Were the executive power not to have a right of restraining the encroachments of the legislative body, the latter would become despotic; for as it might arrogate to itself what authority it pleased, it would soon destroy all the other powers.
~ Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws
No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.
~ Gideon J. Tucker
Wherefore being all of one mind, we do highly resolve that government of the grafted by the grafter for the grafter shall not perish from the earth.
While it is perhaps true that "one cannot fool all the people all the time," it seems that one can fool millions for centuries.
[W]hen once Power is based on the sovereignty of all, the distrust comes to seem unreasonable and the vigilance pointless: and the limits set on authority no longer get defended.
~ Bertrand de Jouvenel, On Power
I have previously touched on the issue of the crisis in Nepal. I did so both in my article on 2006 and in a satire in March. On both occasions a reader responded by claiming that this was about India’s muscling. Amongst what the reader said was: "India has been pursuing a slow steady course of infiltration, destabilization and annexation for decades."
This very well could be the case. The government whose constitutional preamble originally opened with "WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC" is not to be trusted. A government almost claiming to be the incarnation of liberty whilst telling the people how big their toilet tanks can be, amongst a whole lot of other things, shouldn’t be trusted either, but that’s another story.
There has been a war going on in Nepal, or at least there has been an insurgency. U.S. Senator Hiram W. Johnson noted at the time of World War I that truth is the first casualty of war. There may be other casualties before the truth, but truth is certainly one of the first casualties. It is perhaps hard enough to look into wars of the past with all the wartime propaganda that has survived as "truth."
When looking at this very recent Nepal crisis, one should be skeptical to what comes from both sides. Neither side is probably telling the whole truth. The coverage of international media has not been very impressive. Last November the parliamentary parties of Nepal got together with the Maoists in Delhi and agreed upon 12 points. Now, when those who sided with the Maoist and parliamentary alliance claimed that the 12 points did not demand a republic, this is formally true. However, any claim that the agreement gave the monarch a role, save a ceremonial one, leaves 3 options:
- Such claims could not be taken seriously.
- The 12-point declaration could not be taken seriously.
- The alliance did not know the meaning of the phrase "absolute democracy," and the alliance could hence not be taken seriously.
Dr. Thomas A. Marks noted in a column on May 8:
The most pressing danger, at this juncture, is that SPA [the Seven Party Alliance], dominated by NC [the Nepal Congress] and UML [the Communist Party of Nepal — United Marxist Leninist], will revert to form (on full display during the dozen or so years of full democracy) and lead Nepal into a ‘Kerensky moment’ for the Maoists, as occurred with the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917-18. The Leninists were not the strongest party in post-Czarist Russia, only the party with a preponderance of force at the decisive point(s). This allowed them to gain control of the state and then to do what was necessary to consolidate their hold. This is also how Hitler consolidated his hold on Germany, despite having only one-third of the Parliament (Reichstag). It is what the Sandinistas did in post-Somoza Nicaragua. One already sees the Maoist thugs threatening even UML politicians (who, in any case, have always been on the cutting-edge as victims of the Maoists).
I would add that an emasculated monarchy like the Italian one that gave Mussolini the chance to come to power is not recommendable either.
Dr. Marks notes on the involvement of India:
India has no desire to become bogged down in the Nepalese quicksand, so having ‘democratic allies’ in power is the proper route to realization of its geo-strategic designs;
A bit further down Dr. Marks notes:
The threat to Nepali sovereignty, then, is not from India per se but from the present situation that India has ‘enabled’. Its view is that it can ‘handle’ the situation. This remains to be seen — just as India proved quite incapable of ‘handling’ the Tamil insurgents in Sri Lanka.
Dr. Marks is author of Maoist Insurgency Since Vietnam. Although the book was published before the experience with the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, it seems he has quite a good basis for knowing what he is talking about. Dr. Marks is furthermore based in Honolulu. One cannot avoid then thinking of the U.S. annexation of the Kingdom of Hawaii as an equivalent to what is going on with the Kingdom of Nepal and the Republic of India.
