Wednesday, 19 January, 2022

Political Expediency Overrules Ethics

Mukti Rijal


Nepal is mired in the whirlpool of political quagmire. When the political stakeholders agreed to end the 10-year-long armed insurgency and elect the constituent assembly to write the federal constitution, it was assumed that the issues driving the nation into all types of political and social conflicts would be resolved once and for all. Thankfully, the nation got the federal democratic constitution in 2015 enacted by the constituent assembly which was promulgated by the president of the republic of Nepal. Though some sections, especially from Terai-Madhes, had opposed to some of the provisions of the constitution, the nation, by and large, welcomed, accepted and owned it as a national article of faith for democracy and wellbeing of the people.
Initially, the post-constitution phase of Nepal had witnessed a surge of expectations and aspirations as the elections for three tiers of the government were held with all success. The federal institutions were being created one after the other in an incremental manner thereby enlarging the scope and mandates for democratisation of the state and society.

Rivalry for power
The local and provincial governments have gathered some momentum to function and deliver, of course, through the process of trial and error. No institutions in democracy can be expected to function effectively at one go when they are in their incipient stage. They, indeed, need time to practise, learn and propel their act into motion. Accordingly, province and local government institutions have begun to gain a new functional dynamics, of course, with a lot of mistakes and palpable lapses. However, to the utter dismay of the citizens, the situation has suddenly taken a new twist since a year. The intra-party political feuding has peaked to such a climax that hopes and aspirations for political stability, democratisation and development have been thrown into a damp squib. The major political deadlock started when the key political leaders especially in the ruling Nepal Communist Party squabbled for power in the party and state structures.
There is no point to pin blame on the particular person or the leaders. For long, it has become almost a canker as the select party leaders and elites keep themselves indulged in incessant rivalry for power. In the context like ours where grabbing a share in state power gives leverage in the corridor of decision making and create a base of patronage networks, political elites and leaders maneuver to outbid their rivals to monopolise their hold on the seat of state power. The current political imbroglio can thus be defined as the realpolitik battle of the political leaders to clinch the crumb of state power.
This writer has sought the opinion of many leaders of the Nepal Communist Party about the new spiral of political confrontation especially following the dissolution of the Parliament. Some blamed the incumbent Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli while others accused the dissident leaders like Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ for this mess based on the camp to which they have their allegiance and loyalty. Some see the steps of the incumbent Prime Minister Oli to dissolve the House of Representatives for the second time in a row as a calculated move to cling on to power trampling all the norms and values of democracy under feet whereas the PM loyalists and adherents castigate the opposition for their objectionable activities to create instability and chaos in the country.
Going by the prevailing political deadlock in the country, it can be said that political ideology, institutions and values do not matter much for the political actors. They can easily forego the values of integrity. In such a context, political economics prevails over the ethics. Politicians are tempted to have their lion’s share in the position of power to ensure their access to public resources which they could allocate to meet the interests of their clientele groups.
They set their eyes on the future election for which they will need a hefty sum of resources. Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar who was one of the key architects of the Indian constitution remarked that however good a constitution or apolitical ideology may be, if those who are implementing it are not good, it will prove to be bad. However, a bad constitution may be, if those implementing it are good, it will prove to be good.
The constitution of Nepal introduced in 1990 was said to be one of the good democratic constitutions, but it failed to function and was replaced by the federal constitution in 2015. But the present constitution has also been mauled and its provisions have been interpreted to suit to one's own interests. We see that the countries like the US and even our neighboring India have managed to make their democracies sustain without any major tinkering with the constitution framed and enacted around centuries ago. But in Nepal, why our democratic polity has not been allowed to function in a smooth manner is a big question.

No fault of constitution
As remarked by Dr. Ambedkar, it should not definitely be the fault of the constitution itself but problem lies in those who are responsible for its implementation. Many ventilate their worries that political corruption at the behest of the party leader in collusion with bureaucracy has swelled in the body politics of the country.
This basically implies that politics has developed the characteristics of big business houses wherein rent seeking and fund raising for candidates seeking election is at the largest premium. Since elections have become an expensive proposition, the emphasis in each party is more on fund-raising misusing state power rather than integrity. Unless loopholes for political corruption are plugged and the political actors who indulge in malpractices are punished, democratic institutions will not be allowed to function effectively.

(The author is presently associated with Policy Research Institute (PRI) as a senior research fellow.)