Karl-Heinz Kraemer
Department of Political Science of South Asia, South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg

Shawn B. Perekrestenko. Transition und demokratische Konsolidierung im hinduistischen Königreich Nepal [Transition and democratic consolidation in the Hindu kingdom Nepal]. Wettenberg: Laufersweiler Verlag (édition scientifique) 1997.

Review in: The Kathmandu Post, 26 April 1998

At the time when Nepal’s young democracy is facing its most serious challenges Perekrestenko has published this book on political transition and consolidation of democracy. It is in fact his first degree thesis in political science at the South Asia Institute of Heidelberg University. The book provides a successful combination of the theories on political transformation and their application on the process of democratization in Nepal.

In the first part of his study the author discusses Nepal’s transition from an authoritarian regime to a democratic one from the macro- as well as the micro-theoretical perspective. In Nepal with her hierarchically structured pre-modern society politics took a highly personalised form. In the same way Nepal’s economy with an agrarian dependency of 90 % of her population must be regarded as pre-capitalist. Under these conditions macro-theories on transition, which are mainly based upon empirical studies on western nations, can only be applied in a limited way. But Perekrestenko proves that they nevertheless can help to explain the time and reasons for political transition in Nepal.

From the micro-theoretical perspective one can establish proof of the characteristic phases of transition: There was a phase of relative liberalization after the national referendum of 1980, which helped the democratic forces to undermine the system. The post-revolutionary time until the first general elections can be identified as the period of democratization. This was also the time when the consolidation of democracy started. But since the political activists sometimes acted in constrains, the mere application of micro-theories proved insufficient to analyse the process of democratic consolidation, which is the theme of the second part of the study.

The author defines Nepal’s constitution as democratic, but not as extremely democratic. It must be understood as a compromise between the Nepali Congress and the traditional elites; in this process the interests of the communist parties have been more or less marginalized. The people were not integrated into the constitution building process, and so the constitution of 1990 lacks formal legitimacy. This must not necessarily have negative consequences, but in the case of Nepal the continuation of the Hindu state and the centralized organization of the state have led to an exclusive favourizing of the traditionally privileged high Hindu castes in the institutional arrangement of the state. The antagonizing concept of Hindu monarchy has been successfully re-arranged in the form of constitutional monarchy. So far, King Birendra has justified to this new role.

On the representative level the party system has been formed by the transition conflict, the social cleavages and the election right. Even though indicators as the grade of fragmentation, the presence of anti-system parties and the volatility seemed to promote democratic consolidation, internal party factionalism, which is typical for Nepal’s parliamentary process, has prevented this consolidation. As in most post-authoritarian states, the union system has hardly developed in Nepal and so cannot relieve the party system in its function of interest representation.

On the micro-political level the author tries to evaluate the consolidation of the protagonists’ behaviour. So far, the military and the big landowners have shown little efforts to push through their interest outside the democratic order, especially, since they have no reason to do so. Different is the behaviour of the radical left groups, whose interests have not been taken into consideration by the constitution. So they more and more turn to extra-legal measures. The political elite not only failed to make the demands of the people’s movement the basis of its politics, but in many cases it even put through its interests outside the rules. This makes clear that the condition of political culture in Nepal often is contrary to the behaviour consolidation of the political elites.

The new political institutions receive little specific public support, because for many Nepalis the economic situation has deteriorated. The confidence in the new democratic order has considerably diminished after 1991, because of the bad performance of the political parties. So, Nepal today has an unstable and unconsolidated form of democracy. The main reason is the exclusive character of her constitution. As long as these shortcomings are not removed, there will always be the danger of relapse to an authoritarian system.

Nepal as a Third World country can hardly be compared with western democracies because of her economic and ethnic conditions. A dialogue with functioning democracies in other Third World countries is necessary. Ethnic diversities, for example, can be better managed on the regional level. So, the strengthening of the local government could be a first step to the solution of Nepal’s current political crisis.

Copyright © 1998, Karl-Heinz Kraemer