Madan P. Khanal seems to have been a staunch supporter of King Gyanendra. One might expect him to, as he is Managing Director of the Royal Nepal Airline Corporation. This makes him somewhat of a part of the King’s staff. I would add though that no one seems to be questioning the reasons why the supporters of the other side are such supporters. Supporting democracy or "absolute democracy" is supposedly supporting the common good, and self-interests need not be questioned. Madan P. Khanal claims on the role of India:
The real reason for India’s displeasure was that the monarch appointed himself as chairman of the council of ministers, instead of any "India-friendly" politician like Surya Bahadur Thapa. Worse, the monarch appointed as his two deputies Dr. Tulsi Giri and Kirtinidhi Bista — who India despised because of their past contributions to raising Nepal’s independent international profile.
Sagar Mani Lamsal claims to be "a foot soldier in Nepal’s war of independence," and he notes:
Kathmandu is planning to set up a special economic zone in its north with Chinese cooperation. Both governments will have special laws, special taxation structure and special investment policies in an effort to ease the access of Nepalese products to Chinese markets.
As for what’s been going on in Nepal, I would guess it has something to do with both transition and India wanting to take care of her "backyard." The closest American equivalent would probably be the annexation of Hawaii, as mentioned above. That New Delhi would want to compete with Washington, D.C. in taking care of the its "backyard" is quite plausible. After all, can the world’s most populous democracy be lagging behind the United States in this field? That democracy hasn’t always been the first concern when dealing with the "backyard" of Latin America is another story.
Clearly, India’s current policy toward Nepal has been devised to perpetuate Indian hegemony. Democracy, human rights and empowerment have been used as part of its wider strategy of joining the United States, European Union and Japan in the club of "super-democracies." New Delhi expects such an image to, among other things, help it get a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Quite a few Nepalese may look at the West and India and say "they have democracy and we don’t, we are poor, they are better off, they have better living conditions than we do, they have democracy, we don’t." They then draw the conclusion that democracy leads to wealth. This illustrates the post hoc procter hoc [after this, so because of this] fallacy. Ludvig Holberg expressed this fallacy quite well in Erasmus Montanus through Erasmus Montanus telling his mother that as a stone cannot fly, and she cannot fly, she is a stone.
There are several likely contributing factors to Nepal’s poor conditions. There has been an insurgency in Nepal. War never boosts the economy of the region in which it takes place. Nepal is a heavy receiver of foreign aid. Foreign aid often leads to economic dependency, which again leads to economically unhealthy behavior. India’s Nepal policy may also be a substantial factor in the equation. Lots of factors play a part in this complex issue. There is no valid simplistic model that could single out one factor. Lack of democracy may be a cause of Nepal being one of the poorest countries in the world, but it is highly unlikely. Let us also keep in mind that Nepal got a democratic constitution in 1990. That democracy has at least some of the blame for Nepal’s poor condition can certainly not be ruled out. It is in fact quite likely that it has some of the blame. It has even been claimed that the period from 1990 to 1996 is largely responsible for the Maoist insurgency.
During the April uprisings there were business men expressing that they had thought democracy was for the politicians, but that they were wrong. Business needs democracy, they said. There are many things business needs, but democracy is not one of them. Democracy is, as Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn told us, about who rules, not about how it is ruled. Democracy may be able to provide the things that business needs, but there are elements of human nature that suggest that democracy is less likely to provide these things than certain other forms of government.
Among the things business needs are:
- Stability, but a stable 100% tax rate is obviously not.
- Protection of property rights.
- Rule of law, as opposed to rule by arbitrary legislation.
- Free trade, although some businesses may benefit isolated from privileges.
As for stability, Kanchan Gupta notes:
The king, as the proverb goes, is never wrong. Nepal has seen four parliamentary elections and 13 governments in 14 years. Its parliamentary track record since 1991 does not add up to political stability, nor does it reflect political maturity.
During the uprisings in April it was claimed that there was a new French Revolution going on. That may very well be true, and if it is, it is nothing to be happy about. There are, however, certain aspects that distinguish what’s going on in Nepal from the French Revolution, some of which are:
- This is not Christendom or Western Civilization.
- Surveillance technology is much more advanced now.
- Weapons technology is much more advanced now, as it is too more advance than weapons technology during World War I, when the end to the European monarchical order was brought about.
- We now have the historical experience of the French Revolution and what happened since, amongst this the experience of the immense growth of the reach and size of the state in democracies.
