Saturday, February 26, 2005

Democracy and Trust

We fight so hard for democracy because we have all learned to believe in the system. It is based on trust. Those of us in democratic countries value trust. It is why we install so many protections in government to maintain that trust. It is why we reflexively speak against those who appear to stifle or slow down democracy for any reason.

The world has now existed for many generations with various examples of democracy. It is no longer a novel concept. It can be argued, now that the newness has worn off, that we are so comfortable with the freedoms under democracy that we have forgotten what it costs to maintain such a system. It is trust.

Trust is our reason for why democracies succeed where communist regimes often fail. Democratic societies rely on public trust, to be sure, but there are checks, and balances put in place to insure that trust. Multi-cameral legislative bodies, a strong constitution backed by an impartial judiciary, legislative transparency and rule of law to name a few. A system based on trust implies that the trust can be taken away or given to someone else - like a contract. Non-democratic systems like Communism rely on faith: an almost religious belief in the power of an ideology or individual-faith with no questions asked. Unfortunately, non-democratic systems have no use for public trust. They will tolerate neither dissent nor public oversight. Ideal democratic systems allows for dissent. Dissent and debate reinforces and strengthens public trust in a system.

Today, people have learned to manipulate the often slow-moving wheels of a democracy. Humans always seem to have some element of greed and personal gain in their psyche. When we see a crack, a flaw in a system, we will exploit it. We will also swim upstream, against a democracy’s reliance on public trust, to further our own prosperity if we must. Criminals and politicians who actively seek loopholes in the system are one example. Religious, cultural and political zealots who proclaim the supremacy of their needs and values above all others are but another. The new reality is that the trust that is incumbent to a normally functioning democracy is eroding. It is a measure of decline when we see less people sacrificing for the public good and more people seeking to “cash-in” on the democratic freedoms so hard won by out predecessors. Democracy today, and as was practiced in Nepal, seems more of a catchall concept that effectively says: “anything goes.”

India, the world’s largest democracy seems to fit this mold. Unfair, baksheesh-based practices, cronyism, nepotism and, not to mention, a very undemocratic caste system indicate that the world’s largest democracy uses the label as an umbrella to conceal a myriad of concepts and practices that fall well outside those the western world feel to be democratic.

If it existed at all, the public trust in Nepal was broken under the weight of government corruption and hubris. But were the foundations of trust ever laid? On the surface, an initial parliament and a somewhat representative government with a Supreme Court and rule of law seemed a good beginning. But democracy is a western concept. To ask an entrenched Asian culture to take it on faith that everything will be fine if they’d just adopt democracy is simplistic and foolhardy. The idea of relying on a centralized government body to meet your needs was a foreign concept in Nepal. There is that deep history of unilateralist and occasionally abusive rulers to factor into the equation as well. In the face of this, most Nepalis, initially, were just mildly indignant towards government abuses and corruption: it just wasn’t much different from what they were used to so they never considered raising their voices to demand accountability. When scandals like the Lauda Air deal surfaced however, Nepalis became more politically angry. They realized, rightly, that they were not receiving adequate representation and that their trust in their new democracy was being betrayed.

The Nepali government never bothered to maintain public trust. In fact, they never left Kathmandu. No government policies were effectively realized in rural areas. Back in 1996, however, the Maoists were gaining trust village by village. They initially collected donations and were responsible for providing some local services. Nepalis, feeling politically alienated, began to listen more attentively to these new Maoist voices. Eventually, as they grew in power and brutality, the Maoists became the threat that they are today.

The King, for all his unpopularity, recognizes this most fundamental threat to any present or future democracy in Nepal. His takeover represents an attempt to correct a system that failed to address this threat. He is making a choice that the prior government was unable and unwilling to make: he is going after the Maoists. Success will wipe the slate clean for Nepal to embark on a political system that, hopefully, is worthy of the trust of its citizens; failure leads to no choices and no chance for reforms.

Democracy must once again gain a foothold in Nepal. This time, it must be a participatory democracy. It is only when each Nepali feels that their voice is being heard in government, that their trust in government and democracy will return. Those in the world community who demand the immediate return of democracy to Nepal are merely posturing. If you do not have the full participation of all citizens, then reintroducing democracy simply reintroduces chaos. Nepal’s Maoists, in their current form, will not participate in any new democracy. They are the angry byproduct of lost public trust and will continue to reflect that anger until they are removed.

Democracy is not the cure-all answer for everything. Democracy is just another vehicle for the pooling of public trust. With the absolute trust of citizens and officials, any system would work, including communism. Betray public trust once it is offered and no mere label can save your society.



