POLITICS Iliberal Democracy

As Nepal celebrates seventy-one years of establishment of a liberal democratic system, the recent activities indicate that Nepal is heading to become illiberal.

March 4, 2019, 2:38 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: VOL 12 No.14, March 01, 2019 (Falgun. 17 2075) Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75

Just two days before the official celebration of 69th National Democracy Day, popular folk singer Pashupati Prasad Sharma was forced to withdraw his song from social media and Youtube.

Chairperson of National Youth Organization, sister organization of ruling Nepal Communist Party, issued statement threatening to take physical action against the popular singer. Interestingly, the government remained mum.

As reports about the song's withdrawal began coming up, an avalanche of support for the singer, and the right to protest against the government, the group withdrew the threat.

“Lutna sake loot kanchha, lutna sake loot, aru deshma paidaina, Nepal ma chha chhut,” (Loot whatever you can, as you can do that in Nepal) is a popular song by Pashupati Sharma. It disappeared from social media abruptly on Saturday night February 16, with a note from Sharma that while he would make certain changes in the wordings, he would not surrender his right as a Nepali citizen to raise his voice against corruption.

As a sister organization close to ruling Nepal Communist Party is threatening the singer, while the government with a two-thirds majority is not showing a friendly attitude towards media, there are ample reasons for freedom lovers to suspect the intention.

Some bills are so draconian that they will be used to curtail rights of the people. If the bills pass without amendment, the recently tabled Press and Media Bill will completely restrict the freedom of speech and expression. Even citizens need to register their account with the government to operate social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Having tasted the press freedom and the freedom of speech for almost three decades following the promulgation of Constitution of Kingdom of Nepal 1990, people are worried whether they will continue to enjoy press freedom or not.

Although the Constitution of Nepal 2015 has everything in it, there is nothing to defend the rights guaranteed by the constitution. The constitution is full of contradictions and flaws.

As there are so many flaws, some provinces and local level have already passed the press and freedom act with sweeping power to confiscate the press and punish journalists. Province 3 and Karnali Provinces have already had the Media law and province 5 has just tabled the bill in parliament.

With politicized and weak judiciary, there is a little place for people to knock to seek safeguard of their freedom and rights. For the present state of affairs, the government of NCP is not solely responsible.

With so many flaws, weakness and loopholes, the present constitution does not stand on the complete liberal political thought and inclusion. Known as father of the present constitution, former prime minister late Sushil Koirala hastily promulgated the constitution without taking any advice from friends and neighbors.

Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi even sent a high level delegation with an advice to make the new constitution democratic and inclusive at the last minute. Domestic political actors particularly from Madhesh and even members of ruling party requested party leaders to give them more time to discuss to make the constitution democratic and inclusive.

Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, Maoist and RPP-Nepal had voted the Constitution of Nepal hiding all the voices. As the constitution does not have any mechanism to prevent the rise of authoritarian regime in coming days, liberal minded people are expressing worries.

“We opposed the constitution knowing that there are no provisions for inclusion and liberal democratic ideals. Sixty Madheshis were killed by state in four months of protest. Three political parties termed us anti-national,” said Sarbendra Nath Shukla, leader of RJP Nepal (see interview). “I will not be surprised if common people who criticized us and prime minister of India Narendra Modi under the instigation of Communists and Congress Party, will soon come out in street confessing their wrong judgment.”

Under the present constitution, there is the need to change over 100 previous acts including the press and information act, right to freedom and others related to individual freedom.

Given that the party in power firmly believes in authoritarianism and cadre groomed in authoritarian ideology, the incident like Pashupati Prasad Sharma’s is not going to be the last one.

As Nepal celebrated 69th national democratic day, Nepali people continue to face a threat to their individual rights and freedom.

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