Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Political Uncertainty Is Over


Yuba Nath Lamsal

The government headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba has completed the first hundred days in office. The first 100 days that is also called as the honeymoon period cannot be taken as the yardstick to judge the performance, success or failure of any government. However, the government sets its tone during this period to get into action based on which one can presume where it is heading towards.

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba came to power at a time when the country’s politics was in the midst of uncertainty. The scene of uncertainty had loomed in the Nepali political landscape after the first dissolution of House of Representatives in December 2020. Despite reinstatement of the House by the Supreme Court, neither new government could be formed nor did Oli government prove its majority in parliament. As uncertainty persisted, KP Sharma Oli dissolved the House second time in May 2021, to be nullified again by the Court. With the formation of the present government, the period of uncertainty is at least over.

Diverse interests
Given the circumstances with which Deuba rose to power, it is not wise to expect much from the government during this period. The task is not easy for Prime Minister Deuba. Firstly, he has to manage the coalition partners and take them all along. The coalition partners have diverse interests and it is very difficult to manage them, which was clearly manifested in the unusual delay in giving the cabinet a full shape. It took more than two months to complete the expansion of the council of ministers.

Secondly, the opposition party is strong and aggressive. The CPN-UML is the main opposition party, which has the largest number of seats in parliament. The opposition party has already exhibited its ire and intention due to which the parliament has not been able to function smoothly. The continued disruption in parliament is UML’s tactics not to let the parliament function so that Oli’s dissolution of the House of Representatives could be justified. The UML is likely to continue House disruption even in future. It will, thus, not be easy for the government to deal with and face the opposition party in the coming days unless certain compromise was brokered between the ruling and opposition parties.

On the basis of the performance of the government in the first 100 days, no grade can be awarded so far. We still need to wait for a few more months to see its performance. But time is very short for this government to show its worth because the elections are closing in. The year 2022 is election year and elections for provincial legislative assemblies and local bodies have to be conducted by May-June 2022, while parliamentary elections are scheduled in November, 2022. The government has to make preparations for the elections right from the beginning of the next year.
Once the election process begins, the election code of conduct may not allow the government to make decisions of far-reaching consequences. If the government really wants to demonstrate its performance, it has to act right now because time is running short. Given the timing in which the government was formed, nothing significant can be expected. The only success of this government will be to maintain the present coalition and successfully hold the local, provincial and parliamentary elections in time.

The previous Oli government that lasted for three and half years missed its opportunity. He banked more on rhetoric than concrete actions except a few decisions with historic significance. The period of Oli’s first innings as Prime Minister was, definitely, a historically memorable one from the perspective of national dignity as he firmly stood against the India’s economic blockade and reached agreement with China on transit facilities. Similarly, the amendment of the constitution incorporating Nepal’s map with Lipulek, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani areas in it was another historic act during Oli’s second term.

The formation of Oli-led government had, indeed, triggered a new sense of optimism in Nepal. It was perhaps the strongest government with nearly two-thirds majority in parliament. However, the ruling Nepal Communist Party ( NCP), which was created following the unification of the two largest communist parties, namely the UML and CPN-Maoist Centre, did not live up to the popular expectations of the voters.

Now it appears that the unification of the two parties was artificial and a mere marriage of convenience. In other words, the unification was out of compulsion as both parties felt existential threat. Had UML and the Maoist Centre not formed the electoral alliance, Nepali Congress might have emerged as the largest party in parliament. Oli was under compulsion to have alliance with the Maoist Centre to ensure the formation of the post-election government because UML alone would not have secured as much seats as it secured if it had contested the election alone.

Existential crisis
Similarly, the Maoist Centre had also felt existential crisis as it had been weakened due to splits after splits in the party and might have fared poorly in the election. Thus, Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda felt necessary to forge an electoral alliance with the UML and ultimately party unification. However, the alliance between Oli and Prachanda did not last long. The power tussle among the senior leaders within the NCP more particularly between Oli and Prachanda intensified. It was KP Oli’s responsibility to keep that unity and parliamentary majority intact. But he failed to manage within his own party, which led not only to the collapse of the Oli government but also split the party. Instead of managing dissent within the party, Oli chose to dissolve parliament, which the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional.

Prachanda and Madhav Kumar Nepal, too, might have been partly responsible for the party split and collapse of the majority government. But primary responsibility rested on Prime Minister and party chairman Oli. If Oli had managed to keep the party unity and the NCP government intact and smoothly handed over the leadership to someone through the party’s national congress, his name would have been written in Nepal’s political history along with BP Koirala, Pushpa Lal and Madan Bhandari. But Oli missed that opportunity and will be remembered like other former prime ministers and nothing more than that. History rarely gives opportunity to individuals and it is now up to Deuba to learn lesson from history.

