Ensure Stability For Functional Governance

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The historical and political aspirations of Nepalis for freedom and justice have thronged them into democratic struggles. Each political change has widened the social base of democracy in the nation. The promulgation of constitution in 2015 has ignited the hope of people that the nation will leap into an era of political stability, progress, good governance and peace and overcome its political culture of eternal governmental and political instability. The constitution has created a broad vision of an egalitarian society, defined principles and policies of the state, created constitutional and public institutions to carry national tasks and organied the election of leadership twice for three layers for a legitimate and responsive rule.

Still the state of political stability remains elusive, a stability to ease the regularised and predictable functions of governance, dodging of atrophy and delivery of security, rule of law and public goods so that common Nepalis remain reasonably satisfied with the polity. The constitution supposes coordination and steering of the conduct of political parties, civil society, business and citizens toward the goals of the state. It is central to check pre-modern, patrimonial style of personalised leadership’s control over impersonal institutions of the state contrary to the basic values of Nepali democracy that espouses popular sovereignty, parliamentary supremacy, freedom of the press, autonomy of courts and general openness of the polity to societal interests. 

Public awareness 

Patrimonial authority is less rational because it enfeebles the rule of law and creates disharmony between the state and society. It is inapt with the rising public awareness of politics. The archaic style of running political parties through command and control way only tells the effects of unlearning from experience and inability to cope with the accelerating social, economic and technological change at a new moment in democratic life enriched by Nepalis cognitive, evaluative and emotional impulses and abilities.   

Nepali politics has constantly shown convulsive patterns.  Even now it suffers from a hiatus among power structure, constitutional ideals and leadership practice. Powerful leaders have often sought to dribble out of legal constraints, turning party politics largely personality-driven. It leaves a myriad of issues such as lingering transitional justice, national and public security, election system, citizenship, justice, nature of polity, the state and power devolution to satisfy public good unsettled. Any effort toward a modicum of political order, stability and equilibrium is browbeaten.  Nepali leadership has to work as a team to create a civic culture to strangle the cycles of political instability fed by transitional politics, jarring socialization, dissonant political communication and affliction from market distortion.

The penchant of choosing executive head among Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre on a rotational basis for long marks a perfect game of syndicate where top leaders dominate the parties, government, polity and the state and distribute patronage among the loyalists thus leaving their promises to the ordinary people tormenting. This spurs the critical mass and mass media routinely furnish a barrage of criticism about them thus eroding their image and questioning rationality and credibility. Political stability presumes to make public institutions functional as per constitutional rules of the game. It removes the gap between the old style feudal politics, centralised rituals of public administration and rising modern aspiration of Nepalis for public goods including quality education, proper health, jobs, justice and peace.   

Political stability imagines a smooth and timely transfer of power across gender and generations, not slouch towards deceit and manoeuvring. It relies on the institutional frame of participation and decision making without undue dependence on top leaders. Ironically, extra-party participation of people and social struggle of victims of social, economic and political practices in Nepal are on the rise. As Nepalis look for alternative channels of political participation, legitimacy crisis creeps in. Lack of impersonality of governance has, therefore, unleashed distributional struggle in society affirmed by rights-based constitution, identity based associations and business prejudice fertilising amoral politics of anomie. 

The feeble functions of the countervailing forces and refusal of leaders to stay in opposition despite the loss of their mandate point to the shade of authoritarian political culture in the nation. As a result, each political party is ridden with political factionalism along aspiring leadership lines thus generating tension, not stability. Inept handling of factions has weakened the parties from within. But it has strengthened top leaders to forge alliances with other parties despite historical, policy, ideological and identity differences. Frail political institutionalisation of parties turned them powerless to balance among their leaders’ aspiration for power, interest of cadres to regularly participate in institutional built up, informed deliberation of the public on their needs, problems and policy making and manage discontents spilling outside the party politics. 

