Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Need Of Restoring Trust In Politics

Dev Raj Dahal


The natural passion of individuals makes human condition dreadful and uncertain. The problem of scarcity intensifies it and, therefore, each society socialises its citizens for rule- based behaviour and builds trust for reciprocal interaction and shared prosperity. Political trust turns society crisis-resilient. It is a vital element of social capital and connectedness. In particular form of trust, leaders assume personal responsibility in promoting partisan goals while in general trust they foster civic virtues of collective goals for better national life. 
Democratic political theories presume politics a nonviolent education, competition, compromise and collective action to overcome precariousness of life. Politics differs from other relations of life by conflict of ideology, interest and identity. It is, therefore, important to build cooperation among the rival political parties so that conflict does not spiral into the regression of human life, violence and anarchy beyond manageable proportion. Political trust oils the engagement of public and cooperation among diverse actors.
The struggle for power drives the dynamics of politics within the domain of national constitution and international obligations. It is only the constitution that underlies the inclusion and exclusion of actors and musters trust of all stakeholders in its vision, goals and the means. The art of management of space, citizens, resources and international relations makes the democratic process and its outcome legitimate, acceptable and trustworthy. But the nonstop use of technology, ideology, strategy, organisation, media and personal interests in resolving contradictions against rivals without legal limits, viciously escalates political conflicts and erodes trust and cooperation. This undermines the very purpose of politics to serve public and national interests. Politics is the domain of representation, legitimacy, authority and decision making, therefore, large scale collective action rests on the degree of trust among political forces. 
The realisation of many areas of public good entails teamwork among them.  Building trust between citizens and the government helps coordinate behaviour, peacefully negotiate interests and sanction the legitimate way of pursuing political ends for personal or group satisfaction. Declining trust of citizens in the governance marks the decay of politics while increasing trust lowers the cost of politics and political cooperation at interpersonal, inter- and intra-party relations. Associational vitality and scale of trust mark good health of multi-layered governance and horizontal ties across constitutional bodies.  
Mark E. Warren says, “A society that fosters robust relations of trust is probably also a society that can afford fewer regulations and greater freedom, deal with more contingencies, tap the energy and ingenuity of its citizens, limit the inefficiencies of rule-based means of coordination, and provides a greater sense of existential security and satisfaction.” In a diverse society with multi-party polity like Nepal trust between the state and society is central to coordinate goals and behavioural compliance to rule, norm and laws. Sadly, the general trust that flourished during the restoration of democracy in Nepal each time soon converted into distrust on the rules of the game, power sharing and political recruitment at inter- and intra-party level. The government instability in Nepal marks fragile trust of political elites and manoeuvring by each faction of political party to come to power by any combination. Elite bargaining for power is not democratic as it discounts the concerns of citizens and spirit of general trust.
Nepali political parties represent deep-seated subcultures of society. The trust deficit in the then ruling Nepali Congress (NC) between Prime Minister G. P. Koirala and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai-Ganesh Man Singh led to mid-term election, downsising of party, split of Sher Bahadur Deuba faction, reunion and again factionalism enervating the energy of party, its organisation, ideology and discipline. It is now plagued by endless feuding factions of Deuba, Ram Chandra Poudel-Koiralas combine and Krishna P. Sitaula.  Each group is contesting for future president without crafting viable programmes and policies to make each look better than the other. Following the NC’s path, the ruling Nepal Community Party (NCP) is consumed by division between two co-chairmen Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, the later backed by senor leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bam Dev Gautam. They have asked Oli to resign from the posts of party chairman and prime minister while he suggested them to get elected in the party convention and parliamentary party.
The ferocity of both sides is neither ideological nor alternative policy map for governance but sheer will to outweigh the state power and party’s positions. Oli who fruitlessly sought to introduce party split ordinance seems more interested in leadership succession from his own camp as he sees the unity of ex-Maoist and ex-UML parties into NCP an artificial one and claimed to run the governance singularly for five years, not on a rotational basis. He lambasted his rivals and India for an attempt to remove him for his patriotic stand on the publication of new map of Nepal with enlarged party functions, ideology, organisation and policies, twist the power equation, allied agreements and turn governance dysfunctional. It invites the third party to mediate and alleviate the stressful bond.