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Age Of Market Politics


Yuba Nath Lamsal

Ideology, values and principles have taken a back seat in the post-industrial societies. What constitutes prominence in the present day politics is the interest and profit. Even in politics, everything is being judged and calculated from the matrix of interest, profit, and loss. In the age of market politics, market has emerged as the principal determinant, where money plays bigger role than anything else. This is not an isolated trend of a particular country or region but a global phenomenon.

Politics is for power. For ancient idealist thinkers like Confucius, Plato and Aristotle, politics is struggle to attain power through ethical means while realist philosophers like Niccola Machiavelli are of the view that politics is ‘the ruthless pursuit of power’ to be achieved by hook or by crook and ethics has no place. In the book ‘The Prince’ Machiavelli even suggests the use of deceit, murder and war as legitimate means to attain power and maintain grip on power. Saint Augustine even justified crimes to get power, while Mao Zedong went one step forward defending brutal force and said ‘political power flows out of the barrel of gun’.

Non-violent approach
However, people like Mahatma Gandhi, calling ‘violence as the weapon of the weak’, championed the non-violent approach to get political power. Demand and supply play a key role in economics, so is with politics. When profit is the principal motive in politics rather than public good, parties turn out to be enterprises, and the politicians the bosses turning politics into a profit-making venture and the ‘last resort of scoundrels’ as aptly said by George Bernard Shaw. Politics becomes the affair of profiteers, and public good and social service are confined to mere showcased artefacts.

Gandhi, in his later life particularly after 1940s, realised that his dream of a democratic Indian society would be a sham with the partisan politics and broached the notion of consensual governance. Even Alexis de Tocqueville saw greater danger to democracy from within the system rather than from outside. Tocqueville said ‘governmental centralisation and market consumerism reduce civic virtues into private life of quiet servitude’.
As citizens tend to become more self-centred, political and social movements are getting weaker. The survival and development of democracy depends heavily on the constant vigil of the people, which is fast eroding. The changing nature of society and growing individualism have given rise to public apathy to political system from which authoritarian tendency is slowly rising its ugly head both in parties as well as in governance. Some western political scientists and analysts even try to liken the eccentric Trump era in USA, rise of Boris Jonson in the UK, Recep Erdogan of Turkey, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Narendra Modi of India with this newer trend of world politics.

Alberto Fujimori also did not intend to be a dictator. He rose to power by means of election with the pledge to heal Peru’s multiple wounds. However, circumstances and his own ambition coupled with wrong decisions led him to earn the ill-fame of a tyrant. Similar case is with Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines, Napoleon Bonaparte of France, Benito Mussolini of Italy and Adolf Hitler of Germany, who ran evil empires of their time. Joseph Stalin of Russia earns the reputation of noted authoritarian hawk in the world of doves. Ziaul Haq, Pervez Musharraf, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot are also a few names of worst nemeses of democracy.

In the present globalised world, Nepal, too, is not immune to this syndrome. Market politics has contaminated Nepali parties and leaders. Despite the rhetoric of commitment to democracy and democratic ideals, our parties are getting bureaucratic and leaders autocratic in both action and behaviour. The bigger the parties, the more bureaucratic they are. Power is being concentrated at the hands of a one man (women, so far, have not held the apex position of any major political party in Nepal) or a tiny clique close to power centre, whereas the voice of the rank and file is getting feeble. The behaviour and working style of the principal leaders of major parties are its manifestation.

Even party’s organisational apparatuses give leaders more leverage to become autocratic. Our political culture itself is more power centric and seeks power worshipping. Some relics of feudal system like chakari, curry favour and sycophancy have not gone away completely in our society even after doing away with the feudal system. Feudal culture continues to rein in our mind, thought process and our working style. Leaders tend to be rulers and masters whereas people are still treated as subjects. Whatever leaders do is either for their own, or for their families and the cliques close to the leaders.

Even the party is not in their interest, let alone the people and the country. Whatever meagre they do in the name of public good is not taken as their duty but as out of expediency or favour to the people. This scenario is exactly what Aristotle called ‘an oligarchy — ‘the rule of rich, the rule by rich and the rule for the rich’. Despite all odds and ills, there is no alternative to democracy. What we need to do is to manage, improve, reform and update ourselves, our functions and our handling to make the system more workable and accountable to the people. Moreover, the complications and deficiency we have come across is not owing to the system alone.

Politics is not a problem but should be a solution. The political system we have adopted is virtuous, though it may still not be perfect. The problem is, therefore, not with the system but with those who are responsible to handle the system. Its cure is with ourselves, our parties and our leaders. Transparency and accountability in parties and leaders are what we need the most. For this, greater public vigil and democratic literacy among leaders and people are also equally necessary which alone compels leaders to be more democratic, transparent and accountable.

Democratic culture does not ripen overnight but requires a long time to take its roots, grow and develop. Our democratic history is relatively short, chequered and tumultuous with many ups and downs; twists and turns. We can, thus, be optimistic that with the march of time and volume of experiences, we can enrich our democracy. Let us hope time heals everything.