There have been several young Nepalese who have claimed to be educated, and who have furthermore claimed that this implies that they demand democracy instead of being ruled by the head of a family. These "educated" individuals have probably never heard of the following scholars:
- Alexis de Tocqueville
- Edmund Burke
- William Edward Hartpole Lecky
- Lord Acton
- Bertrand de Jouvenel
- Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn
- St. Thomas Aquinas
Let these "educated" folks read and understand all the major works of these scholars. The monarchy vs. democracy theory of Professor Hoppe‘s Democracy: The God that Failed wouldn’t hurt either — to make the understatement of the day. Then they can read and understand Montesquieu. Not that the late French baron was without error, but being educated in the field of forms of government at least requires some understanding of Montesquieu beyond the reduced concept of organizing government in three separate branches.
When they have done all this, then they may rightly call themselves educated. They might not agree that monarchy is better than democracy, but at least they can rightly call themselves educated. Being educated actually requires more than having been sent to some Western university and having been fed the crap and gibberish that goes by the name of the Whig theory of history.
To the uninitiated, the latest escalation of political violence in Nepal would appear to be the exclusive result of a repressive regime’s determination to cling on to power at all costs. For those familiar with the long history of destabilization India has disguised as its Nepal policy, the latest tragic turn of events is scarcely unexpected.
The riots in April were claimed to be organized by Maoists. It has also been said that Maoists paid people to take part in the protests, even that they threatened them to stay in. It would not surprise me if that were true.
On the other hand it has been claimed that the King’s security forces infiltrated the riots in order to create facts. Siddhi B. Ranjitkar notes:
[T]he Home Minister is so scared of the Maoists with broken backs, and makes troubles to the innocent people on the pretext of conducting searches for Maoists, and orders to shoot live bullets at the protestors against the autocratic regime on the pretext of terrorists infiltrating into the rally. How long will continue such a state terrorism?
It may be true that the security forces are guilty of manipulation, but I’ll believe that the Maoists are "lying with a broken back" the day the kid next door swims across the Atlantic.
Charles Featherstone had a point back in April, when he expressed sympathy for the protesters. One could think, with what was going on in Nepal in April, it could not get worse. This is where what should be labeled the government corollary to Murphy’s Law comes in:
When you think government cannot get worse, it will.
Toppling monarchy and replacing it with "power of the people" has shown us through history has made things worse. It is not simply that things do not change much. Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn told us that looking only at the seamy side of the old European order did not give cause for much appreciation. However, what we have now is in several respects much worse.
Of course, it is easy to have sympathy with demonstrators who are shot at by their government. A king is supposed to be to his subjects as a father is to his grown children. He is not to shoot them. Nepal wasn’t exactly good PR for monarchy back in April. It could be that King Gyanendra was exploiting the Maoist insurgency to achieve absolute power for himself. However, demonstrating with burning tires etc. is not exactly peaceful. Of course, the killing of some 21 Nepalese citizens is nothing to dismiss as some detail, and in a sense it is praiseworthy that it is being investigated. One could, however, ask the question why there has not been a similar uprising against the Maoists, who have been the cause of so much misery in Nepal the last decade. Perhaps the answer is that there would be a massacre. When and if — and it’s more of a when than an if — the Maoists take over the government, the government killings will probably escalate, and "you ain’t seen nothing yet" is likely to be an appropriate phrase for what is coming.
Moreover, with more than 13,000 killed by the Maoists certainly the Maoists beat the King’s security forces if we are to go by mere numbers. Even if we take the average, the Maoists come out as worse. The April uprisings lasted some three weeks. That’s a monthly average of about 30. The Maoist monthly average is over a 100. But I guess a monarch suspending democratic institutions is so evil that such things do not matter? After all, Communists have good intentions, right?
By the way, isn’t absolute power having full executive, legislative, and judicial powers? Is this what King Gyanendra had acquired for himself? Or is absolutism a term being misused here? The myth of absolutism is hard to kill. So let’s not try that here. It is tragically amusing when you hear people complain about the King’s absolute rule. They simply turn around, and at the next moment they demand "absolute democracy." One could wonder if they realize this self-contradiction.
Justin Huggler demonstrates lack of knowledge of where royal absolutism belongs in history, with the phrase "absolute powers of a medieval king":
Britain, the US and India used to back King Gyanendra against the Maoists, fearing a communist state in Nepal. But as he has dismantled democracy in Nepal and taken the absolute powers of a medieval king, they have distanced themselves from him.
Huggler is not alone in this matter.
According to BBC, politician Mario Masuku of Swaziland claims that we learn lessons from history:
We learn lessons from history. We believe that absolute monarchs eventually give in to the democratic rights of people.
