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Saving Nepal’s democracy from its “democrats”

PM Oli has much to deliver

BY BIHARI KRISHNA SHRESTHA
In 2015, a Washington think tank, New America, published the findings of two democracy researchers, Roberto Foa and Yascha Mounk, who said, “The United States is not the only country in which the population has grown fiercely critical of democracy — and surprisingly open to autocracy — in recent years’. Given the character and content of the current political discourse in Nepal, our country too certainly seems to qualify to be one of them. As things stand, while Nepal’s democratic journey is now running in its seventh decade, during much of this time people of Nepal suffered due to the immense corruptibility of politicians, their unprincipled jockeying for power and even indulging in armed insurrection slaughtering thousands of fellow countrymen in the process as the means to make it to power.  However, lately, for the first time in many years, the country has a government that enjoys comfortable majority in parliament, a phenomenon that is generally seen as a setting for democracy to work properly, including enacting far reaching reforms, although they may seem to be painful in the short term. And consistent with the potentiality inhering in this historic constellation of political forces PM Oli has told his domestic and international audience that Nepal is now in for political stability and that his government would now be focused on national development aimed at realizing his new goal, “Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali”.
However, less than half a year at the helm, Oli government has come in for severe criticisms from all around that, despite his unassailable majority in parliament, could considerably erode his popularity, and therefore, his effectiveness to work at home and in his dealings with powers abroad. Upon closer examination what emerges can be seen as nothing less than Mr. Oli’s own failings as a democratic leader both in personal behavioral terms as well as in structural terms.
Firstly, most well-meaning politicians around the world tend to use their initial days in government to take steps to fulfill their election pledge that would go on to assure the people about the trustworthiness of their new leader. Therefore, by any reckoning, Mr. Oli should have seriously gone after lending operational meaning to his new slogan of Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali. If one were to seriously follow this agenda, what would have unfolded would have been a vast plethora of policies and programmes including extensive institutional reorganization to reach out to the most deprived at the grassroots. Unfortunately, nothing of that kind of action has been taken. As a result, people have begun to see this new slogan only as a replacement for the earlier, now worn-out slogan of New Nepal. Besides, during his earlier stint in government back in 2015, he had also promised to free Nepal of traditional hazardous cable crossings, locally known as “Tuin” in two years. And they too are still around all over the country.
Instead, Mr. Oli is now being seen as being blatantly authoritarian, in blind pursuit of his own selfish agenda. The list of such acts of commission and omission is already quite long. For instance, while the whole country is now in support of Dr. Govind KC in his demand for quality and accessible medical education, PM Oli has unabashedly gone back on the deal made by the government and has proposed a medical education bill that is aimed at allowing the affiliation of Man Mohan Memorial Medical College in which all his fellow politicians in erstwhile UML have allegedly invested vast sums of money. Other such acts of blatant indiscretion include premature release of murder convict, Bal Krishna Dhungel, ignoring the fast-unto-death quest for justice by Ganga Maya Adhikari for the murder of her son, declaring the Maitighar Mandala as no protest zone and so on. The list is long and all of them go on only to alienate the people from PM Oli and his “communist” government.
However, Mr Oli’s most mindless and damaging act has been the undue, immoral and undemocratic haste he exercised in getting the new constitution approved in 2015. While the draft of the new constitution was subjected to the then constitutionally mandated nationwide consultation, Mr. Oli, in his extraordinary haste for succeeding the then PM Sushil Koirala, colluded with other party leaders in parliament and accomplished the rushed passage of the constitution without ever taking into account the opinion of the people on the new draft. As per the media reports then, the people had overwhelmingly rejected the federalization and secularization of the country.
Now that the country has gone federal without any rationale to support it–save for the fact that our hegemonic neighbour to the south wanted it to debilitate Nepal further–the country is already beginning to pay the price. Media reports are now replete with reports of seeming waywardness of the so-called provincial governments such as passing their own police acts, or allocating enormous sums of money for each provincial parliamentarians for the so-called “constituency development fund”, mimicking their federal counterparts in Kathmandu who have just managed to ensure several crores of rupees allocated for them for that purpose. No civilized country would embark on such restructuring of the state without even studying the financial and operational implications of such a move, particularly in view of the fact that federalization of the country has never been the demand of the people.
What obtains at the local level is even worse. They have reduced the number of local bodies to nearly one-fifth of what existed earlier, 753 in place of some 3,400 VDCs and municipalities. This makes the elected officials five times more distant form the electors, thus steeply worsening the prospects of more blatant corruption and misuse of funds. It is not by accidents that more than half of the chiefs of these Gaupalikas and Nagarpalikas happen to be the sitting members of the Contractors’ Association of Nepal. They alone have the money and other wherewithal to “buy” nomination from the parties, spend, as per the media reports, one crore rupee on average for getting elected to Gaupalika chair and 20 lakh rupees for ward chair, and eventually recoup the investment and much more. So, all said and done, what awaits Nepal is not “Prosperous” but “Devastated” Nepal.
Given such waywardness of our politicians, the challenge for the Nepalese now is nothing less than saving our democracy from our own democrats.
<biharishrestha@gmail.com>

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