Politics has become a haven for crime and corruptionPolitical parties have not only protected the criminality of their cadres, but they also have provided shelter to notorious criminals.
Mohammad Aftab Alam, a member of the federal parliament representing Nepali Congress, is in legal custody on charges of a mass murder that allegedly took place 12 years ago. Another member of Parliament from the ruling Nepal Communist Party has been issued an arrest warrant by the court in an attempted murder case. Former House Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara is in custody on an attempted rape case involving a staff member of his own office. To book these powerful politicians is undoubtedly a welcome move by the law enforcement agencies. But it is only the tip of the iceberg in light of the pervasiveness of the criminalisation of politics, and also politicisation of crimes, in Nepal; the line between the two is extremely thin and largely blurred. The initiation of legal action against these tainted politicians is undoubtedly a good beginning. Still, it would be in no way enough to cleanse the cesspool of crime that Nepali politics is now drowning in.
Although there is no systematic data available on the number of high-ranking politicians including members of Parliament, ministers and party stalwarts who have a culpable criminal background, it is apparent that the entire political edifice across all ideologies now survives on and operates with money from crime. For politics to be virtuous and free of criminality, comprehensive transformation is simultaneously necessary on several constituents of the country's political economy. This includes the ethos, the electoral system, intraparty democracy, the rule of law, budgetary appropriation and public accountability mechanisms.
Why would at present anyone, on top of everything else, choose a career in politics? Clearly, the classical ideal objectives of involvement for selfless sacrifice to the nation, service to the people and contribution towards social upliftment, among others, have now become a pure travesty. Instead, the main incentive to join or stick to politics has been to accumulate disproportionate wealth by blatant misuse of state power and resources. The earlier generations of politicians, who fought against the Panchayat system to restore democracy, couldn't set an emulative example to this end. Instead, they became super-rich in a relatively short span of exposure to powerful positions. Therefore, the avarice of the new entrants is not surprising.
All political organisations alike have not only protected the criminal indulgence of their cadres, but they also have provided shelter to notorious criminals, offering them lucrative party positions. Party and parliamentary positions are put on sale for whoever can afford them. Political ideologies, ethics, morality and humanity have taken a backseat everywhere. When core politics became a paradise for crime, criminality soon rules the roost. And, we live with it today, suffocating hopelessly.
Such unconstrained, often extra-legal and extra-constitutional exercise of power, mostly by elected politicians and usually to fulfil their vested interests has made elections must-win battles for every contestant in the fray. They have become hugely costly and unaffordable to honest and humble politicians. Rigging the system using the state apparatus and vigilantes alike has become commonplace. Whoever gets elected is bound to indulge in corruption to recover the costs of running an expensive campaign. A further incentive to indulge in crime is to accumulate more for the next campaign by whatever means possible.
Regulatory authorities like the Election Commission and the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority have already been rendered toothless, mainly by appointing henchmen of influential leaders in their key executive positions. The party leadership are unwilling to undertake electoral reform as this would put their non-transparent opportunities to an end. Therefore, electoral reform and making elections less expensive and free from criminal influence is not on any major party's agenda.
There is a significant deficit of democratic values in all major parties. Many insiders do not voice their opinions and do not promote new ideas, because it would not be well received by the powerful, often dictatorial leadership. Again, competition based on leadership qualities and personal character has ceased to find a place even in intra-party power exercises.
The practice of allocating a considerable purse as constituency development fund to each federal parliamentarian to spend at their discretion has given rise to new anomalies. The members of the federal parliament will in this fiscal year alone get Rs60 million each. All provincial assemblies have followed suit, though the amount may vary across provinces. The politicians often spend this money on pet projects, usually without feasibility or impact studies. The public procurement rules are not adhered to, and closing audit procedures are not complied with.
The politicians see this purse as an instant way to recover all election expenses, hopefully in the very first year in office. The fund has proved to be a handy instrument to provide gainful engagement to the supporters and financiers mobilised during the elections. This, in turn, has helped to create vigilante groups in each constituency.
As federalism has devolved the financial resources and fiscal authority to local level leaders, criminality in politics has decentralised. The trend of misusing public funds for private benefits has already expanded alarmingly.
Disproportionate accumulation of assets by public officials coupled with growing impunity on financial crimes like corruption and defalcation of state funds have only further dirtied politics in Nepal. Until the political class realises and prepares to take at least some steps to decriminalise itself, there will be no improvements. But democracy cannot thrive until the criminal elements are uprooted.
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