as containers of security, protection and wellbeing of citizens, not violence-monopolising body defined by Max Weber. International system is seen locked in the cosmic web of life, not an anarchic one argued by Hedley Bull. These virtues barely set the primacy of human being over nature but set up justice at inter-subjective sphere though one can see the deviation of elites from these ideals and adoption of logic over law, ethics and public morality.
Many normative factors, such as popular sovereignty, social inclusion, subsidiarity and growth of citizenship and human rights spell participatory ideals. They helped Nepalis reshape their social ties in new ways and contest what is unconstitutional. It seeks to attune institutions and political culture to democratic process of self-liberation of citizens. Nepal’s constitution aims to remove the barriers to progress. Elected local government as an incubator of social modernisation, participatory democracy and popular sovereignty supposes self-determination of citizens while citizenship rights entailed to live together in the state. Progress in vital empirical indicators such as education, information, income, social mobility, health, legal system and loyalty of citizens and leaders to historically evolved values, norms and culture termed as ‘social capital’ can foster a stable democratic order essential for improving common weal.
One can see Nepal’s fresh impetus to participatory trends: social representation of women, Dalits, Janajatis, Aadibasis, Madhesis, etc. issues powerful voice, newer agencies of participation, such as caucus groups, social struggles and network politics have made political debate eloquent, proportional representation has contested the boundaries of majoritarian democracy and universal engagement through human rights, international law, international obligation and jurisdiction is acting as a bridge of humanity. Active citizenship is vital to fortify participatory base of democracy, leadership accountability, compromise between opposites and limit of the appetite of pre-modern, revolutionary and post-modern activism. It supposes improved performance of macro institutions of the Nepali state, management of integrity of democratic institutions - political parties, media, civil society and local bodies and set the standards of ethical life.
Nepal’s local bodies need self-management beyond the passion of contractors, clients, middleman, brokers and NGOs. Nepali media, the watchdog of democracy, cry for editorial freedom, public security and right to information. A good polity requires addressing them, reforming dreary economic indicators and giving Nepali citizens choice in the market process beyond imbalanced exchange of its labour for capital. If not, it would be hard to repeal the cycle of constitutional change inflamed by radical aspirations and stabilise participation within the nation’s institutional makeup. Nepali parties’ multiple leanings need common ground to address many negative sings of institutional disorder, power dynamics and dysfunctions hitting the rule of law. It can clip business infiltration of politics and political saturation of bureaucracy, enable Nepali polity to mediate the interest of class and the mass, sustain economic basics of democracy, tie citizens with the structure of rule and defeat vices inflicted by rent-seekers, free-riders, syndicates and spoilers stifling the delivery of public goods.
Nepal’s classical norm-governed order has provided diverse citizens to stay together and build collective cultural memory conducive to a stable national identity. Cultural tolerance and social diversity are classical democratic checks of the nation. They oppose fundamentalism and foster the nation’s unifying forces. Still, there are many democratic deficits: partially fulfilled Constitutional rights, skewed welfare equity across Nepal’s diverse groups, lean accountability of representational power, inability of leaders to erase the legitimacy and effectiveness gap and rush of distributional coalitions. Participatory democracy espouses the general interest of society. It grows with the life of citizens and relates to everyday practices, not only election, public protest and inversionary discourse. If civil society groups do not strap up their own vision they cannot protect nation’s culture and history from the ruin of self-propelling market.
In such a context, democracy loses balance with the economy. Direct participation of Nepalis in knowledge production, legislative power and decision-making about their welfare can help them realise social emancipation and hoist the outreach of popular sovereignty into the state enabling them to exercise self-determination on public interests. Self-governance, couched in popular will, abolishes special privileges of leadership and makes polity responsive. Democracy within the Nepali state wires openness of public order for its citizens while beyond the state requires the use of public international laws. Many forces beyond the state abuse openness of public order, therefore, certain coherence between the state, economy and citizens entail some legal and institutional closures.
Nepal’s emancipatory ideals need to abolish fatalism, blind faith, prejudice and social evils through reflective education and overcome unjust arrangement of choice and opportunity. An emancipated society reconciles the differences through a common civic culture based on participatory aspirations and sustains the feedback from the citizens to inoculate Nepali polity from vicious viruses of patronage, patriarchy and communalism afflicting it. Public philosophy in the life of citizens is vital to magnify the spirit of participatory public order.
In an openness of public order, Nepali leaders can manage differences by dialogue, emancipate citizens from their institutional barriers, foster social integration of deprived and create their stake in the polity. But such order needs legal tradition of politics beyond personalized contact of citizens with leaders. Personalism cannot restore the equilibrium of society. Inequality of resource affects the quality of participation of citizens and deprives them of necessary knowledge, skills and institutions. When knowledge gap ties the elites more to the virtual world than to the weaker parts of Nepali citizens, the polity loses secure balance. It needs few basic material conditions: impact of citizens on development programmes, property rights, use of tax to uplift the poor and use of state to increase the level of social unity.
Nepal is suitable for democratic culture as its ordinary citizens are neither xenophobic nor hostile to social and cultural pluralism. The fresh upsurge of class, market, gender, ethnic and territorial determination politics requires sublimation, not alienation from the popular sovereignty. Democracy, as a project of modernity, mirrors self-reflection and loathes pre-modern politics of tribalism and post-modern cultural relativism. Both erode a regard to national identity. Nepal’s past reveals that rupture of politics marks the failure of leaders to achieve good way of life for citizens so that they can surmount a crisis of faith in the public order.
Narayan Kaji Shrestha is the secretariat member and spokesperson of the ruling Nepal Communist Party. Although he had staked his claim to the post of...