At 12:29 AM, February 27, 2005, Anonymous A said...

Mr. BD,

Just wanted to pass on my appreciations to you for a well thought out and neatly crafted article. You sure do make your point clear.

Look forward to reading more of your write ups.

At 12:30 PM, February 27, 2005, Blogger blogdai said...

Thanks A, I have enjoyed your postings as well. -=blogdai

At 3:47 PM, February 27, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tried to post earlier and it didn't "take", so I'm trying again...

Yes, thank you Blogdai for this excellent essay. You make several good points that I would like to wave under the noses of the yahoos who are pulling aid out of Nepal. Perhaps you could submit your essay for publication somewhere that they might read it?

A couple of thoughts... "entrenched" has a bit of a sting to it. Is there a more diplomatic way to say what you mean about the culture? Just a suggestion.

And reading the essay, I kept thinking about the role of the media in keeping a democracy alive. I think one of the reasons democracy, imo, is struggling in the US, is because the media is being consolidated into the hands of a very few entities, all of them very wealthy and leaning collectively away from inquiry and healthy debate of current issues, including the behaviour of the American government. It seems the safeguards against media consolidation have crumbled in the US, so the entire mainstream media seems to speak with one, dull voice. It is a very slippery slope they are on, I think.

Now that you've tackled "trust and democracy" successfully, how about another essay about the "role of the media in democracy"? I sense you have some familiarity with the Nepali media...

Thanks again for the above essay.


At 4:44 PM, February 27, 2005, Blogger blogdai said...

Thanks Ramta. "Entrenched" is a comparative term. By western standards many Asian cultures seem entrenched. I often debate with my Nepali friends who speak of political events in Nepal that occured 100 or more years ago as though they happened yesterday.

There is a tremendous bond with the past in Nepali culture. It is unlike the U.S. or other western entities where culture is more disposable. Perhaps "deeper" culture would have been more diplomatic.

The media's role in democracy is one of my pet issues. I agree with you about the dull unity of their voice, but I feel it is borne more out of laziness than a conscious effort at consolidation.

As the original post implies, we are taking our freedoms for granted; one of the most precious of which is press freedom. Journalists are content to rip stories from the wire services, or more dangerously, self-styled "analysts" like the ICG for their info. The single-minded quest for answers and sources is becoming a lost art.

This is, perhaps, why we are hearing such a drumbeat to restore democracy in Nepal: it's an easy, politically correct and non-controversial position for a lazy journalist to adopt about the Nepal issue. It saves time for more important stories like the Michael Jackson trial and the Academy Awards.

This is why blogdai believes that blogging is the next and most pure form of journalism. We have discovered this year that mainstream journalists rely quite a bit on blogged information for their stories and background so it's time they paid up...

So, blogdai suggests a revolution: from now on, Ramta, WE ARE THE MEDIA! You, blogdai, Naagboy, A, El Diablo and all of our other regular posters need to be dilligent about calling the "mainstream" journalists into accountability for their laziness on the Nepal issue. Post their errors and omissions on this site if you'd like. Let's start now.


At 7:56 PM, February 27, 2005, Blogger sudeep said...

>> India, the world’s largest democracy seems to fit this mold. Unfair, baksheesh-based practices, cronyism, nepotism

BD, Its valid for you to raise the spotty patches in governance in India (especially in the face of the holier than thou attitudes of the UPA govt.), at the same time its equally pertinent that most of these practises are the result of an ossified beaurocracy and a socialist system of governance, not democracy per se. In fact, democracy *will* end up clearing up these lacunae in the system. You are correct when you say that Indian record in this area is spotty, but there is no doubt as to what direction we are moving in.

>> and, not to mention, a very undemocratic caste system

Concepts like untouchability have been outlawed long back. Lots remains to be done, but like I said, the direction we are moving in is unmistakable. At the very least, there is a tremendous empowerment of the so called "lower castes" via legislation. The Chief Ministers of both Bihar and UP (the two most populous states) are both Dalits. 1/3rd of all seats in the central legislative bodies are reserved for dalits. I am proud of Indias record in this area at least, compare with other coutries where people still can not think of leaders from the historically oppressed sections.

I can understand that Nepal is going through a very turbulent phase in its history, but your almost reflexive impulse to do some "Indi-Bashing" trying to justify your particular line of thinking is not going to lead anywhere.

>> He is making a choice that the prior government was unable and unwilling to make: he is going after the Maoists.

