Of betrayals and retributionsEconomy, employment, and public service delivery remain under the shadow of the farce that is Nepali politics.
In the run-up to the presidential polls scheduled for March 10, Nepal’s politics has witnessed a dramatic turn of events marked by double-crosses, betrayals, retributions and avenges. The ruling alliance of the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the CPN-UML, along with four other parties that had formed the government on December 25, broke apart within just 60 days. Last Friday, four ministers representing the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, one of the key constituents of the ruling alliance, resigned. Prime Minister and Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal created a new alliance of eight parties, including the Nepali Congress as the main new entrant, baffling UML President KP Sharma Oli. Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Paudel on Saturday registered his candidacy on behalf of the new eight-party alliance, the prime minister himself and other key leaders of the alliance proposing his candidacy. The UML, too, has fielded Subas Nembang as its presidential candidate.
The UML has now decided to pull out of the government after following Prime Minister Dahal’s last-minute diktat to Foreign Minister Bimala Rai Paudyal to cancel her trip to Geneva, where she was scheduled to attend a high-level session of the UN Human Rights Council. The Rastriya Swatantra Party, meanwhile, plans to continue supporting the government, at least for the time being.
Dictates of history
The Dahal-Oli relationship during the last decade, nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, is rooted in opportunist politics rather than trust and mutual respect. Notably, five major constituents in the new coalition—the Nepali Congress, the CPN (Maoist Centre), the CPN-United Socialist, the People’s Socialist Party and the National Peoples’ Front—were in an alliance formed in April 2021 to dislodge Oli from power and unitedly fought the last November polls. It was Dahal who had then developed discord with Oli on a similar allegation of breach of agreement of vacating the prime ministerial berth midway through the five-year tenure in the previous House of Representatives. In the November polls, the electoral coalition won 136 seats in the House, just two seats shy of a simple majority to form the government. They broke apart thanks to the ambition of none other than Dahal himself.
Next, Dahal tried to coax Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba into supporting him to become the prime minister in the first half of the five-year term but in vain. Dahal was unwilling to wait for his turn in the latter half of the term as proposed by Deuba. Instead, he reused Oli to forge a new alliance despite the outstanding bitterness in their relationship. This was the opportunity Oli was desperately waiting for: To dismantle the alliance formed against the UML. The interests of Dahal and Oli had converged here, and both succeeded in getting what they wanted out of the new alliance. Dahal’s latest move to ditch Oli is seen as revenge out of the deep-rooted distrust between them.
Even now, Dahal was reportedly feeling increasingly uncomfortable in running the government due to Oli’s ostentatious highhandedness as the indispensable “kingmaker”, and the humiliation meted out to him on the weight of two main coalition partners, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and the Rastriya Swatantra Party. Lately, Dahal has given a fairly plausible explanation for his complications, doubts and confusion in working with an alliance made up of forces that do not accept federalism and democratic republicanism. This bitter experience and realisation over two months, therefore, forced him to create the latest coalition of “all democratic forces who played a role in making Nepal a federal democratic republic”.
Even this cursory chronicling of events should amply manifest the incessant double-crosses, chicaneries and betrayals that pervade contemporary Nepali politics. This trend of making or breaking political alliances just for power and parliamentary arithmetic sans ideological and philosophical rationale has proved detrimental to institutionalising federal democratic republicanism, ensuring good governance and bringing economic prosperity. Such irresponsible and unethical acts by the so-called mainstream political parties have given rise to the right-wing, “fake news” politics of populism.
It is unbecoming of the major parties to make the ceremonial presidency a bet of bargaining power as if it were the head of the state with an executive role. Two unwarranted practices have already made Nepal’s presidency essentially unrepublican. First, two presidents of the past were often seen to employ their discretionary powers in state affairs. President Bidya Devi Bhandari was known to protect the interests of her-comrade-in-arms, KP Sharma Oli, even at the cost of constitutionalism and republicanism. This, for all the wrong reasons, seemed to have incentivised the high-profile politicians to hanker for the post. Second, instead of searching for a relatively unifying figure of national stature, the rat race of active politicians from large parties to grab the post only increases the risk of the president’s meddling with the executive authority against the constitutional spirit of separation and balance of power.
The frequent swapping of political bedfellows for the vested interests of a handful of dictatorial-minded party chieftains has had its toll on the much aspired political stability, constitutionalism and public service delivery. The change in the political equation at the centre is all set to have cascading effects on the provincial governments, given that all seven provinces have precariously hung Parliaments.
At present, both federal and provincial Parliaments are effectively without business for the respective governments’ failure to moot bills for legislation. Parliament members register their presence only to collect meeting allowances. They barely enter into the chamber, resulting in the frequent postponement or cancellation of meetings for want of the mandatory minimum number to run the House business. Pressing issues of a rapid downward spiral in economic productivity, employment and public service delivery are under a constant shadow of highly charged political dramas. Twenty-nine changes in government in as many years should explain the plights and pangs of institutionalising democracy and achieving prosperity in Nepal. The current medley of change in political baton doesn’t foster any optimism either.