As we are bracing for three-tier of elections this year, it may be worthwhile to mention a Turkish proverb. The proverb goes: “The forest was shrinking, but the trees kept voting for the axe, for the axe was clever and convinced the trees that because his handle was made of wood, he was one of them”. This age-old adage is equally apt even today given the way elections are held and representatives are elected mostly in developing countries. Axes continue to chop the trees and the trees keep on electing the axes.
In principle, elections are the life-blood of democracy but in practice people are losing faith in elections. This is not the case of a particular country but largely a global phenomenon. Even in countries that claim to be the successful model of representative democracy, people are sceptical about the system, the governments and their policies, which can be well seen in the too low voter turnout. However, there is no other better alternative to representative democracy like what Winston Churchill said “democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried”. What we can or need to do is to keep constant and better vigil and educate voters to vote for good people. It is only through constant vigil of the informed citizens and their free will democracy can be saved from going into the hands of political thugs and scoundrels.
Democratic constitutions Constitutional and legal provisions are important guardrails but they alone are not sufficient in the absence of moral society. The Weimer Constitutions of Germany was one of world’s best and democratic constitutions. But Hitler rose to power on the basis of the same constitution. Even in our own country King Mahendra trampled democracy in 1960 by invoking the power granted by the constitution. The 1990 constitution of Nepal had been touted as being ‘world’s one of the best democratic constitutions’. However, king Gyanendra mocked democracy and imposed absolute rule citing the provision of the constitution. There are similar such instances in several other countries in the world. The question is, thus, not what type of constitutional or legal provisions we have but the question is what type of people we vote to implement the constitution and exercise the power granted by the constitution.
Success or failure of democracy lies not on constitution but on the intention, competence and behaviour of the leaders we choose to govern. Norms and values are essential ingredients for the success of democracy and political system. The norms and values are unwritten rules developed through years and decades of experiences and adherence which are to be self-observed while exercising rights and authority. Norms and values can be expected only from people with honesty, competence, high moral character and social esteem but not from people of moral bankruptcy. The present day politics everywhere in the world is losing moral character and it is becoming a game to grab power by hook or by crooks and ultimately used for personal and partisan profits rather than for the common good of the general mass.
The concept of democracy evolved from ancient Athens where direct democracy was practiced. Adult Athenians would assemble in the city centre where they would participate in every decision of the government and present their views. In the present complex society, such direct democracy and ensuring the consent of individual citizen on each issue and subject is not possible. Thus, the representative democracy developed through which people elect their representatives to exercise the sovereign right on behalf of the electorates. However, in some special cases and circumstances, direct democracy is still practiced in the form of referendum.
As goes the global trend, public trust in politics and political system is sinking and apathy towards politics is growing. Voter turnout is a key gauge of public trust in the political system, governance and election. But voter turnout is going down on the one hand, while dark horses often benefit in the election owing to cynical attitude of people towards politics and political system, on the other. This begs a soul searching on the part of leaders as what went wrong and what caused the erosion of public trust in politics and political system.
Against this background elections are being held in Nepal. The Year 2022 is going to be election year. The elections for local bodies -- village councils, municipalities and provincial assemblies -- are already scheduled for May 13 this year, while the election for the House of Representatives -- Lower House of federal parliament -- are to be held by December this year.
Expensive elections It is being widely felt that elections are becoming expensive and unaffordable for ordinary people in Nepal. If this trend continues, it may promote serious aberrations and public trust may further erode in our political and electoral system. It is now high time that our political parties, leaders, and all other stakeholders pay serious heed to this issue and do the needful to reform our electoral system to preserve the sanctity of elections so that genuine people get elected.
Elections are the occasions to affirm people’s faith in democracy. It is through the elections, people participate in democracy and governance. Voting is not only right of the citizens but also their duty. George Jean Nathan once said ‘bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote’. Good people, thus, must vote to elect genuine, honest and competent condidates. If not, there are chances that governance may go into the hands of bad people, which will further pervert democracy.
Despite the growing public apathy towards politics, people always look to politics and political parties and leaders in the time of every crisis. It is the political parties and politicians that have rescued the society and country from crisis. As Leon Trotsky said, “you may not care about politics but politics cares about you’, the onus lies in our political parties to ensure that politics really cares about people and keeps people at the centre. For this, the foremost task is to reform our electoral system and make the elections affordable. This alone would make the leaders, representatives and governments accountable like what Alan Moore said, ‘people should not be afraid of their government but government should be afraid of people’.
(The author is former ambassador and former chief editor of this daily. email@example.com)