In my previous essay, I did argue that Dussain was the start of a new “political year”. The exchange of views among Nepalis at a mass scale on the state of the country and its politics, with the broad consensus that emerges, is what shapes the public mood for the following year. This Dussain was even more significant as it came just before the national elections on 20th November, allowing people to share their views with friends, relatives, neighbours and acquaintances. Like you readers, I too have done that rather extensively with my contacts across the political spectrum. I summarize below the responses to three basic questions I asked of them.
What bothers you the most about the state of Nepal’s politics?
Deep rooted institutionalization of corruption by the big parties and their entrenched leadership is the pervasive worry. Even basic service delivery such as renewing one’s driver’s license or students going for higher education getting a no-objection letter from the education ministry cannot be had without appeasing some rent-seeking bureaucrat. And the cause behind that malaise is the “auctioning” of senior government positions by parties in power. It started with the rotting of multiparty democracy in the mid-1990s – a phenomenon that gave rise to the Maoist uprising, the leadership of which itself succumbed to that vice a decade later – but has become entrenched, institutionalized and pervasive with Loktantra since 2006. Corrupt bureaucrats justify it by blaming their political masters, and ministers justify it by blaming their party honchos who demand that they thus fill the party coffers to fight the next election.
In explaining why Nepal’s democracy degenerated to this level, many explain it by the lack of political and indeed moral values in the current crop of big party leaders. It might have been there in the early years of multiparty democracy with struggle-hardened older leadership of Man Mohan Adhikari and Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, but it is now sadly obvious that the succeeding generation within their own parties did not have that moral fibre, that they were in politics merely to aggrandize themselves, families and friends. Many see no hope even in the second and third generation after these honchos because, they argue, they too have been corrupted with the “all-party” loot between 2006-2015! That has been their REAL education, given how formal college/university education has degenerated in these last decades with party-politicization of both students and teachers.
Many also were concerned that relatively cleaner politicians in the big parties were being sidelined in the party power structure. Many of them have admitted that they cannot afford to stand for elections because they cannot afford to, and have even refused tickets given to them by their parties. This has shown how “black money” from criminal sources has come to dominate Nepal’s parties and their leaders. It is also indicative that in sidelining dedicated honest cadres, parties have blatantly embraced businessmen free of any ideological or political beliefs and only based on their unaccounted financial contributions. The quid pro quo behind this approach has also been one of the drivers fueling corruption as the funders would seek to at least recover if not replenish with interest their investments.
What were critical downhill events that led you to conclude so?
There was a common consensus that all of us had given too much benefit of doubt for too long to big party leaders despite their incompetence demonstrated multiple times since 1990. They promised the moon but delivered very little; even then neither were civil society and media opinion makers prepared to hold them to account, nor were they challenged by the younger leadership within their parties. This has led, despite the everyday political circus the country is forced to witness, to a stagnation that has seeped through from politics to economic development, education, and many other aspects of national life.
Because there was a cascade of bad governance events over the last decades, people had had a tough time pointing to one or another event that epitomized for them the watershed moment when they finally concluded that current system and leadership had failed. Some considered the 12-Point Delhi Deal of November 2005 as the beginning of decline when foreign forces occupied the driving seat of Nepali politics. It was a Faustian bargain that Seven Parties and the Maoists entered with Mughlani and Western powers to sideline the King and occupy the seats of power. Because they were mere pawns piggy-backing on bigger shoulders, they really had neither the confidence nor the commitment to develop and preserve the political agenda that was imposed on the country. Hence the total ignoring of governance and complete focus on amassing wealth through corruption.
Another strong view to emerge was that, sixty years after King Mahendra got rid of political parties as unfit for Nepal and thirty years after it was restored in 1990, Nepal still seems to have no real functioning party system. Very few political decisions are taken on a party basis via their committees; rather, they are whims of top party honchos alone or in confabulation with other honchos. No major policy issues are discussed within the party structure, indeed even at the party convention, but are left to the judgement of the individual leader, essentially turning the party into a fiefdom and general membership into serfs. This happened with the US-pushed MCC and SPP, with the citizenship bill, indeed with the very constitution in 2015! No wonder that the leadership of the current coalition keeps baying about the constitution being in danger. Yes, it is in danger as it has failed to provide the basis for good governance, and has only promoted (especially for the middle structure called provinces) parasitic feeding of party cadres. It is in danger, not from the monarchists, but from the failed parties and their leaders!
What scenario will emerge after elections?
What frustrates most people is that – barring the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) which has a clear platform against federalism, republicanism and secularism that one may or may not agree with – no party big or small has any political issue to place before the people. They have also not addressed issues of public concern such as soaring costs, dengue epidemic, the deteriorating public delivery system or anything else. Given that they had not managed to address that even during their party conventions – indeed, Kangress promised to hold a policy convention six months after the main one but has failed to – it was hoped that they could in their election manifestos. But none have been forthcoming as of writing, and where they have, they are full on uninspiring platitudes and promises. Given that they never kept their promises made during elections five years ago, they are having to face total public apathy if not anger, especially of younger voters.
The emerging view is that this election will not lead to stability, will not solve anything, but will rather lead to more horse-trading and anarchy. Those frustrated will stay home, and those angry will go and vote not for what they like but rather against what they don’t like. As a result, there might be a better showing by independent candidates and smaller parties, mainly because they have not been party to past corruption. The current coalition will also face the wrath of the voters with what is termed “incumbency factor”, i.e., voters blaming all their woes on the current occupants of the government positions, a factor that would probably benefit the UML.
This election has become solely one of personalities and not of political principles or agendas. Given the nature of this constitution where they have mixed apples and oranges, i.e., placed directly elected and nominated members from the proportional system into the same body, there is structurally little chance of any party being able to form a majority government. This will lead to more horse-trading and musical-chair short-term coalitions intent on raking in the loot than governing. Given the looming global energy and economic crisis, the natural end of the Age of Aid, and total absence of any sign of foresight or statesmanship in Nepal’s political class, Nepal will be facing a fearful future. And all this with non-believers not even considering what astrologers have been saying about the ominous star alignments with Saturn shifting to another house in February, and Jupiter in May portending epoch-changing results in 2023!!