Nepali politics has consistently taken a habit-driven course for a long time without social learning fit for the vision of the national constitution. So long as leaders refuse to admit their own nature and seek revision, national politics will continue to muddle around, not range on the side of reconciliatory change. Now with the formation of an eight-party coalition at the initiative of CPN-Maoist Centre and Nepali Congress (NC) many conditions have added fluidity to the national milieu and propelled an upswing of high political dynamics. First, stiff bargain for powerful ministerial positions within the heterodox ruling coalition partners for power-sharing, not common values and national zeal will persist.
Second, CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli, dismayed by the desertion of Maoist Centre’s chief and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda from the seven-party coalition government, is stoking the spasm of Nepali nationalism. He has raised the flow of pesticide-unchecked Indian vegetables, allowing India to set up a Buddhist college in the nation’s sensitive area of Mustang and undermining ties with China. The government spokesperson has, however, refuted the second charge arguing that the regime “stood firm for the nation’s sovereignty, integrity, national interest and balanced diplomacy.” Third, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party has threatened to violate the constitution if it is interpreted as per the interest of the establishment to undermine national identity, religion and institutions through anarchy and found unfavourable to vote in the presidential elections.
Fourth, a group of monarchical forces under the leadership of Durga Prasain, former UML leader, is organising activities to restore the monarchy, Hindu and unitary state, culture, heritage, national values and prepared a band of youths to smear the faces of bankers and corrupts indulged in bribe and deceit. Former King Gyanendra had earlier called for a need for collaboration of the monarchy and political parties to protect the national culture, identity, economy and the state from further deterioration. Finally, the spell of geopolitical forces is pulling pressure on Nepali leadership for the animation of rival initiatives of each while trying to checkmate the other and offering suggestions for the course they need to take.
Fifth, the steering of Nepal’s macro economy is dragged to the scaffold hence the need for overhaul. It is caused by persistence of deregulation where political leaders seemed pusillanimous to start their public policy making duty away from the market forces thus rendering themselves superfluous for the livelihood of ordinary public. Political cover up of greed naturally disarmed the efficacy of democracy from its economic contents and accountability to the public. Ordinary Nepalis deem the party system less sagacious as they are led by powerful media-driven personalities struggling only for power and attention, making and breaking parties and coalition, not satisfying useful sites for governing politics, politicising people into citizens and manufacturing suitable public policies.
They even absorbed the countervailing institutions of civil society, mainstream media and the courts which are the barometers of due diligence and articulator of the voice of the voiceless. These trends and tendencies are vitiating Nepal’s security, political stability, progress and national identity and straining its upswing forward. Nepali politics is routinely entering into a muddle as it is fertilising the fermentation of crises in ecological resilience, social cohesion, economic growth, governmental stability and stable foreign policy thus turning the life and hope of Nepalis from peace and democratic dividends seething and slothful. Each power bloc of the nation, in the abyss of mistrust, considered the other the source of political instability, hurled malicious remarks and assumed self as lynchpin of democratic progress.
Preceding presidents’ contentious roles is the key concern behind the attraction of impartial future president capable of standing above partisan affinity. The eight-party alliance rears itself a bulwark of constitution and democracy against the UML whose chief dissolved the parliament twice, justified this act and fought assembly elections in coalition with varied parties. His justification for the dissolution of parliament has stoked ample fear in the minds of new coalition partners surmising that what the future unfolds if he controls the Constitutional Council. To keep balance in the constitutional posts, Prime Minister Prachanda, therefore, preferred national consensus on those positions and marked a swing from UML-led coalition government to NC and supported latter’s presidential candidate Ramchandra Poudel.