Really? Is that learning from history? And I thought learning lessons from history was about extracting wisdom from history so that we would know how to act. So learning from the Titanic incident is learning that ships sink, not to implement measures to avoid ships from sinking in the future? Wow! That makes learning from history easy. I guess Masuku wants to tell us with this lesson from history that the King of Swaziland should give up the monarchy immediately. Well, we all die eventually. Is that an argument for committing suicide? I wouldn’t trust this Masuku for one split second. Besides, Athens was a democracy, and then it was part of a monarchy. What lesson did we learn from history, Mr. Masuku?
Learning from history is what Nepal and Bhutan now seem not to be doing. This goes for Tonga, which R.J. Stove held up as a dream of real monarchy a couple of years ago, as well — or so reports say. The island of Sark seems to be holding back a bit against the Wilsonian "right" of "self-determination."
It may be argued against all the talk about the limited reach and size of the state in the monarchical age that it’s nostalgia and nice to know. It’s not very applicable knowledge in our time. Well, here we have situations where this knowledge by all means is applicable, and it is being ignored.
Saudi Arabia is admittedly not a good showcase for monarchy of a real kind, and there are certainly freedoms Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar and I have as residents of the Kingdom of Norway that residents of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia do not have. Steven LaTulippe has, however, made the case that Saudi Arabia is not as bad as some would have us believe. Bringing in democracy has a considerable risk of making things worse.
Dr. Abbas Bakhtiar asks how it is possible in 2006 to have an absolute monarchy. I ask how anyone in 2006, with all the experience we now have with democracy, can accept the absolute rule of democratically elected politicians.
There were those who claimed the riots in Kathmandu where not led by the Maoists. Some claimed to be out there on their own initiative. That illustrates the validity of the old Chinese saying:
When the best leader’s work is done, the people say: "We did it ourselves."
When popular government is installed and has worked a while, the Nepalese will say: "we rule ourselves." There will be no uprisings when rights violations occur, because it’s "their own government." No one will cry for stopping taxes to the government. What’s been going on in Nepal lately actually proves a point. A royal government is subject to much greater skepticism than is democratic government. If Nepal lets real monarchy go, the Nepalese will miss it eventually.
We are always ruled. There is no escape.
Note that those protesting in Kathmandu were generally concerned about people power. They weren’t first of all worried about their rights — or people’s rights. People power was what they were fighting for, and when people power is installed, all will be well. Dream on!
There have been cries that the Nepali monarchy has been more than two centuries of tyranny. I don’t buy that, at least not immediately. Although there probably is abuse in the history of the Nepali monarchy, these cries about tyranny are probably just basically democratist propaganda.
Rights violations from the government are a real concern, and this should be taken seriously. Let there be no doubt about that. Asserting one’s rights facing the government is important. Kings — as well as other governors — who exercise tyranny should somehow be taken care of. Repeating the mistake of the American founding and the French Revolution — and replacing kings with democratically elected caretakers — is, however, a bad idea — to put it mildly.
Democracy looks good on paper. In a democracy, there is no exclusive right to rule. Moreover, those rulers the people don’t like can be replaced. If we here ignore the fact that the mob cannot be replaced, we have history. It is there for us to learn from. It is there so we can apply the lessons of history when acting to shape the future. Nepal has had some sort of democratic government since 1990. Other countries have had democracy for quite a while, and basically the lesson is that democracy looks good on paper — well, I’m not so sure about the perfection on paper either, but let’s leave that for now — and it does not look good anywhere else, with the possible exception of Switzerland.
The King reinstated the Parliament. The U.S. Government called for a ceremonial monarch. When Parliament was fully reinstated, Parliament unilaterally declared the King basically powerless. The parliamentarians claim they have a mandate from the movement in April. I say Parliament is just interested in removing any effective check on its power, and it abuses a "mandate" to achieve this. The political parties were clever at talking about the Constituent Assembly setting up a new constitution. Now they couldn’t wait for that assembly to dismantle royal powers — they had to do it right away.
But who is concerned about the constitution? Members of the reinstated House of Representatives (HoR), having monopolized the assembly, are operating on an open-ended tenure. In their frenzied fealty to the "historic mandate" of the April Uprising, MPs evidently feel comfortable with stretching their interpretation of popular aspirations and expanding their job description accordingly.
