Monday, March 30, 2015

Uncertainty deepens further

Uncertainty further deepens in Nepalese politics as political parties continue to lock horns and keep on sticking to their old agendas and stances.  Divergence on issues and agendas is natural in a pluralist democracy like ours but it should not lead to confrontation.  Given the nature of divergence in the present political context of Nepal, it is likely to lead to a situation of a worse crisis and conflict in near future. The constitution writing process appears to be in limbo as parties fail to reach a consensus or compromise on some disputed issues concerning n the new constitution that remains to be settled.
In the present context and given the nature of issues, consensus is not likely to be reached very easily. But parties can arrive at a conclusion on ways and methods to settle the disputed issues so that the constitution can be delivered and be owned up by larger majority of people, if not by all. Federalism is the crux of issue that has stalled the entire constitution writing process. In principle, parties have agreed to adopt federalism but they are divided on the model of federalism and number of federal provinces. This is the issue that has stalled the constitution writing process for the last five years.
The first constituent assembly was formed through an election in 2008, which ultimately saw its unceremonious demise in four years due to its inability to resolve the issues concerning federalism. There had been agreement among political parties on more than 80 per cent contents of the new constitution. However, the constituent assembly suffered a hitch when the federalism issue came to the fore for discussion. This has been the same case even after the formation of the second constituent assembly. More than one year has passed since the election for the second constituent assembly was held in November 2013. But the situation at present is exactly like the one as it was prior to the demise of the first constituent assembly.
The election to the second constituent assembly changed political equation in the country as the UCPNM, which was the first party earlier, was reduced to the status of the third party that two with far less seats compared to the first and the second forces. The Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML emerged as the first and the second forces, which combined possess almost two-third majority. This rendered the UCPN-M virtually irrelevant in constitution-making process as the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML can easily pass the constitution without the support of the UCPNM. Moreover, the NC and UML have almost identical agenda and stance on key issues of constitution. Perhaps, this is the fundamental factor that has brought the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML together into the coalition government. The coalition of the first and second largest party seems to be unusual given the practice in other democracies in the world.  But Congress-UML coalition is guided by two reasons. One is their compulsion as the constitution cannot be promulgated without their cooperation and the second is the common approach and stance on key issues concerning constitution. Their partnership is expected to continue until the promulgation of the constitution and next coalition is likely to emerge after that.
All the political forces have their own strategy to have upper hand in national politics. Since the NC and UML have comfortable position in the constituent assembly, they often tend to ignore and even negate the opposition mainly the UCPNM in the constitution making process and other gubernatorial tasks. The UCPNM knows well that it alone cannot do anything in the constituent assembly and it forged an alliance of opposition parties to collectively exert pressure on the ruling parties to make their presence felt and voices heard.  Now, the UCPNM, Madhesi parties, janajati parties and other fringe groups have come together and are trying to exert pressure for a consensus-based constitution. Although the ruling parties in public talk of the consensus-based constitution, they practically and inherently do not appear to be prepared for consensus-based constitution. Instead, they want to deliver the constitution through a voting process for which they have the required two-thirds majority. The consensus-based constitution means agendas and concerns of all parties and forces need to be incorporated in the constitution. But it is not practically possible. Moreover, there are fundamental differences on key issues mainly on federalism, which is the fundamental hurdle for consensus. Given the nature and arrogance of the parties and their leaders, consensus is least likely, which will ultimately compel the constituent assembly to adopt the voting process to settle the disputed issues and promulgate the new constitution.
In order to reach consensus, parties are required to make compromise and sacrifice. But no party is prepared to give up its agenda and make a compromise on the key issues. Given this situation, the constitution cannot be delivered on the basis of consensus. All parties are aware of this situation. Despite having the two-third majority, the ruling parties do not appear to have enough courage to go for voting process in an outright manner. They see the danger that announcing constitution without the consent of the opposition parties will create a new round of conflict and confrontation in the country. If constitution was declared without minimum support of the UCPNM, Madhesi and janajati parties, the disgruntled forces will immediately go to streets and condemn the constitution. The ruling parties do not want to risk this. The ruling parties seem to be more concerned with Madhesi parties than the UCPNM and janajati parties. This is because the ruling parties are fearful that if Madhesi parties go for all out protest in Madhes, the supply system in the country may be paralyzed as it happened in the past. The ruling parties are trying to woo Madhesi parties more than the UCPNM and divide the opposition alliance. Once the opposition alliance is divided, the ruling parties may try to bulldoze and settle the disputed issues though voting. The other fear from Madhesi parties is due to their close affinity with the New Delhi establishment.
But this strategy of the ruling parties may not be the solution. If ruling parties divide the opposition alliance and bring the Madhesi parties on board, the UCPNM will be forced to be closer with other Maoist parties including the ones led by Mohan Vaidya and Netra Bikram Chand. The Maoist parties led by Vaidya and Chand do not support the parliamentary process and instead condemned the constituent assembly. If the ruling parties choose to divide the opposition alliance, this will polarize the national politics as it was prior to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2006.
Now the ruling parties have neither been able to convince the opposition parties on the constitution promulgation process nor are prepared to accommodate their agendas. Thus, it has already complicated the constitution writing process and is likely to make it more complex in future. But they, at the same time, are also aware that constitution is urgently needed in order to end the protracted transition. Thus, the entire situation depends on how accommodative and liberal the ruling parties become. Similarly, the opposition parties are also required to be more responsible in order to give the country an amicable outlet.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Nepal’s Machiavelli politics