This is interesting. AFAI understand, the RNA is very loyal to the King, and are not completely under the control of the Nepal Govt. If he really wanted to fight the Maoists, why didnt he do so earlier ? I remember hearing earlier a phrase in Nepalese supposedly used by the Maoists, (rough translation) "Dont touch the Army, but kill the policemen". In such a situation, why didnt the King give the RNA orders to tackle the Maoists earlier ?

At 10:26 PM, February 27, 2005, Blogger blogdai said...

Sudeep, thank you.

India was used as an example for a couple of reasons. Most prominently they are an example of how democracy, like religion, is bended and molded to fit cultural norms and practices. Because of this it is foolish for westerners to demand anything of an Asian democracy other than what fits with Asian culture. The western media do not understand this when they cry for the immediate restoration of democracy in Nepal. They see only their idealized, Jeffersonian concepts.

India is headed in the right direction, to be sure. But again, after over half a decade of democracy, inconsistencies, as you rightly point out, still exist. It is another example of the speed of progress and reforms in that part of the world. More importantly, even as India is the largest and most experienced democracy in Asia, their practices do not always fit in with the western ideal of what constitutes a democracy. Basically, if the best example of a democracy in Asia is flawed, why cry for the immediate restoration of democracy in Asia's worst example under the term: Nepal?

Perhaps we assume too little from king G. It may be that he showed restraint, or at the very least, wanted to build his case for takeover by not employing the army immediately. Those of us on the ground in Nepal during the last few years saw a monarchy that gave the political parties every chance in the world to act against the Maoists.

The parliament could have legislated an army action and the king would have agreed, it was that simple, and it was provided for in the Nepal Constitution. The problem was, the parties couldn't even agree on what to have for lunch, much less how to tackle a growing Maoist threat.

So, how many chances should the king give? How long was he to wait for the parties to stop bickering? How far into chaos was he supposed to let his nation fall?

The blue-clad police in Nepal represent all that is corrupt in law enforcement. I can't tell you why or if your statement about not touching the army is true. What we do know is that the Maoists had repeatedly said that they would only negotiate with the real power in Nepal: the King. The king controls the army, so perhaps they did not want to jeopardize a tactical bargaining chip. They seem to have no trouble attacking the army now, however.


At 11:39 AM, February 28, 2005, Blogger sudeep said...

>> The parliament could have legislated an army action and the king would have agreed, it was that simple

Was it ? Since I am not a "person on the ground", I cant comment, but it appears a little implausible. Why didnt the King advice the parliament/govt to order RNA action if he was in support of it ? Wasnt Deuba a person hand picked by the King to form the govt. ?

>> So, how many chances should the king give?

How can he give what does not belong to him ? :-D The King is a part of the problem, not its solution.

At 12:21 PM, February 28, 2005, Blogger blogdai said...

Thanks again Sudeep. Deuba won a fair and democratic election when G.P. Koirala stepped down. Bickering instituted by the dissatisfied Koirala at Deuba's election and a failure to hold elections in a timely fashion led to the king's invoking of article 127 of the Nepali constitution and removing Deuba for "incompetence." At that time Koirala actually was in favor, in fact encouraged the king to invoke his constitutional right to remove Deuba.

Koirala complained so wildly about the act that he helped initialize that the king eventually gave in a re-instituted Deuba to the PM post.

So, Deuba was never hand-picked: Lokhand Bahadur Chand was. Deuba was elected fairly, relieved of duty by the king, and reinstated as prime minister by the king.

It seems a bit fundamental to ask why would the king now remove Deuba for a second time if he were hand picked? RYLOP

We will never know how the king would have reacted had the parliament acutally authorized RNA action against the Maoists.

The loyalty of the RNA is with the king. THe Maoists know this, the parliament knows this. Again, the king chose to give parliament more than enough room to solve the problem. They did not.

Imagine what would be the state of Nepal had the RNA been solely accountable to parliament? Quite obviously, the RNA would have been as corrupt and fractionated as the Nepali government. So, not only was the king not "the problem," he and the RNA were and are the only recognizable semblance of govenment cohesion to be found in Nepal.


At 8:38 AM, March 02, 2005, Anonymous Manish Priyadarshi/Kathmandu said...

Peru 1992/ Nepal 2005
Majority of foreign journalist and international crisis think tanks have portrayed a very bleak future for Nepal under the current administration. These very institutions portrayed a struggle for Peru in the early 1990’s.

When President Alberto Fujimori took office in Peru, Peru was fighting against the Shining Path (a.k.a Maoist) guerillas. Internal bickering within Peru’s Parliament had allowed the Shining Path to grow to a powerful militant group and control most of Peru’s rural landscape. On April 5th 1992 President Fujimori mounted a self coup against his own government. One of the key goals of President Fujimori was the total annihilation of rebels which he accomplished within 3 years. Although some have recently criticized Mr Fujimori majority of Peruvians are grateful to him for his leadership.

