How KP Oli failed the nationThe goon-like politics which he promoted throughout his political life is perhaps his greatest weakness.
Nepal as a nation-state once again reels under a debilitating political flux in addition to the unspeakable suffering unleashed by the Covid-19 global pandemic. The presence of the government in ameliorating the people's economic and social hardships including the ones added by the pandemic is felt nowhere. The current government of the Nepal Communist Party headed by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has rendered the state system dysfunctional, largely derailed democracy, and for all practical purposes, sent the 'republican' constitution into a coma.
The culmination of inefficiencies of the two-and-a-half-year-old Oli government has glaringly manifested itself as the Covid-19 crisis deepens. The average infection rate has crossed 10 percent among the tested population only during the last 20 days. The fact of the matter is that testing has been very limited and slow. In the last five months since the first case was detected, the total number of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests touched the 250,000 mark only on Sunday. Contact tracing of suspected carriers of the virus has long been abandoned.
Evidence like infections found in people without any travel history and positive test results of sewage samples from Kathmandu's densely populated areas clearly indicate that the virus has already spread deep into the community.
Testing facilities and kits are in acutely short supply throughout the country, thanks to the government's indecision on their timely procurement and its criminal negligence of the impending gravity of the pandemic. Pathetic quarantine centres, appallingly mismanaged lockdown and complete disregard of the people's regular healthcare and livelihood needs apart from Covid-19-related treatment have become staple stories; as if overdone and not worthy of government attention.
End of Oli era?
Detractors in the Nepal Communist Party now appear determined to oust Oli from power. He is already in a minority at each layer of the party organisation, namely the secretariat, standing committee, central committee and parliamentary party. The only power centre now left for him to lean on is President Bidya Devi Bhandari whom he had unnecessarily dragged into controversy for his own political cushion, alleging that his opponents in the party were trying to oust him and 'also impeach the president'.
Oli is using all possible tactics of threats, persuasion and political muscle-flexing to retain both his positions of prime minister and party chair. But this time around, the opposition seems determined not to spare him without making him sacrifice at least one out of the two positions. The accumulated inefficiencies of his government and latest unfounded rants like 'India is plotting to oust him and his opponents are colluding to the cause' have forced many of his earlier supporters to leave the sinking ship.
Oli's incessant bungling was clearly uncharacteristic and a highly unbecoming phenomenon given the rare favourable political backdrop against which his government took the reins. His party commanded a near two-thirds majority in the federal Parliament and similar majorities in six out of the seven provincial assemblies. The formation of a 'strong' Nepal Communist Party uniting the then CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre created an unprecedented formidable communist force in the country.
Oli himself had enjoyed wide popular support for standing up against the blistering economic blockade by India in the aftermath of the promulgation of Nepal's new constitution, regarding which India had reservations on some of its provisions, in September 2015 when he was prime minister for the first time. Even if Oli managed to steer out of the current turmoil through a whisker-width chance, it will effectively mean the end of the 'Oli era' as he will then be shackled and forced to walk a very tight rope. Thus, Oli as prime minister not only failed to utilise these strengths but also completely disregarded the desired tenets of statesmanship, constitutionalism and good governance.
Oli, in fact, never elevated himself to a statesman; instead, he stuck to his pet traits of chicanery, machinations and brackish apolitical retorts. Lately, megalomania, hubris and a penchant for self-righteousness prevented him from listening to sane counsel essential for good governance. The goon-style politics which he promoted throughout his political life is perhaps his greatest weakness. Open patronage to them also became one of the main reasons for his downfall.
Constitution in coma
Right from the beginning of his current tenure, the current government put misplaced efforts to curtail the freedoms ensured by the constitution. There were conscious and persistent efforts to curtail media freedom, censure social media and limit individual freedom. Both, the federal facet of the constitution and the spirit of republicanism, were often trampled. The federal government by ominous designs expended a lot of energy to recentralise political and economic decision-making.
Taking advantage of a highly comfortable majority in both houses of the federal Parliament, the government treated both lawmakers and Parliament as order carriers of the government. Not a single bill of national importance was properly discussed in the House. The Oli government abruptly prorogued the budget session of Parliament last week while several urgent bills are still waiting to be mooted and passed. The key pillar of democracy has thus been converted into a political plaything to avoid possible registration of a no-confidence motion against the government. A couple of ordinances issued two months ago and then immediately retracted after fierce criticism also tried to overrule the constitutional spirit meant to prevent unhealthy break-ups of political parties.
The president's unquenchable love for conspicuous pompousness and the government's unflinching support to the very cause has utterly disfigured the very facade of Nepal's republicanism. All these constitutional provisions and expectations now trampled on will require a long time to revive in spite of sincere endeavours for the same. For now, the constitution, therefore, is effectively in a coma. The main opposition party in Parliament, Nepali Congress, is also equally irresponsible for its failure to raise an effective voice to stop this derailment of democracy.
Regardless of whether or not the ruling Nepal Communist Party technically remains united or legally breaks up immediately, the country, in essence, enters a new phase of political instability. The euphemisms of political stability and a strong majority government, and more importantly, their hypothetical benefits for economic growth and the general well-being of the people, have by now dissipated. Even in the event of a change in government, it would be naive to expect dramatic improvements in governance and public service delivery, including Covid-19 containment, given the already tested faces of the potential candidates in the fray. Nevertheless, it will mark an era of Oli's impossible government.
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