Though some NC leaders say that the new coalition will last for full five years of its tenure with rotational prime ministers with Prachanda, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Sher Bahadur Deuba in consecutive order, the possibility of slanted allocation of powerful ministries among the coalition partners can easily bring stress within those wearing a veil in the insatiability of power and subtle egotism. UML chair Oli, therefore, offered Deuba a chance to work together for national interests and kick Maoist Centre out of power following the Presidential election so that NC can rekindle its passion for both Prime Minister and President. It is hard to say whether this scheme is animated given NC reaping more benefits from its alliance with a relatively small party Maoist Centre than its organisationally formidable rival UML.
The elongated transitional politics is exalting free-wills’ excesses over the public security, rule of law and public order, buttressing the gristly veil of the viciousness of Nepali politics and spreading its festering sores in other non-political areas. One example is filing of writs at the Supreme Court by advocates Gyanendra Aaran and Kalyan Budhathoki, demanding that Prachanda be investigated and prosecuted for his statement made earlier that he was responsible for the killing of only 5,000, out of 17,000 people in the decade-long Maoist insurgency. The Supreme Court ordered its administration to register writ petitions against the Prime Minister. In a sharp reaction, Maoist Centre’s general secretary Dev Gurung deplored the order passed by the joint bench of Justices Ishwor Prasad Khatiwada and Hari Prasad Phuyal considering that “such activities are directed against the achievements of secularism, inclusiveness and democratic republic system, guaranteed by the Nepali Constitution.”
At a time when institutional mechanisms of transitional justice are lingering for fifteen years, the meeting of the ruling coalition thinks it is a threat to the peace process. It vowed to finish off the peace process very soon and pass the bill to give justice as per the spirit of constitution and peace accord. This has also opened the hope for the possible unity of all Maoist forces as a counter move. The age of human rights justifies the dignity of people.
At the moment, Nepal faces a myriad of interrelated problems whose solutions are essential to leap the nation forward. The first is the entry of business, civil society, tribal and geopolitical forces into politics. The entry of apolitical bureaucracy, non-political business, civil society and NGOs and pre-political tribal forces into the public domain of politics has given continuity to pre-democratic patronage-based and tycoon-type politics against the democratic politics of impersonality and impartiality in service delivery. Trained in a parochial, projectised and short-sighted perspective, many Nepali leaders simply could not understand the scale and service of politics above self.
The second is the inability of leaders to manage the transition from mono-centric government to poly-centric and multi-level governance in the new context and coordinate the goals, actors and institutions of governance. As a result, the ties between the federal, provincial and local levels of governance remain stressful. Though multi-level elections have politicised the Nepalis to know about the condition of their existence and even indulge in political de-alignment, due to a lack of democratic socialisation in civic education, a section of voters have become nostalgic, others habit-driven, others cynic about the elections while still others future conscious.
Third, the vicious cycle of politics can be transformed into a virtuous cycle if national leaders do not elevate themselves above the public institutions, political morality, public responsibility, democratic principles, mandate of the people and constitutional spirit. Political stability entails lawful conduct of leaders and people. Fourth, Nepali leaders need to elevate themselves from petulant self-absorption to create a common background condition away from the mobilisation of primordial sentiments of people and power-centric political culture to generate reforms in the inner life of public institutions. They need to be wise and courageous to correct the electoral malaises that often produce hung parliament and undercut the hope of a stable rule. They also need to settle the economic jitters that do not support production, livelihood and jobs and defeat the cardinal point of politics — to represent people, formulate sound public policies, keep the integrity of polity and ease easy service delivery.
Fifth, a move to good governance entails to keep demands and supply and import and export in balance, create a business-friendly environment and settle the policy making, decisions and monitoring effectiveness. The economic policy must move beyond excessive consumption of imported goods and rely not only on remittance, aid and dependency-centric systems to acquire the synergy of the public, private and cooperative sectors. Dependency and policy sovereignty are adversative, therefore, diversification of production and trade is essential. Nepali leaders can achieve national independence only after improving the writ of the state for national self-determination of politics, laws and domestic and foreign policies. This helps national politics escape from its state of muddling around and acquire a course of muddle through the political labyrinth it is now facing and achieve a degree of overall progress.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)