Noxious politics hits the nadirWe need a wholly new approach to regain the sanctity, independence and efficacy of our institutions.
The current government, led by KP Sharma Oli, has during the last 39 months failed the country on every possible front—constitutionalism, governance and economy. It has destroyed the climate of political trust, undermined and degenerated democratic institutions, derailed the constitutional process, and de-institutionalised the federal polity. As the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic rampages the country, the government continues to fail to protect its citizens. This is due not only to the state's chronic incapacity but also, and more pronouncedly, to the deliberate attempts at rent-seeking by the people in power while procuring and supplying medicine, health equipment and, lately, vaccines.
In the initial days, Oli harped on the popular mandate of a two-thirds majority to his government as if he had garnered it single-handedly. In fact, the electoral mandate was an outcome of the alliance between the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre under a (then clandestine) power-sharing arrangement. According to the agreement with Chairman Puspa Kamal Dahal of the Maoist Centre, the latter half of the five-year tenure of the government would be led by Dahal, which Oli breached before the deadline arrived. It is the main breeding ground for what can be termed as callous political prostitution manifested in recent (un)parliamentary exercises in both federal and provincial legislatures.
However, Prime Minister Oli did not survive the parliamentary confidence vote on Monday. It was only a raw arithmetic outcome though since almost irreparable damage to the sanctity of the democratic system has already been done. Earlier, Oli not only prematurely dissolved the federal Parliament but also refused to take moral responsibility for the same even after the Constitutional Bench in the Supreme Court unequivocally declared it unconstitutional. He introduced several ordinances either abruptly abrogating an ongoing session of the House or right before the commencement of a new session. Some ordinances, including the one to amend the provisions related to the quorum in the Constitutional Council—the body that appoints the heads and office-bearers in constitutional entities and comprises the opposition party leader in Parliament and the chief justice of the Supreme Court, among others, for the sake of impartiality—were specifically designed to thwart a key concept of balance and separation of power in a democracy.
Oli's alliance with Dahal and other detractors in the CPN-UML finally ended with the former's decision to dissolve the Parliament. Another court verdict that did not recognise the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) as a political entity formed after uniting the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre legally separated them again. A group in the CPN-UML led by former prime ministers Jhala Nath Khanal and Madhav Kumar Nepal appeared determined to thwart Oli's machinations to stick to power. This led to severe factionalism in the national as well as provincial power politics, particularly among constituent factions in the erstwhile NCP. Oli's penchant to stick to power by all possible means defied universally accepted ideas of value, integrity and morality in politics.
This, in turn, led to horse-trading even in provincial assemblies to make or break governments. Unruly lawmakers were expelled by one party and embraced by the other. As a result, about 40 percent of the members of the federal cabinet are now non-parliamentarians. Similar is the case in the provincial governments in Lumbini and Karnali and, possibly, in other provinces in the days to come. The 'confidence' votes and distribution of ministerial berths were invariably bartered with lucre everywhere, within and across the parties.
As the government(s) exhausted entire political energy to win existential battles, governance took the ultimate backseat. The advent of Oli's political adventurism coincided with the surge of the first wave of Covid-19 infections in Nepal, and the political instability that followed appears to be climaxing while a far more dangerous second wave of the pandemic grips the nation.
Granted, there are innumerable capacity constraints for a poor country like Nepal, facing a pandemic of a huge magnitude. In these difficult times, the least the government can do is to put sincere and optimum efforts to assuage the people. On the contrary, the Oli government only used the pandemic as an excuse to first secure undue financial interests.
The government has been reluctant to mobilise its diplomatic channels and the country's goodwill among friendly development partners to procure diagnostic kits, medicine, hospital and personal protection equipment, oxygen and vaccines on time. The concerned ministries and the entities created to tackle the pandemic were seen directly involved in awarding the huge procurement contracts, often with inflated prices, to their cronies.. The recent episode of a commission agent, considered to be close to the prime minister, obstructing the vaccine import only presented a grotesquely inhumane face of the government.
Similar episodes of corruption involving the Omni Group in the past were never investigated. The federal government deprived the subnational governments of their roles in the fight against the second wave of the pandemic. This, despite the subnational governments exhibiting fairly satisfactory performance in containing the spread of the virus and managing the treatment of the patients. These achievements had a fair scope of consolidation, which was deliberately undermined this time around by the anti-federal mindset.
The country now reels under a grave crisis, with a shortage of oxygen cylinders, hospital beds, ventilators, medical equipment and isolation centres. Tracing and testing of the infected in the community has stopped altogether. There is no sign of vaccines arriving anytime soon even as infection and fatality rates continue to rise. Impunity and corruption run amok, in tandem. At this time of unprecedented crisis, the nation has been orphaned thanks to the absolute void of governance and the volte-face of the incumbent government when it comes to fulfiling its responsibilities.
The cumulative outcome of all these malaises is so draconian that the political, state-architecture and constitutional systems will take years to return to the track even if the country undertakes a decisive course correction. The realignment and repolarisation of the political forces and groups is an inevitable but time-consuming process. The degeneration of national/constitutional institutions has been so devastating that we need a wholly new approach to regain their sanctity, independence and efficacy; and a precondition for the same is: The political prostitution must stop now.