Nepal’s political landscape is deeply polarised. It does not keep pace with a culture of coalition government entailed by a proportional election system. The two largest parties in the parliament -- Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) -- are outmaneuvered by the third party – CPN-Maoist Centre which acted as a lever to swing coalition politics from left alliance, NC, UML to again NC and vaulted itself into power. It is struggling to bounce back its deteriorating political strength while leaving NC and UML vie for secured space. Adversarial model of parliamentary politics, if not properly managed by a common value framework of the constitution, may spiral into a conflict of interests. It is the values that provide stability of partnership, not only crude interests.
Nepali parties can adapt to changing political and social situations if they are sensitive to popular feedback and live up to their performance legitimacy. Coterie politics, circling around loyalists and special interest groups, and close loop behaviour, however, can flag them to face political dynamics. The shaky constitutional bodies and pliant judiciary, mainstream media and civil society in Nepal are too feeble to control the vices of the polity — corruption, tax evasion, financial irregularities and impunity so essential to make a functional state capable of creating security, enforcing law and order and delivering public goods and services at minimum costs to society which even the poor can afford without difficulty. Strong patronage system is a sign of pre-democratic era. It increases costs for democratic governance.
The slogans of Nepali parties are also changing from liberation of the oppressed, communitarian welfare state to libertarian ones seeking more privileges than realising the constitutional vision of equality, justice and solidarity. Yet, one does not find a bridge between belief in slogan and evidence. Nepali leaders are, therefore, often criticised for the decision they take against their skill, dexterity and competency. As a result, they have left the underlying causes of the series of political movements for democracy untreated and alleviate the suffering of Nepalis.
Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and CPN-UML have withdrawn from the government recently as they found their coalition partner Maoist Centre’s support to their rival NC presidential candidate Ram Chandra Poudel in the name of national consensus and refused to support the ruling coalition government’s candidate Subas Chandra Nembang. Prime Minister and Maoist Centre's chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda unveiled that he was weakened by UML chair K P Sharma Oli in the government and tightened his noose through a high level political mechanism. Sensing a fear of the revival of conservative forces by wheeling to the rightward shift, he openly pleaded for the unity of forces of 12-point agreement that organised anti-monarchy agitation and declared the nation a secular, federal democratic republic.
The new coalition has mustered the support of eight-party alliance of all political spectrums --Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre, Janata Samajbadi Party, CPN-Unified Socialist, Rastriya Janamorcha, Janamat Party, Nagarik Unamukti Party and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party. Rastriya Swatantra Party, which emerged as an anti-establishment force, may join the government. The new alliance is organising the meeting of its legislators in Kathmandu to consolidate its position. But UML leaders predict that it may produce uncertainty as their inner contradictions shoot up and may prompt NC leaders to form its own government after the presidential election is over.
The new swing in coalition government will have implications for provincial governments as well. There will be a reshuffle of government’s key positions where new coalition partners will distribute positions as per their electoral strength. Given the fractious nature of the party system and leaders’ tendency to bargain for coveted posts in the government it is hard to say whether it will ensure political stability in the nation, restore the vital functions of bodypolitik and renew their focus on public good away from sheer instinct for power without public accountability. Democracy loses its lustre if the power of individual leaders overpowers collective national interests and an unstable milieu provides flexible space for each party leader to indulge in endless negotiation and bargaining for power and lucrative positions without any end.
It will surely open the opposition political parties like UML and RPP greater scope to reach out to the masses, synchronise their anti-government agitation, unleash emotional anguish and create high pressure situations undermining the ability of leaders to govern. The changing national context requires innovative public policies and becoming creative in the diagnosis of national problems and finding solutions. Solutions of national problems require the cooperation of politicians of all hues, public servants and the public, not their vicious battle against each other and abide by the principles and goals of Nepali constitution.
One can see malfunctioning areas of Nepali life - the derailed educational and health institutions, economic stutter, a failing public debate, the decay of public institutions and intergenerational differences in the attitude of political leaders — youth more unruly and the old more conformist of the status quo ante to 12-point accord. As the sense of responsibility and leadership efficacy within political parties and the governance wane by self-absorption the geopolitical forces may infect national self-determination, national strength, political stability and the wellbeing of the public. In this context, Nepali leadership and the attentive public require to improve in the following areas:
Revitalisation of public discourse: Nepali leaders have a tendency to flout secret deals among them, force the rival side to change political equations and walk up and down in coalition politics. Survival in power alone is not the success of political leaders, but long-term planning of the nation’s progress for better performance and public accountability. In the age of rising public expectations and increasing politicisation of people by the media and civil society, informed public debate about the suitability of public policies is essential.
Balancing the gain: The unequal access and gain from political power has left many hard core poor disenfranchised. Political parties are only picking elite candidates for proportional representation, social inclusion and quota thus leaving the poor and wretched stay with only trickle-down politics while vast patronage groups compete for only spoils. Globalisation, technological change and financialisation are beneficial to those who can compete, not those who are rushing to the bottom. The climaxes of these trends are Nepali leaders and cadres are sinking into commercialised and media-mediatised hedonism. They need to be abided by a sense of public morality and binding commitments, personal or institutional and engage in civic entrepreneurship and engagements at the grassroots level.
Democratic attitude: The distribution of welfare outcomes for the poor is often hampered by frequent government changes and subject to the paternalistic mercy of their leaders. Obviously, welfare distribution to the people in general and poor in particular is not only the responsibility of the government but also of non-government organisations, community, cooperatives, civil society and market, though market institutions are gripped by rugged individualism, profits and greed. In Nepal, most of the agencies are, however, party-affiliated and serve only the clients in a partial manner. The flow of money at the local level planning and development follows the power of leaders. Despite the fabrication of a rights-based constitution many of the rights of Nepalis are just non-actionable, even those related to public good. Rights do not match with corresponding responsibilities. In no way politics in Nepal has become an indicator of positive economic change.
Harnessing the connectors: Engaged and attentive Nepalis are beginning to view that governmental instability has weakened democracy and the state-bearing institutions and corroded the effectiveness of public administration and institutions in matters of effective governance. Trust is declining among the political leaders and there is uncertainty as to who joins to which poles of power for acquiring and using power and accumulating wealth. Identity politics has eroded the concept of national citizenship and solidarity for collective action in matters of public and national interests and fostered centrifugal forces of society. The largely fractured civil society lacks vision, stamina and will to pull together Nepalis into a nation-building process.
In Nepal, the state-building and democracy consolidation process must simultaneously proceed to revitalise civic institutions and values. In a state with a defective monopoly of power, it is hard to constitutionalise powerful sections of society, create legitimate public order and sustain effective governance. Building civic culture out of perpetual governmental instability requires a learning process of leaders, norm-abiding behaviour and ability to cooperate across all political spectrum. Only then social modernisation can contribute to humane conditions in the nation, a condition that can fulfill essential human needs, create livelihood opportunities and jobs and foster a culture of human rights and duties.
Nepali leaders must adopt a calibrated approach into a well synchronised correct path to lift up the stagnated bottom. Inner-party democracy can help resolve the solution of politics and enable political parties to adapt, improve and restructure their functions so that political leaders can self-correct and move towards the constitutional goals to achieve an egalitarian society. This is possible if they are not paranoid over their junior leaders’ passing critical suggestions which is a source of reforming and democratising parties and restraining the private passion and ambition of leaders for public good.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)