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Playing a game of brinkmanship in Nepal

Nepalese students affiliated with Nepal Student Union chant slogans against Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli during a protest in Kathmandu on December 20, 2020.   | Photo Credit: AP

On Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli’s recommendation, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari has dissolved Parliament before completion of its five-year term. Intra-party conflict, Mr. Oli’s egoistic behaviour, and lack of organisational management are the reasons for this catastrophe. Mr. Oli felt that he had no other option but to dissolve Parliament as his party detractors who outnumber him in all organisational layers — Secretariat, Standing Committee and Central Committee — had pushed him to the wall after he defied most of the directives given by the party.

Moreover, following the integration of the two communist parties — the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) led by Mr. Oli and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ — last year, a strange leadership arrangement was made wherein both Mr. Oli and Mr. Prachanda were to serve as chairmen of the new Nepal Communist Party (NCP) until the next party convention. The deal made by the two party supremos for sharing power failed to materialise when Mr. Oli didn’t adhere to the agreed informal agreement. All other party dissenters led by former Prime Ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal also joined the Prachanda faction believing that Mr. Oli was going too far in flouting all the decisions of the party.

Editorial | Nepal in turmoil

Myth of stability

Mr. Oli’s decision to throw the country into yet another electoral vortex has busted the myth of stability that seemed to reign in Nepal since the election three years ago. The new development has proved that a mechanical victory in an election alone does not provide stability if other factors that are essential for democratic governance are found to be lacking. Since a leader’s orientation and commitment are crucial for laying the foundation of democracy, he or she is expected to adhere to the minimum standards for building the system.

Nepal has suffered a lot due to myopic decisions of political leaders who cannot see beyond their own selfish interests and short-term gains. Disgusted with political uncertainty and with political parties wrangling with one another, all of which halted the development of the country as well as the consolidation of democratic institutions, the Nepali people provided a huge mandate in the last election, almost two-thirds, to the newly formed NCP hoping that the government would run the country for its full term. Now their hopes have been belied by Prime Minister Oli whose decision is bereft of constitutional, political and circumstantial rationale. The Constitution of Nepal (2015) has almost blocked all channels for the dissolution of Parliament. Parliament can be dissolved if all the options enshrined in the Constitution for formation of government are exhausted. Mr. Oli’s failure to manage party affairs and his crisis of governance seemed to have pushed him to take this risky plunge. A small effort on his part could have averted the disaster.

Intra-party conflict

The NCP’s intra-party conflict is not ideological as all factions have accepted multi-party democracy despite their banners of Marxism-Leninism and Maoism, which are used by the Left parties to maintain their political identities. ‘Multi-party democracy’, or the communist slogan of Janata ko Bahudaliya Janbad, had been adopted by the late Madan Bhandari on the eve of the parliamentary election held in May 1991. The new incarnation of the Maoist party also accepted a multi-party system but didn’t embrace the Unified Marxist–Leninist’s version of Bahudaliya Janbad preferring instead to refer to Naulo Janbad (new democracy). It was nothing more than a jugglery of words in order to retain the respective positions of Marxist-Leninist and Maoist. Considering it as ideological, both the parties had agreed to settle this issue in the next NCP general conference.

Profile | K.P. Oli — From the Jhapa revolt to the seat of power

Governance problems

The Oli government’s dismal failure to deliver, stories of scandals and corruption that dominated headlines, and eroding public faith in the capacity of governance also provided anti-Oli grist to critics in general. The test of any government lies in its capacity to deliver, and Mr. Oli’s populist commitments and promises didn’t work over a period of three years. On the contrary, the Prime Minister himself defended the alleged corrupt elements, including his ministers, saying the allegations were yet to be proven. People wanted fair investigation into various charges of corruption and the roles of middlemen who influenced Mr. Oli’s decisions for awarding project contracts, but the Prime Minister, in his characteristic manner, ridiculed genuine criticism. Although politicians are not left unscathed for their alleged indulgence in corruption, nepotism and patrimonial style, Mr. Oli seemed to be guided by a typical psyche of self-righteousness.

The fallout of Mr. Oli’s decision is likely to turn the clock back. This means that the heydays of political instability will return along with the trend of fragmentation of political parties. This is mores so in the context of the NCP with each party/ individual being denounced as a traitor. Such a blame game is taking place after the artificial integration of the two communist parties. Their unity didn’t last long due to factionalism promoted by the power seekers. Mr. Oli wanted to be the real power centre, and the other leaders of Nepal, especially Mr. Prachanda, weren’t willing to accept that.

Nepal has experimented with all forms of government — majority, minority, first party led-coalition, no party government (led by Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi), and now the first communist government with nearly a two-thirds majority. But no government since 1990 has completed its full tenure of five years. Mr. Oli, who came to power with tall talk about stability and progress, lost direction when he took the decision of putting down his detractors. And he took that decision when the country is passing through a difficult time. The Constitution, to cite a former Chief Justice of Nepal, Kalyan Shrestha, has become the victim of political tricks and conspiracy. Mr. Oli’s reckless decision has not only threatened the new republic but also halted the prospect of development. With the country already grappling with the challenges of COVID-19, the new election will have multiplying effects. There seems to be no guarantee of stability and progress in Nepal.

Lok Raj Baral is Professor Political Science and former ambassador of Nepal to India

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 12:06:26 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/playing-a-game-of-brinkmanship-in-nepal/article33396961.ece

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