[R]eminiscent of the "Reign of Terror" (1793—1794) during the French Revolution, the restored parliament in its purported attempt to cure the ailment afflicting Nepal’s democracy purged itself from its arch enemy — the Royal institution. As such, the parliament has prescribed itself a self-inflating pill of ideology: Reign supreme without the Royal clutches and enjoy unrestrained and perpetual power without any liability.
However, the parliament’s grab for power and declaring itself supreme are symptoms of mob-ruled democracy.
When it comes to the Royal Nepalese Army, the idea of bringing this under parliamentary control is hazardous. The King may provide concentrated resistance against the Maoists, who have declared a truce, but are reportedly still engaging in insurgency activities.
As for the Constituent Assembly, it is unilaterally to decide the new constitutional order, or so it seems. If it works without pressure and according to ideals, the people will set up a constitutional order, and it will do so without royal interference. It will basically be only self-restraint that protects the rights of minorities, of which individuals are the smallest ones. The popular majority rules. No one will have me believe, though, that this Constituent Assembly will not be subject to pressure from the parliamentary parties and the Maoists. The parliamentary parties are likely to push for arrangements that do not check their power, and the Maoists are likely to push for arrangements that facilitate their takeover.
It has been claimed that King Gyanendra has been engaging in a strategy of conquer and divide. This is perhaps so.
What is democracy? We can provide a list of several definitions:
- Majority rule.
- Rule of the popular group that through how the constituencies are organized commands the parliamentary majority.
- Rule of the parliamentary majority.
- Conquer and divide by politicians.
- Conquer and divide by interest groups.
We could probably go on for quite a while. Among the almost certain things, though, is that conquer and divide will not be history with the end of royal powers.
Now, what could possibly Western politicians have of interests in Nepal? A few suggestions are:
- They are afraid a showcase could prove monarchy better than democracy.
- They actually believe democracy is so much better.
- They actually believe in a "right to democracy" — the Wilsonian "right" to "self-determination," which the United Nations indulges in imposing on the world.
- They believe in Wilsonian crusading — be that the soft or hard kind.
- They know that democratic legitimacy provides power to politicians, and they would hate to see that go.
- Political parties are connected across national borders through network organizations. Expanding democracy gives a potential for expanding these networks.
I actually don’t believe in a conspiracy theory of politicians getting together and in an evil spirit imposing democracy on the world. They more or less believe that democracy is a good thing. They have been brainwashed by democratist propaganda. The problem then is of course that their conscience is clean. No bad conscience is holding them back. However, other things than believing democracy is good and something everyone has a "right" to probably play an important subconscious role. It’s almost like when a computer programmer is to test the code he himself has written. He will not test the code by deliberately avoiding errors being detected, but he will in other ways be inclined to make tests that do not detect errors. Similarly, politicians will — more or less subconsciously — avoid serious competition to democracy.
I must say though that I am not impressed by Western politicians — and media for that matter — viewing the autocratic royal regime as the primary threat in Nepal, given the presence of the Maoist movement.
There are several possibilities up ahead, among which are:
- Illiberal democracy.
- Liberal democracy.
- A return to pure monarchical rule.
- A mixed government.
- Maoist rule.
- Successful annexation by India.
- Nepal turning into an Indian "internal" problem area — much in the same way as Kashmir. We might even see another shrine in Old Delhi’s park of cremation sites for another "hero of Indian democracy."
Let’s see what will be next after this week’s move by Nepalese politicians ahead of this Friday’s 60th birthday of King Gyanendra. Let’s see how long it takes before there in Nepalese politics is a mess equal to or greater than the mess that prompted His Majesty to establish "direct palace rule" in the first place.
In a post-monarchy Nepal, the Maoists would have little incentive not to decimate the SPA and seek total control of the state.
Lenin would certainly be proud of his Maoist pupils. On the side of democracy, however, there is little worthy of praise. The stormy course ahead will require more steady seamanship than has hitherto been demonstrated in the short history of Nepali democracy. More than ‘hope (it all works out)’ will be required.
A democratic republic — or a monarchy where the monarch is without adequate means — will be a perfect target for the Maoists. I would hope it works out fine, but — as Dr. Marks notes — more than hope is required. I would hate to have the opportunity to say "I told you so." I guess, however, that I sadly will get that opportunity.
Jørn K. Baltzersen [send him mail] is a senior consultant of information technology in Oslo, Norway.