It is adding salient causes of political instability. Massive migration of leaders, cadres and voters from one party to the next in search of better opportunity has habitually infected fluidity in politics. Nepali leaders’ penchant for power lust devoid of value consideration of democracy has troubled the multi-scale governments, eased the birth of new parties and de-alignment of cadres and voters from their own parties. It has helped to shift the coalition government from one pole to the other as per leaders’ passion. Nepal’s proportional election system, fragmentation of the political sphere and the hierarchy of dissidence do not allow any party to win election for the single formation of government and provide a veneer of political stability for a full five years.

Political parties of various hues have failed to forge a consensus on the constitution and bred varied impulses. One can see mainstream parties are veering towards constitutional status quo, conservative and the radical parties are trying to upset it for a new social contract and engage in perpetual demand-articulation, political mobilisation and agitation. The populist ones only seek opportunity from the ripple effects of others’ failures. This has delayed the dispensation of common goods. Political stability is also marred by the hitch in the leadership succession. The interest of top leaders to hang in power life-long without notable performance in governance except participation in agitation, occupying executive positions and dynastic strings are incompatible with democracy. 

Patrimonial leadership dents its institutional culture and breeds a tension between democracy and constitutionalism. It has flagged the basis of popular legitimacy to govern and stoked the antipathy of those deprived of leadership prospects thus becoming a threat to political stability. The organisational weakness of Maoist Centre and Nepali Congress, membership decline of UML, the surge of social movements and the fading roles of parliamentary opposition have created an opportunity for Rastriya Swotantra Party, Janamat Party, Nagarik Unmukti Party and even Rastriya Prajatantra Party to struggle against political idiosyncrasy and capricious streak.   

Power bloc model of politics drives the electoral and post-electoral coalition of political parties without caring what their usual voters think and respond. Yet, it has eased the creation of a coalition rule of any political hue without any promise of political stability. Lack of a clear boundary between the private and the public sphere eased by privileges of political classes marks a velvet divorce between the condition of democracy and its preconditions. In Nepal, parties’ adaptability to aspirations of electorates, integration of varied demands of society, autonomy from special interest groups and coherence in the general success of national goals are vital elements for political stability. The fading boundary between politics, business, bureaucracy and civil society has spawned obstacles for the articulation of interests of the wretched in public policy. 

The rise of social struggles, ambiguity of policies and indisposition of febrile ties of federal-provincial- local bodies in areas of finance, personnel and authorities can be attributed to the decoupling of policy inputs and outputs from those directly affected by them.  Nepali parliament largely reflects the conduit of partisan will, not popular will. The party dominance of legislature, executive, judiciary and constitutional bodies has trampled both horizontal and vertical separation, checks and balances of power and faded the inclusivity, integrity, accountability and responsiveness of the polity thus sapping the muscle of constitutional rule, a prerequisite for political stability.

Culture of impunity 

Five factors unite the mainstream Nepali parties - neo-liberal political economy, wobbly foreign policy, power-sharing of all with all, a culture of impunity for powerful elites and toleration of unsatisfied material justice for the poor. This tramples the spirit of the constitution to create socialism–oriented economy, rights to health and education, independent and balanced foreign policy to ward off geopolitical penetration and attain the agility of democratic polity. This fuels the source of eternal political instability in Nepal. Political stability presumes an edifice of effective, inclusive and sustainable development policies. One key problem in Nepal is that none of the government has so far completed its full tenure.

The unstable government can hardly pursue rational development policy beyond the strings of dependency. Change in the government means reshuffle of priority, transfer of officials and loss of institutional memory to sustain the development process. Nepali leadership has to settle major institutional issues vital to the science of statecraft in terms of sustainability. The patrimonial process of decision making in the midst of the nation’s growing malaises such as poverty, inequality and dwindling of job opportunities for people turn them to populist and radical appeal which in the long-run enfeebles political stability, erodes public trust in institutions and leadership, ability of polity to balance supply and demand and acquire a dynamic equilibrium by a robust feedback of the political process between leaders and Nepali people.

(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)

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