Similar to Nepal the international reaction to the coup in Peru was very negative. International financial organization delayed planned or projected loans, United States suspended all aid except humanitarian, current EU members Spain and Germany cut off all ties with Peru. Unlike Peru, Nepal does not have a very well equipped military and needs more than just humanitarian aid to help the brave men and women in the army and police force fight the rebels. It is time for US and EU to learn from their mistakes and use Peru as a model and help Nepal.

President Bush to garner world wide support for a war against terrorist said “You are with us or against us”. It is time to echo whose words back to his administration. Will I am at it F. U EU.

At 11:08 AM, March 02, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The time for Nepal is now. King G must crush the Maoists militarily rather than go for talks.Talks will lead no where. I think the Shining Path example can be a model. The first thing is equip the RNA. I am sure Nepal has that kind of money. It is time to wrest the initiative from the Maoists and shove them up their #$@.

From the previous posts: India has to understand our position. If India does not support us, we will do it ourselves.
Send the Maoists to India and let thme rot there in Bihar or UP. Send their children, their parents, their relatives, etc to India and while they are going kick them in their @##es hard.
Maoists must be crushed militarily, they is no ther option for Nepal. Talks are a waste of time.

At 2:33 PM, March 02, 2005, Blogger blogdai said...

Maoists are modelled directly on Abel Guzman's Shining Path. There is a big difference, however.


The Shining path were able to consolidate their power and move rapidly in all but the most forbidding Andean terrain. This is not possible for the Maobadis.

Nepal's geography puts different forces into play. All Maoist or Army positions/victories and battles are hard to verify because of terrain features. All commands are localized. You will never see a large amount of Maoists moving, say, on Kathmandu. A Maoist will never drive a tank or fly a helicopter either.

Even with this, the RNA will be lucky to control the Maoists in 3 years as the insurgents will (as before) dissolve into the villages rather than suffer a crushing defeat.

Government infiltration played a big part in the defeat of the Shining Path. There are no such units in the Maoist cadre that would provide the anonymity required for conscripts to pass on any intelligence garnered through infiltration. In short, no spies in the Maoists.

As we are seeing now in Dailekh, Rukum and other parts of the southwest, pure victory against the Maoists comes from the village level. It is when all villagers finally stand up and resist that you will see a complete Maoist defeat. -=blogdai

At 4:13 PM, March 02, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Atleast American is not going to chicken our...comparing the Maoist to Pol Pot Donald Camp will continue support...although the support is very small ($2M)..


At 5:33 AM, March 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It feels strange hearing some people advocate use of extreme force to crush maoists. It is easy to say so when you are living in comfort in Kathmandu or overseas. What about the milions that live in villages? Haven't they suffered enough? Look into the human rights record of our security forces. They have never been trained to respect/defend people rights - but only to defend the King. And so called people's army we have already seen how respectful they are of people's rights.
Might sound like cliche, but there will be no winners in the war; innocent poor Nepalese will die- in the name of this aimless war. Nothing will ever happen to the ruling elites and the Maoist top leaders. Shame on both of them for adding misery after misery for Nepal and Nepalese people. Can only hope both come to senses soon and stop massacre of Nepalese people. Unfortunately, does not look likely any time soon. More blood, tears, pain lie ahead ...., be prepared.

At 4:26 PM, March 03, 2005, Blogger blogdai said...

We all want to avoid bloodshed and suffering. In an ideal democracy where all parties negotiate in good faith this is possible.

Yes, villagers will pay the price; innocent people will be hurt and killed. But standing on "principles" alone only works when all parties involved play by the same rules.

But what do we have in Nepal now? We have one unilateralist, brutal and unbending force: Maoism. Should we continue to try to bring them to the negotiating table when they have shown no ability to compromise in the past? Should another 10,000 to 15,000 Nepalis die while we wait for the Maoists to come to their senses and negotiate?

To leave the Maoists alone to make their own choices would invite the wholesale takeover of Nepal by Maoism's savage ideals. What chance would Nepal have for democracy then?
More importantly, how many more Nepalis would die under a Maoist controlled Nepal?

This is a period of correction. It is painful and necessary.


