Dev Raj Dahal
The American President-elect Joe Biden’s promise to support multilateralism is raising hope of all nations for a rule-based world order. Global statesmanship demands ability to foster global partnership and coordinated action by managing high profile issues and centrifugal pulls of regional Leviathans pursuing their own interests and placing diplomacy to the delight of its place. His commitment to defend democracy dovetails with the European Union’s approach to revitalise trans-Atlantic democratic solidarity after years of backslides. The ascent of Asian power China, not Russian roar, with its own soft power to project across various cross-cutting rival regimes of the world is one reason for this solidarity. The West perceives that China’s Belt and Road Initiative is integrating the globe.
Many nations of Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America are sharing interests with it. The Americans, Europeans and, to a large extent, Indian policy makers too believe that democratic fraternity needs a common cooperative strategic, economic and political vision which can address a whole range of policy issues from climate change, human rights protection, democracy promotion to cybersecurity to contain the Chinese influence, not manage complex interdependence. The West considers INGOs, civil society and human rights organisations the leading agencies of liberal democracy and, therefore, they need substantive support to increase their outreach in the developing societies where both India and China maintain reservations.
Many Nepali political parties, civil society and media, however, share the Western approach but also seek China’s patronage in connectivity, infrastructural development and economic, political and ideological cooperation. Nepal’s economic integration with the north is increasing. So does China’s stake in Nepal in the face of increased Indian and the Western interests in the changing internal balance of power. It has turned Nepal’s geopolitics contested sites. Beyond doubt, Nepal’s influential leaders are locked in networks with various rival international regimes and responding to ideological stimuli and shifting geopolitics.
Do great powers’ rivalry offer Nepal scope for cooperation in advancing national resilience or only shared geopolitical regime interests? Does it foster Nepali state-citizen coherence by bolstering the sovereignty of both or clientalise citizens to polity, political parties or pre-modern and post-modern solidarity groups that only know how to claim rights on the state without performing corresponding duties thus weakening its authority and legitimacy to create a cohesive national political order in a fractured world?
The dissolution of House of Representatives by Prime Minister KP Oli and declaration of new dates for elections confronts hot on the heels of Nepali leadership. The dismissal of compromise and cooperation among the leaders of three factions of Nepal Communist Party (NCP) - Oli, Nepal-Dahal and Gautam - marked a vertical split of the party and generated fears in the minds of its followers. It has driven out the hope of many who believed that leadership of communists is suitable for the nation’s betterment in terms of stability, justice, progress and peace.
The split has offered an opportunity for non-communist Nepali Congress (NC), Janata Samajbadi Dal (JSD) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) to reorganise and expand their electoral space through political and electoral mobilisation and negatively project the contradictions of three fractious groups. The former two rival sides have offered the NC president a power sharing deal if the latter cooperates with their goals. Yet, rivals within it are in reverse route. The political fluidity engendered by the clash of mainstream parties has thus unlocked the scope for the radical left alliance of four parties led by Mohan Baidya to speak up his mind while the daily demonstration of pro-monarch, pro-Hindu and pro-unitary state forces across the political scale expects to shift the ground of politics.
They seek to return to the Constitution of 1990. It is uncertain how long does it take for the Supreme Court to declare its verdict on the fate of dissolved parliament and how long the display of muscular crowd trouble the innocent minds who helplessly watch the soaring costs of essential goods entailing survival the only game of life. The politics of attrition, division and dysfunction will create fertile ground for spoilers, predators and thieves of state to step in the troubled landscape if problems are not fixed within in time and a sense of collective future does not dawn.
The ruling party’s internal strife for power has hit the performance of governance and upturned what was promised in the elections that helped it win nearly two-thirds majority in the federal parliament. As politics in Nepal has become multi-polar play of heterogeneous actors lacking sound resonance, citizens’ expectation of democratic and peace dividends remains tantalizing. It is vague to guess how Nepal’s political process will unfold and how long it will live up to the principles of parliamentary democracy affirmed by most of political parties and citizens. So long as rules, process and institutions set up by the Constitution of Nepal stay contesting, it is difficult to build cohesive and resilient democratic communities and societies linking the nation’s diversities into national unity and creating strong social base by discrediting the persistent temptation of powerful leaders to resort to non-democratic alternative.