Niccolò Machiavelli is a 15th century’s political critic of Florence (now Italy), who is known more for his negative role in politics. Machiavelli often used negative term to characterize unscrupulous politicians, which is best described in his masterpiece ‘The Prince’. In his political treatise, Machiavelli advocated hawkish, chauvinist and feudal approach in dealing with political, social, political, cultural issues as well as the matters concerning statecraft. His political thesis, which is known as ‘Machiavellism’  in the present political lexicon, has earned the infamy of championing the unruly approach in political dictum—often equated with political deceit and brutality.
According to Machiavelli, politics is the art of cunning. Rulers make promises but hardly any of them keep them once they go to power. Successful rulers are those who make most promises but keep them the least. Politicians and rulers become successful only if they cunningly manipulate people’s minds. This means leaders and politicians are required to lie and deceive the people in order to become successful in politics and state affairs. In other words, politics needs to be controlled by money, muscle, military and manipulation.
Machiavellism is not compatible with modern day democracy, which is supposed to be based on popular will and mandate. But Machiavellism is still at work in most developing countries including Nepal, which continue to boast to be democracies. If we look at the present political scenario and developments in Nepal, we are still not very far from Machiavelli’s notion of politics. Despite having competitive democracy, Machiavellism continues to dominate in Nepal’s politics.
In the present political system, be it democracy or otherwise, power is being taken as a tool to have upper hand in national politics. Political parties and their leaders tend to go to power and retain it by any means possible. This is because power is paramount for political benefit and control. Nepalese political parties feel inferiority once they are out of power. In a democracy, periodic elections are the means to go to power for parties and leaders. Thus, they focus everything, both moral and immoral, to win election so that they capture power and control politics. So money, muscle and other tricks are applied to influence the voters and even buy votes. In every election, underdog or losers always accuse of vote rigging. It is not merely accusation but several cases of vote rigging take place in every election. In the last election for Constituent Assembly held in November 2013, the opposition parties claiming massive vote rigging threatened to reject the election results and demanded a probe. It joined the Constituent Assembly, only when the ruling parties or winners agreed for investigation into the polling process. This happens in every election, which is a testimony of the fact that our electoral system has flaws. Our system has not made the people confident that their votes are genuinely reflected in the results, which has raised fundamental question about our democracy. When people do not believe in election, they also do not trust the government that is formed on the basis of results of the election. This ultimately creates public apathy towards the political system and democracy as a whole. Against this background, electoral system should be reformed in a way which may not provide any room for public doubt on the impartiality and fairness of the election.
Democracy is the competitive politics and parties and candidates have to woo people and voters to go to power. During the election, parties and leader make more promises so that they can attract more people towards them and win people’s support. But their promises are always not pragmatic, which are often broken after the election. The tendency of not keeping the promises is the fundamental problem of our times which has not only given rise to Machiavellism in our politics but also created public frustration about political system and democracy. This phenomenon is guided by the Machiavelli’s theory of capturing power by any means, which is against the basic principle of modern democracy. In a democracy, there has to be competition based on policy and competence for delivery. In developing countries like ours, competition is not in terms of policy and competence but in terms of money, muscle and mis-use of power. This is the reason why our democracy has not taken deep roots even in more than six decades since Nepal had a first taste of democratic policy in 1951. Despots often trampled democracy on various occasions due to malfunction of democracy and its system. As democracy and democratic system failed to function, the king trampled democracy in 1960 and imposed his absolute regime under Panchayat for three decades. Similarly, Gyanendra also tried to take benefit out of the misrule and briefly took over power imposing his own dictatorship in 2002, although it lived short due to massive popular protests.  However, our leaders and parties do not appear to have learnt lesson from the past and they still tend to capture power based on Machiavelli’s theory, which will ultimately be counterproductive for them.
Democracy is modern lingua franca, which has to be based on good policies and good performance and governance. Parties and leaders are required to promise the people only things that can be kept. And once they go to power, they need to keep their promises. They are required to say what they can accomplish and do what they have promised. But there has been marked inconsistency between the promises and performances and between rhetoric and action of political parties and their leaders. Democracy cannot thrive and prosper on words but only on actions and sincere willingness to translate the promises and democratic ideals into reality. But the willingness of the parties and leaders to translate the promises into action and democratic norms and values into real politics has been glaringly lacking. Democracy is not merely a tool to capture power and enjoy perks and position by leaders. All need to take into account the fact that democracy is a system that is required to deliver goods to the people at their door steps. People are the supreme masters in democracy but leaders treat them as mere subject. This tendency has not been different from that of the despots and monarchs who regard themselves as masters whereas the people as their servants. This tendency has to be done away with and leaders need to be democratic first and empower people in order to strengthen democracy. Otherwise Machiavellism would continue to prevail in Nepalese politics.