This question lingers in the minds of many.
Levitsky and Ziblatt in their book, “How Democracies Die” depicts four characteristics of an authoritarian behavior:
- The rejection, in words or action, of the democratic rules of the game
- The denial of the legitimacy of political opponents
- Toleration or encouragement of violence and
- A willingness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including the media.
In the context of Nepal, the actions taken by the government after implementation of lockdown is enough to justify the above points.
First, the government has time and again rejected the rules of democracy. Even at the time of a crisis, the government was involved in corruption regarding the procurement of medical equipment. Also, the federal government violated the Supreme Court order to rescue citizens stranded in different parts of Nepal and foreign countries. Adding on, people were punished for expressing their views against the current political leaders. Despite having done so many wrong, no legal persecution has been carried out against the government. In Nepal, it seems as though the fundamentals of democracy, such as rule of law, freedom of expression, right to justice, among others, is almost non-existent.
Second, during a time of crisis, instead of actually working towards solving the many problems faced by the citizens, the government has engulfed itself in political turmoil. Ignoring the many demands – to increase testing for identifying the victims of the novel coronavirus, to be transparent on its procedures of procurement of medical equipment and to prepare a plan of action for economic recovery – the government chose to issue an ordinance that aimed to increase political gains of the current government. Ignoring the plans floated by many experts regarding the actions to handle the current situation and gradually reopen the economy, the government chose to stick with the lockdown for its own political gain – an order of the few.
During every crisis, it is evident that violence takes place. People have different sentiments which may instigate different kinds of violence. Nepal experienced the first case of coronavirus in January but the central government did not find it important to make preparations for tackling it. Instead as a sudden shock, it decided to implement a nationwide lockdown which prolonged ever since. The rising uncertainty and fear has caused secret movements of people within and outside the Kathmandu valley, fuelling conflict between the people born inside and outside the valley. Also, the decision regarding rent exemption without properly thinking through the consequences has instilled negative emotions among the landlords and the tenants. In addition to that, anti-Muslim sentiments have been rising in the border side of the country. Had the government prepared well enough, this situation may have been averted.
Finally, during the lockdown period, the government has curtailed the civil liberties of people as well as its political opponents. Right to employment, right to education, right to movement were the more obvious types of curtailment. However, the government has also ordered the media to not publish news defaming the government. Freedom of expression is experiencing a threat in Nepal.
It is understandable, these are desperate times that require desperate measures, but are the measures taken by our government acceptable?
One of the great ironies of ‘How Democracies Die’ is that the very defense of democracy is often used as a pretext for its subversion. The elected representatives use economic crises, wars, or terrorist attacks to justify anti-democratic measures and it seems so, our government is doing the same.