The risks of party unity, though shelved now, led both sides to hobnob with NC for the formation of an alternative bloc. The ruling party’s trust on fractious opposition is based less on the common values they share from each other than a veneer of rule without opposition. Non-compliance of opposition to confine to the space offered by popular mandate can erode the basis of social contract and inspire radical forces to fill its space. These trendless fluxes are common in Madhes-based parties and Rastriya Prajatantra Party. They too display fissiparous bent - unity, split and unity- based on the exigency of time. Only democratisation of inner life of Nepali parties, devolution of functions multi-layered committees and deliberative mode of decision making can make ordinary citizens critical factor of politics. Democratisation fosters trust through a culture of compromise and tolerant to minority’s view and mobilises society for liberty protected by checks on arbitrary power.
Still, in Nepal, personalised informal networks within and cross the parties and the state are more powerful than the formal governing institutions. The public trust in politics arises if political leaders perform their institutional duties, electoral promises, formulate adequate laws and policies and foster public good. Unfulfilled promises stoke trust deficit and disloyalty of citizens. The mounting protest of apolitical youth seeking the transparency of political actors indicates the growing demands for building intergenerational trust which is important for political stability and justice.
The personalisation of voters indicates that in Nepal political parties are deinstitutionalised and followers and cadres are divided along leadership lines. But this is not an indicator of the atrophy of trust as voting turnout in the country has increased to over 70 per cent. Their faith in political representatives and leaders has not declined though it seems more like patron-client type and less qualitative one lurking with full civic competence. During insurgency, trade unions and chambers developed a high level of trust to organise campaign for peace with civil society and international community seeking to protect labour market. Opening of opportunity for women, Dalits, Aadibasis, Janajatis, etc. enriched the inclusive process but they need to be infused with civic virtues of active citizenry.
The new brand of Nepali civil society is caught in an axis of critical resistance or total conformity to regime than standing for universal reason and rationalisation of political power. The obvious reason is that they are fragmented along empirical lines of profession, race, ethnicity, gender, region and political parties and, therefore, failed to serve as critical public sphere for the contestation of knowledge, policies, laws and issues. The rights-based Constitution of Nepal has set the primacy of law over morality and spirituality of dharma. But the radius of political trust in Nepal is concentric-family, relatives, interest groups, parties, proximity to leadership, etc., not moved to impersonal laws, institutions and citizenship of the state. 
The decline of institutional trust in Nepal marked the rise of networks, informal associations, pre-modern solidarity and post-modern individualism. The rise of associations, federations, NGOs, civil society and community groups in the country indicates the density of civic participation outside the formal domain of political parties. Local civic life does not symbolise the stamp of generalised trust. They are subordinated to party politics and lack autonomous power of aggregation, articulation and communication of popular interests. 
Nepali leaders need to make regular self-appraisal of their performance, strengths and weakness and become receptive of social feedback to consider dissimilar approaches to the problems citizens face within the parties and at inter-party relations. This spurs their thinking about supplying public good which is the reason of political parties and emancipation from personalisation of politics, emancipation essential to build civic culture by providing better terrain for trust based on a shift from rights oriented to duty oriented policies.
Political parties of Nepal are powerful institutions to socialise, mobilise, communicate, mediate and enforce certain conditions. But they are weak to fix ideology, stabilise structures and concert collective action vital for restoring trust in politics by means of its positive action in citizens’ lives. Political institutionalisation breeds trust over the procedures and outcome across broad sections of society and serves the collective goals. Personalised polity is patronage based and, therefore, creates winners and losers. It corrodes cross-cutting solidarities the nation needs for national unity. Partisan grip enfeebled Nepali democracy. Common threat to leaders’ survival and anticipation of common opportunities provided their coherence. But betrayal of trust and cheating unleashed tension straining the performance. Civic virtues foster trust among diverse Nepali actors while constitution and party statutes-binding behaviour provide path-dependent and self-reinforcing course. This enables a shift of trust from primary associations of family to a magnate to national community.

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