To sustain political stability, cohesion within the Nepal Communist Party is necessaryContradictory interests have found a rallying point in Prime Minister Oli’s handling of party affairs as well as affairs of the state.
Prime Minister K P Oli's government once appeared as a rock-solid political formation with an ability to provide political stability for five years. It has now lost its aura of invincibility. Oli and his close aides have begun to talk about undemocratic and reactionary forces closing upon the government from all sides like coyotes. However, the most significant threat to Oli’s sustained rule is internal. Unless there is a change in equation within the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), none of the external factors can cause K P Oli’s downfall.
At present, there are several factors that have weakened the Oli government. The first is the moral and political foundation of the government’s political stability. The government’s political foundation is the promises the UML and the Maoists made to the people during the elections, especially the promises of political stability, prosperity, and good governance.
The Nepal Communist Party and its leadership will lose some of their legitimacy and credibility if they are unable to stick to their electoral narrative or make the federal system successful. Most of the blame for the failure, however, will be levelled at Oli. Similarly, the moral foundation of the government consists of people’s trust.
A Newar intellectual recently narrated his experience during a discussion on the Guthi movement: ‘I told them that it served them right. They shouldn't be expecting anything else from a communist government.’ He said he was attacked for saying so. The people cast their votes for many reasons, and some reasons play a more significant role than others. The political representatives, however, cannot assume that the people's vote amounts to blanket support for all their electoral positions.
Many of the federal government’s decisions and policies in recent months to promote political control have breached the trust the people had in it. This is especially true regarding the government’s legislation and policies on human rights, the autonomy of constitutional bodies, curtailing of the basic freedoms of expression and association, rent-seeking, and promotion of a clique of business operators and brokers.
External and geo-strategic factors
Given Nepal’s history, its vulnerabilities and the nature of political parties, external and geo-strategic factors have always played an important role in determining the country’s political process. The external factors include all politically relevant forces other than the government and the NCP.
At present, many political forces are active in Nepal ranging from the main opposition to new and aspiring parties. Some have linkages to forces outside Nepal’s borders. These political movements are promoting a diverse agenda like corruption control, good governance, Hindu state, identity and inclusion; all of them describe the government as embodying some kind of evil tendency. As these political movements gain more traction, they will spread a message of political instability and will weaken Oli’s regime.
Another external factor is the geo-strategic balance of power. Historically, and especially after 2015, China’s engagements with Nepal are intended to lessen Nepal’s dependence on India. China has, from time to time, rewarded Nepal’s governments for maintaining an ‘independent’ foreign policy and resisting India’s influence. Given its strategic concerns, China wants to maintain stability in Nepal’s political sphere. Since the government’s stability is directly linked to the stability of the NCP and PM Oli's continuity, China’s interests extend to Nepali politics.
This is equally true for other geo-strategic interests, particularly that of the US and India. As they compete with China for strategic leverage in Nepal, their interests can have a significant impact on Nepal’s internal politics and governance.
Moral, political, and external factors alone cannot undo the current government. They can only create an environment in which internal factors can come into play. The internal factors include the dynamics within the government and the ruling party.
The merger of the Maoists and the CPN-UML has provided a semblance of political stability that has allowed Prime Minister Oli to push forward his agenda of development, devise ways to exact political control and sustain China’s engagements in Nepal. At the moment, Pushpa Kamal Dahal poses the greatest threat to Oli’s political regime and its political course.
In recent months, Dahal has upped his ante and tried to undermine Oli’s position. One significant instance was during Oli’s visit to Davos when party stalwarts met to counter his growing power. Then last month, as Oli travelled to India to take part in the Indian Prime Minister’s swearing-in ceremony, Dahal said he would soon be succeeding Oli as the prime minister.
Since, then, Dahal appears to have emboldened Oli’s detractors within the Nepal Communist Party. There were always multiple interests, incentives and motives among the party’s leadership. Now, these contradictory interests have found a rallying point in Prime Minister Oli’s handling of party affairs as well as the affairs of the state. As Oli loses political control in the party and finds it difficult to enforce strict discipline, detractors will find ways to work with external forces and delegitimise his leadership. The discontents inside the party will find greater causes, both inside and outside the party, generating a momentum against Oli.
In order to attain political stability, Prime Minister Oli must focus on the three elements outlined above. First, delivering on development and prosperity requires fiscal discipline, a sound foreign policy, and rule of law. Unfortunately, the government’s performance on all these fronts is questionable.
KP Oli and his government must realise that a citizen’s vote does not mean blanket support for all the positions, it is just a support for the overall narrative. If the government moves ahead unilaterally to implement policies, without consulting the people, then it can constitute a major breach of trust.
Second, PM Oli cannot control all the external factors. However, he can address the issues and platforms on the basis of which these external factors are operating.
Most importantly, Oli must address internal party and government issues. One of the most important sources of political stability, in the short term, is party cohesion, which is possible only through internal party democracy or party autocracy. In order to attain sustained political stability, Nepal as a country must address questions of internal party democracy including political finance, democratic decision-making processes and integrity.
Khanal is a research director at the Centre for Social Inclusion and Federalism (CESIF).