Scorecard 2019: How have the government and the ruling party fared?The Oli-led government’s performance has been lacking, and the ruling party’s tilt towards authoritarianism is most worrisome.
Today is the first day of 2020. And, as this new year and decade begin, it is an opportune time to review the federal government’s performance in 2019. To be sure, the majority government, which will be entering its third year of a five-year term, has made some strides. Yet, it has been woefully lacking in many respects—especially given the large mandate the people gave to it.
It seems that the large mandate itself has been misinterpreted by the government and the various bodies that it controls. While the people elected the Nepal Communist Party in good faith, hoping that it will finally bring political stability and the prosperity that it had promised, the KP Oli-led administration has been mired in controversies for most of last year.
One of the quirkier sides of the administration was shown in August, when Oli became the first prime minister to ask members of his Cabinet to sign performance contracts. This was implemented even though officials pointed out how stability in the bureaucracy and a lack of political interference would be more effective than such ‘publicity stunts’. Then, when Oli reshuffled his Cabinet in late November, Labour Minister Gokarna Bista—one of the federal ministers delivering a strong performance—was sacked. Obviously, the federal government has failed in its quest to evaluate the Cabinet based on performance.
The government managed to pull off a miracle by hosting the South Asian Games—the venues being completed just in time and Nepali athletes having to rely on shoddy or borrowed equipment. The administration was successful in hosting several high-ranking officials from India, the United States, and China, among others; the most notable one was definitely Chinese President Xi Jinping. While the visits themselves could be considered diplomatic successes, not much came off these visits. While the ruling party and Oli have been pushing for prosperity through connectivity—rail networks with China and India, and domestic water networks supported by India—there were no concrete developments towards these.
In the federal parliament, the ruling party could not muster enough momentum to pass crucial bills to strengthen Nepal’s federal structure—perhaps because Oli has been attempting to undermine federalism from the start, with renewed comments against the structure in 2019. Moreover, after Krishna Bahadur Mahara was forced to resign as speaker after being charged with attempted rape, the NCP wasn’t able to solve internal differences and find a replacement. It still hasn’t, after all this time.
But while its non-performance in many sectors has been troubling, what has really alarmed civil society is the ruling party’s edging towards authoritarianism. Examples abound to show the NCP and government’s totalitarian tendencies. A highly controversial Guthi Bill was finally cancelled in June after mass protests. But this was a one-off incident where the two-thirds majority government had to bow down due to popular protest.
Many controversial bills that were tabled in 2019 remain, and the government seems hell-bent on passing them. A quartet of pending legislation—the IT Management Bill, the Media Council Bill, the Mass Media Bill and the Nepal Special Service Bill—are more than likely to be discussed in the winter session of the federal parliament. The government is likely to attempt to push them through. But they present the most danger to a democratic Nepal since the country’s days under a dictatorship. These bills combined have the power to silence a free press, stifle dissent, cripple communication and turn the country into an authoritarian surveillance state.
As the country moves into a new year and a new decade, it must unite against totalitarianism. If the ruling party is given its way, there may not be a space to speak out in the future. The government, and ruling party, too must reevaluate its priorities. It was elected to achieve development through political stability and through the implementation of constitutional provisions—the main one being federalism. It must not waste the remaining two and a half years on anti-democratic practices. Hope remains that this new year will mark a positive turn for the ruling party, the government and, most importantly, for the country.
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