The 240 years of hereditary monarchical system of governance was abolished by the Constituent Assembly in Nepal in May 2008. The people were jubilant as the country was declared federal democratic republic, swiftly and uncharacteristically. People of Nepal, who participated in the exaltation, more than a decade ago, are now disappointed because this transformation has not produced 21st century people’s democracy. The present situation has inordinately stalled realistic reforms needed for economic development that commensurate with the present time and people’s expectations. Instead, it is bedeviled with governance failures, and shielding rising corruption across political and bureaucratic spectrum, like a kleptocracy.
Unsuspecting people of Nepal, who had subscribed to the virtues of democracy and hailed republican euphoria, expected elected representatives would ensure well-functioning system of governance and undertake necessary changes for better political economy for people prosperity. The political change was meant to be inclusive and progressive, irrespective of citizens economic background and social strata. The general optimism was political transformation would morph into building positive relationships between the government and people, and institutions with masses. But it culminated in a state of myriad of vulnerabilities and contributed to economic insecurity.
People want fundamental reforms in political culture of functioning, good governance, independent and impartial judiciary ensuring supremacy of rule of law and order for sustainable economic development which is focused on eliminating inter-generational poverty. High standards in governance by the people’s representatives should have resulted in tangible economic prosperity through equitable access to creative and functional education, qualitative improvement in delivery of public health services and, reduction of hunger and malnutrition which have compounded also by the impact of coronavirus pandemic, a little-known infectious disease with no end in sight.
Inclusive growth has few pre-requisites which are basics to spurring economic development and recovery. This is mirrored in robust physical and mental health of citizens, innovative and creative education system for upskilling, and reskilling talents of productive population. These universal economic driving forces are required across all countries for growth and people’s prosperity. Such attributes would propel entrepreneurial drive, instill self-confidence, and enhance competency. These characteristics of work force will steer economic wheels forward as people around the world are inter-connected, through mobile technologies, with one and another in global marketspace. Strategy of isolation of political economy from global trend is regressive because it will deprive people from opportunities of prosperity.
Disappointingly, paper claim of progress produced by the successive governments have not translated into perceptible well-being of population and improved quality of life. Absence of good feel by people is usually attributed to failed governance, as compounded by lack of moral compunction of elected leaders who are neither responsive nor accountable to the voters, once the elected representatives are on political seats with power of authority. With disillusioned political practice and governance system, unshakable subservient bureaucracy, failing judiciary; the three founding pillars of democratic governance model, are compromised. These have become dysfunctional. There is little to cherish. How does a common man expect inclusive economic growth, prosperity, and improved quality of life?
People elect parliamentarians to lead nation with hopes of good governance for prosperity. In case of Nepal, parliamentarians neither appear aligned with people’s aspirations nor committed to national priorities over their personal and party interests. Sadly, average Nepali, today, is one of the poorest, like a sick man of the world, ranking one of the lowest, on most measurable indicators and prosperity.
It is high time voters evaluate performance of elected members of the Houses of Parliament. Elected individuals must first report to the people who voted them into the office, and held accountable to the voters, not to party groupings. Absence of sanctions and shaming measures have emboldened leadership’s abuse of power of office. How long this state to continue is a serious question to ponder?
Democracy is faltering largely for reasons of economic exclusion of segments of population who feel they are excluded from wealth creation and equitable distribution and justice. Social, political, and economic inequality is bound to culminate overtime into social divisions, communal disharmony and political polarization impacting the spirits of democracy. Many people perceive transformation is only providing benefits to political parties and allied groupings, elites, and people with political connections. How long voters should wait for relevant reforms for inclusivity through the august institutions of democracy in this republic?
Increasingly leadership in Nepal mirror as inept governors without pragmatic vision of development, except for engaging in illusionary propaganda and inaccurate repetitive rhetoric. The operating structures and delivery modalities are devoid of pragmatic perspectives on matters of economy, health, education, and good governance, leaving little or no space for rethinking pragmatism of the day and alternate processes. Lack of constructive engagement with civil societies and tapping on wisdom of knowledge institutions, which produce evidence-base comparative ideas, have no room in defining development strategies and policy formulation, are a clear sign of systemic failure. Political economy and working culture have become prisoners of redundant ideologies of the past century. This phenomenon has produced divisive social and political toxicities, discontent, and deepened frustrations. Can this state of political economy continue for it keeps fueling socio-economic tensions and political instability of no return, and has stalled inclusive growth and well-being of people?
Parliamentarians, who represent people, can make the difference as they have legislative power to review policy, program implementation, guide executive branch of the government, monitor performance, and ensure high judiciary standards. But they too are failing. Parliamentarians must now be subject to performance review by people without waiting for next general election. Performance audit by voters, as it is done at all levels of private and public institutions, is the need of this day. This review process should aim at ensuring people-centric performance and elected representative held accountable to the constituency.
Politicking in Nepal has become an aberration to democratic system of functioning because of unchallenged power of political leaders over the internal party workings and processes. Political parties have turned parliamentary system into a musical chair of cartel of political oligarchs - rotating between limited few of them. This calls for reform action by voters to enact a mechanism of sanctions and shaming measures. Otherwise, party idiosyncrasy is no different than the nepotic dynastic Rana regime to the autocratic dynastic Shah monarchs, to patriarchy of party-feudalists.
Peoples’ verdict is the last resort in democracy. But democracy is not only about casting a vote in general election and letting the majority rule over loosing minorities. The election is a simple process of selecting representatives by people for people for a system of good governance. Elected representatives are, hence, required to conduct affairs of the state democratically, consultatively, and transparently with due cognizance of divergent views. The 21st century development model demands inclusivity and an accountable system which will open all doors of opportunities at all echelon of governance.
Corrupt practices, as it seems, have become the norm of state functioning because it is deeply entrenched in our socio-political culture and bureaucracy, like daily bread and butter. Reforming the work of parliamentarian, thus, precedes other issues if we are to manage this cancer from state structures. This is feasible if members of civil societies, academics, elites, businesses and concerned citizen campaign and push for legislation with provisions, as below. Nepal can, then, break the umbilical cord of vicious circle of systemic corruption, and truly become a moral soft power.
Neupane, the author, is a board member of Nepal Policy Institute, an independent international think-tank powered by diaspora, and a retiree United Nations staff. Theme of the piece first appeared in 2017 in annanote.com. It is revised and updated, and views expressed are personal.
VOL. 16, No. 15, March.24, 2023 (Chaitra 10. 2079) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75
VOL. 16, No. 14, March.10, 2023 (Falgun 26. 2079) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75
VOL. 16, No. 13, Feb.24, 2023 (Falgun 12. 2079) Publisher and Editor: Keshab Prasad Poudel Online Register Number: DOI 584/074-75