Escaping Electoral Accountability

Now that the CA has collapsed overtly on the issue of the undefined adventurism of federalism, what the King attempted looks more democratic than what followed.

Jan. 14, 2013, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol: 06 No. -14 Jan 11- 2012

Loktantra finds itself caught in a cleft: legitimacy of its oligarchy is wearing thin without a fresh mandate; but elections could not be held in November and will not be held in coming April either. If the underlying reasons behind the gridlock are not sorted out, perhaps they will not be held in November 2013 either. Propaganda and glib slogans have not been able to hide the contradictions in policies and practices that are resurrecting themselves to the embarrassment of Loktantra's national players and its international underwriters.

          There are three primary reasons. The first is fear among party oligarchs as well as their henchmen on two counts. The politics of money and muscle practiced by them since the restoration of multiparty democracy (and taken to new heights in political violence by the Maoists) requires them to be in control of the Home Ministry to misuse the state apparatus for “booth capture” and other unsavoury means. As these lines were being written, news just came in of Sujata Koirala of the Nepali Kangress saying, contrary to stated party policy, that Kangress could join the Baburam government if it got the home ministry (and it was taken away from her constituency nemesis Bijaya Gachhedar). The other element gripping them with fear is, given how they betrayed the trust bestowed on them and given how they are being thrashed by their own cadres, how are they to face the voters?

          The second reason, which is more clearly articulated by district rather than national party leaders, is the lack of an overarching frame within which to hold elections, i.e. elections for what? There is no agreement within or between parties on the broad political framing of whatever it is New Nepal is supposed to look like. Whatever was passed fraudulently by the late lamented CA is increasingly coming under a question mark. What is a canvassing politician to tell the people they are voting for? Another meaningless, bickering CA? Without any public apology such as disqualifying the past 601 from standing again for at least another term? Without acknowledging that the “roadmap” and the overall architecture of 2005/2006 regime change was based on fraudulent foundations?

          The third important reason is that all the major parties, despite their shrill rhetoric to the contrary, are in reality neo-feudal outfits of a handful of oligarchs using their party as fiefdoms. They expect to be reigning warlords in their parties for life and think not of graceful retreat or retirement even when rejected by voters. They also have no shame in being the dominant party voice in matters rightfully belonging the CA even when not members of that body. Their decisions are never taken in formal party sessions but in closed private setting, decisions that are subsequently rarely endorsed officially, thus leaving them under a cloud of resentment and suspicion. This has been true of almost all the many multi-point agreements the party oligarchs have announced over the last half dozen years.

          One foremost proof of the neo-feudal nature of major political parties in Nepal is their dismissive attitude towards local elections. Young Nepalis who were not quite 18 and could not vote in 1997 are now 33 years old and have not seen direct democracy at the local level. In a country where local democracy with elections of mayors and village chiefs has been in place since the Panchayat, this neglect by party oligarchs borders on the criminal. The excuse given for this dereliction of duty in 2002 was lack of safety due to the violence of the Maoist insurgency; since 2006 it has been “federalism” and the need to first complete an ill-conceived, myopic “nation restructuring”. The first reason was proved invalid by the King holding municipal elections in February 2006, and the second has now become laughable with the ignominious collapse of the CA.

          When the King called for holding municipal elections, the mainstream seven parliamentary parties called for a boycott, which was within their legal rights even though it was morally unjustifiable for parties calling themselves democratic not to go to the people as did Burma’s premier democrat Su Kyi. What was criminal on their part was asking the Maoists to assassinate candidates as per a hit list supplied by them. This serious charge was made on national TV and print around mid-July 2006 by Prachanda, Baburam and Dinanath Sharma, and has not be refuted so far by any of the seven parliamentary parties or journalists and editors beholden to them! The assassinated but ignored souls of the Janakpur mayor and others are crying for justice even as a drama is currently unfolding of Col. Kumar Lama and the assassins of the Dailekh journalist. Surveys done before those elections showed that some 42% of the voters intended to vote; the ensuing violence meant that only 22% actually voted. Given that generally about 60% turnouts are normal, it indicates that a third of the voters actually turned up to vote despite the party-sponsored terror.

          Now that the CA has collapsed overtly on the issue of the undefined adventurism of federalism, what the King attempted looks more democratic than what followed. The very rationale for having a CA and also the model of democracy pursued thus far are under questioning. It was a myth that a CA and a constitution framed by it would bring peace, prosperity and social justice to Nepal; and this half-a-century myth kept alive by extreme leftism and half-baked Marxism has now exploded. It was also claimed that this CA was the most representative and inclusive parliament that Nepal has ever had. Maybe; but then it was also the most incompetent and ineffective rubber stamp of a few oligarchic party honchos. On the last day of the CA before its collapse, when it became evident that it would not even convene, some CA members engaged in sloganeering in front of the TV cameras, shouting they were not mere sheep. Unfortunately they were, and for four years, with this shocking realization coming to them only on the last day just before the CA’s collapse!

           Waiting for a mythical federalism to materialize before holding local elections is now increasingly realized as chimera and chicanery. The real reasons are only sleazy ones of filling party and personal coffers by looting money allocated for local development. Whatever federal model might emerge in the years ahead, Dhulikhel municipality and its voters, for example, are not going to change whether the town becomes a part of Tamsaling or Newa Rajya. And the same applies to VDCs.  Hence elections to these bodies need not be kept hostage to “nation restructuring”. The primary reason why party oligarchs have bypassed this path of local accountability is because they are neo-feudals: they fear the emergence of new and younger political leadership, which, emboldened by the actual electoral mandate it would enjoy, can defy the decisions of sterile party oligarchs in favour of what its constituency actually wants.

          One more reason why fresh elections will not be held soon is the international factor. Having wasted an estimated one hundred billion rupees on the CA (about eighty per cent of which was international), having invested heavily in Nepali politicians of the current dispensation that have turned out to be gods with feet of clay, the international community backing the regime change of 2006 finds itself in the same cleft as Nepal’s major political parties. It is the classic case of an extravagant prince and his money lender: one hates the other but is locked in an embrace of mutual ruin, unable to break free. Loktantrick Nepal has become a playground of external forces, and unless these players see a reasonable chance for electoral results to emerge in their favour, they will not put pressure for elections. And Nepal’s political Lilliputs will continue their loot as long as it lasts.

Dipak Gyawali

Dipak Gyawali

Gyawali is Pragya (Academician) of the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and former minister of water resources.

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