Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Martial Law and Democracy - the Emergency in Nepal

King Gyanendra of Nepal has recently sacked his government and declared a state of emergency - cutting off the country from the rest of the world by severing phone/internet connections, diverting flights, and so on. As the Canadian Press reports,
"Gyanendra denied his takeover was a coup, although soldiers surrounded the houses of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and other government leaders.

In an announcement on state-run television, the king accused the government of failing to conduct parliamentary elections and being unable to restore peace in the country, which is beset by rebel violence.

Gyanendra also suspended several provisions in the constitution, including the freedoms of press, speech and expression; the freedom to assemble peacefully; the right to privacy; the constitutional protection against news censorship, and the right against preventive detention, according to a statement from the Narayanhiti Palace.


In Kathmandu, armoured military vehicles with mounted machine-guns were patrolling the streets of Kathmandu, the capital, and phone lines in the city had been cut. Many flights into Kathmandu were cancelled amid the uncertainty or turned back by Nepalese authorities, although the airport remained open.

Long lines quickly formed at grocery stores and gas stations, as worried residents stocked up on supplies.

'A new cabinet will be formed under my leadership,' the king said, accusing political parties of plunging the country into crisis. 'This will restore peace and effective democracy in this country within the next three years.'

Later, state-run television reported that a state of emergency had been declared.

The monarch, who is also the supreme commander of the 78,000-member Royal Nepalese Army, said security forces would be given more power to maintain law and order. But he insisted human rights would be respected.


The rebels, who draw inspiration from the late Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been trying since 1996 to overthrow the government and establish a socialist state. They have refused the government's invitation to come into the mainstream of Nepalese politics and end the violence. More than 10,500 people have died since the fighting began."
So the situation becomes clear: A democratic country is facing a socialist insurgency, which threatens the economy and democracy within said country. The democratically elected leaders are ineffective in neutralizing the socialist threat; so the only leader left - the monarch - decides to use whatever means necessary to prevent the democracy from being overrun by socialism. Those means include the declaration of martial law, and the deprivation of citizens of their civil rights.

This situation is strikingly apparent in America. We face a terrorist threat, and the democratically elected leaders and the democratically instituted processes are mostly ineffective at neutralizing this threat. Therefore, an act is instituted that curtails some rights in an effort to preserve them in the long run.

The question is, how far can this move be taken? Until what point can a government curtail its citizens' liberties in an effort to preserve them? Past what point is such a move to preserve liberties construed as totalitarianism?

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