The multi-polarisation of Nepal’s political landscape has split the domain of every constitutional bodies and civic institutions - media, civil society, intelligentsia and the attentive public. They feel uncomfortable to forge strong alliances with the political parties who betrayed them while ascending to power and did not follow the rules of the game. Nepal’s constitution has shaped the rules, norms and laws for relations among various institutions and actors for good governance outcome. But politics remained a sphere of privileges and impunity which has postponed a sense of transitional justice for the victim, basic needs for the poor and opportunities for the youth.
The conflicting sources of support for political parties, their supporting groups, NGOs, media and civil society have incentivised elites’ interests in the status quo. This is fading a brief public optimism on governance. Later it saw political leaders amassing power and wealth and mobilising their factional strength to attract loyal crowd to act without thinking the consequences of its actions to the society, economy and polity. The principal internal threats to the governance are aspiring leaders and alienated critical mass that are raising concern for producing suitable public policies and laws and keeping the accountability to its promises.
The public institutions to be constantly monitored by democratic watchdogs - investigative media, non-partisan civil society, public institutions and the gaze of citizens groups only dreadfully point to the flouting of inclusive social contract. Transparent and accountable governance in Nepal alone can set citizens’ right to information and enforce accountability of leaders to their authority and power. Growing institutional weakness and lack of political will have left many leaders exposed to bribery cases but all have gone scot-free thus embittering citizens.
The political developments in Nepal indicate that democracy promotion effort has been severely scaled back and great sums of money of donors are spent on fads and fashions of development concepts, sectoral rights of certain group of people and elite-driven projects without transforming people into active citizens capable of claiming their rights to social inclusion, national identification and distribution of resources. As a result, Nepal has witnessed frequent democratic recessions and incoherence in pursuing liberalism, market economy, human rights and national sovereignty where each faction of political party interprets these idioms in their own way to rationalise their struggle for power which is far removed from citizens’ views and needs.
Nepal’s political parties have also entered into alliances and partnerships with like-minded parties abroad to strengthen each other and weaken their rivals in the power game irrespective of their ideological affinity and democratic credentials. Experts caution against building a coalition of odd bedfellows for democracy which discourages Nepalis’ aspiration for decentralised and democratic participation in the management of self-governance. They believe that threat to national resilience emerges from political instability, economic contraction and social fractures while the strength emerges from the ability of Nepali leaders to knit societies together, nourish cultural synthesis, enable the representation of diversity at all levels of governance, build citizens’ civic competence and engage them entrepreneurial activities as change makers.
National resilience needs broad mind-set of leadership to catalyse citizens to national zeal and respond to goals, strategies and range of policy issues. In Nepal, democratic community of states who had once underlined their commitments to fighting corruption, defending against authoritarianism, advancing good governance and human rights and advocating justice, peace and sustainable development now face lack of coherence in their policies with regards to both democracy and development processes.
As a result, institutional safeguards of Nepali state have become fragile while kleptocratic networks are getting very strong and pervasive thus shattering the hope of Nepali public that democracy helps solve their problems and delivers public good. Enhanced collaboration of Nepal with international institutions and between nations can be beneficial if it fosters the values of citizenship loyal to the state and enables them to fight kleptocrats who steal public wealth for private gain, create a wedge between citizens and leaders, increase the costs of public goods and choke the conversation about national awakening.
Nepali leaders have to see the utility of new global approaches to cooperation, share common causes and contribute to national resilience ruined by corruption, conflict, earthquake, pandemic and political flux. They have to balance the views of rival sides and keep nuanced views of great powers. Geopolitical lens serve only the power elites leaving average Nepalis with no stake, ownership and participation. The cooperation of donor community aimed at a particular regime outside the framework of the constitution, and public decency is seen unwise as it gives the bickering leaders the reason to blame foreign plot for the nation’s problems without any evidence.
Effective use of international cooperation in priority areas of the political economy can open scope for business, social integration and political unification of Nepali nation and its ability to respond, steer, adapt and rebound from any national crisis. The concept of aid alignment is precisely couched in to see its utility, efficacy, equity and positive impact, avoid opaque deals to evade its corrosive effects on national institutions’ ability to advance public and national interests, deliver public goods and alleviate adverse debt burden on future citizens which is mounting in Nepal.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues.)
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