Alternative parties under game theoryThe Rabi Lamichhane saga has led many to believe that the Rastriya Swatantra Party is no different to traditional parties.
Vibhav Pradhan & Arjun Kumar Thapa
The emergence and popularity of alternative parties like the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) show voters’ desperate willingness to embrace newer parties. But Rabi Lamichhane’s recent attack on the free press and the recent tumultuous political developments highlight the fickle grounds on which alternative political parties base their standings. Despite promising an “alternative” to the “traditional” parties, their political infighting for cabinet seats, inability to challenge the old guards, and instead joining hands with the same parties after saying “No, Not Again”, the trajectory of many alternative parties shows how difficult it is for them to become a bonafide alternative political force. Many have questioned whether these newer parties can be called alternative as they demonstrate similar characteristics to older parties—led by a cult of a personality, un-inclusive structural organisation, and imbibing on a regressive and status-quo political agenda.
Given this, former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s seemingly positive stance towards Lamichhane, while on the other hand being shunned by current Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal shows that RSP is still at the mercy of the power players, who seem to be almost relishing at the seemingly aimless position they have cornered the party into. Lamichhane was also unable to leverage the popular mandate received by RSP in demanding kept promises in exchange for continuing support to the coalition government. Following Lamichhane’s citizenship dispute, what transpired is that while RSP lost its negotiation leverage and is no longer in the government, it awkwardly continues to support the current government.
The beelining and last-minute closed-door meetings done by Lamichhane to whether to stay in the government, withdraw support from the government, or switch to the opposition suggests how he and his party are losing a large battle. The whole Lamichhane saga has cast doubt on public support for RSP, leading many to perceive RSP as no different than other traditional parties in terms of its unapologetic and at-any-cost grab for power and posts.
Students of political science are aware of “Game Theory” in political contexts. Game theory is a framework for analysing and understanding strategic decision-making in situations where the outcome depends on the choices of two or more individuals or groups. A popular example of a game theory framework is the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”, which describes a situation in which two individuals or parties have competing incentives that leads them to choose a worse outcome for both.
Here, RSP, along with regional new parties like Ranjeeta Shrestha’s Nagarik Unmukti Party and CK Raut’s Janamat Party, are all “prisoners” with the common goal of proving their worth by transferring their popular mandate into executive positions in Parliament and government. These parties were voted as alternative forces to the old guard and the old system. It is natural for them to want to collaborate with the ruling parties to implement their election agendas. But the series of events that have unravelled over the past month-departure of RSP from the federal government, Nagarik Unmukti's withdrawal of support to the ruling coalition in Sudurpaschim government, virtual non-participation of Janamat Party from the start, and almost extinction of one-time popular Bibeksheel Sajha Party means that all these new parties will have no active representation in the federal government. While they continue supporting the ruling coalition, their absence in the cabinet positions means the same old faces from the same older parties will rule over the people. RSP has been set right in the traps of the prisoners’ guards whose power-hungry self-interests have remained intact.
The only dilemma for traditional party bigwigs was to emerge from this mess without losing their leverage while eliminating RSP’s popular appeal and power. Thankfully for them, RSP’s one-man show yielded to their desires and pulled out of the government. It also tremendously helped bigwigs that Lamichhane himself chose to conveniently blame and shift the public anger at the media instead. Unlike the proverbial “killing two birds with one stone”, in this case, the stone got crushed by two birds.
Such developments will undoubtedly impact the alternative political movement, whether it is a strategic move by the established parties to dethrone the newcomers from power or a self-destructive mistake by a rookie newcomer. It was thought that the new political force in Nepal would deliver what the established parties had thus far failed to. But without the opportunity to prove their worth in the government, the alternative political movement in Nepal will suffer if the new parties fail to rise above the established norms of political mudslinging and backstabbing.
The new parties must maintain their commitment to voters and not be sucked into the same old petty politics of power and cabinet post-merry-go-round. RSP’s electoral success in the 2022 elections will be assessed by how smoothly they course their path ahead in the next five years, hopefully fulfilling their promises to voters. Given the reality now, RSP and other alternative parties could choose not to be silent bystanders, instead opting to be an effective opposition force in the Parliament. They need to realise the larger game being played here that aims to sustain the monopolistic status quo of the traditional parties. Only with this should they overcome their dilemmas and aim for a common goal of a change that got them the public votes.