At 5:22 AM, March 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You say the war is necessary, necessary for whom? The ruling class and the top level army people, and may be 5 % or so high society rich people. They will lose nothing in this war, will they or their kids go and fight? No. They have enough money, and can run away and lead a nice comfortable life elsewhere, should something go wrong in this co-called war.
Seems like those people and Maoist top command are the only ones willing to wage this 'war'. Just wish both of them come to senses, before it is too late.

At 1:06 PM, March 05, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this BD stuff sucks!! bunch of right-wingers, may all of you burn in hell.

At 3:13 PM, March 05, 2005, Blogger blogdai said...

Yes, this BD stuff may very well "suck" as you say, but in what ways? Blogdai is not going to entertain any drive-by comments without proof.

How are we "right wingers." Show, don't tell. Is it the debate itself or the level of knowledge of our posters that frightens you?

The mainstream media both expect and pander to the type of emotional and off-handed take on world events that you so eloquently illustrate above.
They know that Nepal issues can be difficult, if not outright boring, to those with short attention spans. Tabloidism helps them to sensationalize Nepali issues enough so that people like yourself, even if just briefly, pay attention to their story.

Postings like yours are the precise reason that exists and why we feel successful.
We have opened and expanded the dialogue on Nepal while providing a counterbalance to those Nepal writers and "experts" who claim that, by simply looking through their Western prism of ideas, they can solve Nepal's problems and righteously condemn actions they do not understand.

So, you will not find much emotional ranting here; that's a good thing. We try to give all viewpoints an equal airing and a thoughtful response.

Thanks for the posting. You probably will not return, but if you do, raise your level of play or get out of the way.


At 3:08 AM, March 06, 2005, Anonymous Ram Prasad Paneru, Chandragadi,Jhapa, Nepal said...

You say you do not entertain "drive-by" comments. Your use of the word "drive-by" tells a lot about your sub-conscious.It speaks volumes on who you are and how you are. Here is how the Oxford English Dictionary defines "drive-by"--- a. & n. (designating) an action, esp. a shooting or murder, carried out from a passing vehicle"

Your sub-conscious needs a motor veichle for any action, a good example of western life, and yet you accuse others of looking through western prism and calling them "experts". That is exactly what you and your lot are.

Your sub-conscious also suggests that those who dare contradict you are murderers and yet you are not a right-winger.

Scrutinize yourself and know who you are before you lebel others. Know your words and try to understand what it tell about yourselves.

In Nepal, we do not "drive-by", we rather "walk-by", "drop-by" or "cycle-by". We are too poor to "drive-by", which seems so basic to you.

"Knowledge and Success" you claim for your selves. May I ask what use it is of ? And you already think your blog is an alternate to mainstream media ? What is your outreach ? Do you even know who reads your blogs and where they are and what impact does it have on mainstream Nepali politics ?

Yes, your posters do "frighten" but not its discussions or level of knowledge. What is really frightening is your apathy and ignorance.

In fact in your success and knowledge, our dreams of happiness fail.

You mention "frighten", how do you decribe people who can only bring up arguements and discussions under the guise of anonimity. Brave people indeed!

What is the strength and motive of such people who pose to post their "balanced" view only in the darkness of cyberworld. In a real world you do not exist, your existance is virtual.

If you want to test yourselves and your thoughts, come out in the open, speak out in the public where people can hear you through thier ears and see you you through theier eyes. Perhaps you would then realize where your views and thoughts stand.

You seem to be proud that your posters are not biased with "emotions".It is a shame that your discussions and arguemnts originate in cold blood.

Your lack of "emotions" is an insult on those who have struggled, in earnest, all their lives for freedom and demcocracy. Your apathy depreciates the value of Nepalis who have died for the cause jutice, freedom and democracy.

Yes, most probably the guy who says you "suck" will not return, neither will I, most probably becuase we understands how hollow and superficial your posting are.It has no meaning to the many millions of Nepalis.

At 7:36 AM, March 06, 2005, Blogger blogdai said...

Oh dear God, where to begin with this one?

Perhaps I sould just "burn in hell" and forget about it.

To our readers: blogdai will try to make some sense of Ram's posting, find the salient aspects, and give a fair comment.

But for now, the task is too daunting before morning coffee so I'll get back to you.


At 7:38 AM, March 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BD, forget this Ram guy...he's crazy. Your site reaches all over, man. Bound to get some nutz guys from time to time.


At 6:48 PM, March 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ram,
Everybody is a democract, if you such a die-hard democract, cross the border and jump into Bengal. It's near from Jhapa. The "democracts" had their chance to solve this problem. Everytime a democract tried to solve,he screwed it further. We are not saying if this is right ,we are trying to make sense and debating what this is all about and what happens, what are the options, where would this lead us, things like that.


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