Refocus effortsThe ruling party must not allow the political drama to overshadow much-needed efforts against the novel coronavirus.
The past seven days have seen a whirlwind of political drama that would put many soaps to shame. It all began when President Bidhya Devi Bhandari colluded with Prime Minister KP Oli to push out highly controversial ordinances. The ordinances being what they were—one related to the decision-making process of the Constitutional Council and the other the stability of political parties between elections—showed how Oli’s ambitions know no bounds. The prime minister was willing to use his position to split up another party, just so that he could stand to secure his seat, amidst major differences with other factions in the ruling Nepal Communist Party. What’s worse, he did so by asking his cronies—one of them the recently retired chief of Nepal Police—to take a man against his will and bring him to Kathmandu, in the middle of a pandemic-induced lockdown.
Oli’s actions have been inexcusable. The potential consequences of his actions were so severe that it forced a hasty merger between two parties whose very similar ideologies and manifestos had not been enough to join them in the past. Moreover, it received censure from his own party members and from members of his own cabinet. The actions leading up to the passing of this first decree—the alleged kidnapping, the politicisation of the office of the president and the secret manoeuvrings being the major ones—has been so contentious that the ordinance regarding the Constitutional Council has largely failed to garner a similar amount of rebuke. But the second ordinance showed how Oli is willing to undermine constitutional provisions, which demands cooperation with the main opposition, to fill constitutional bodies with his own people.
Now, one week later, the measures, countermeasures and negotiations in the aftermath of Oli’s moves have taken the front seat. At the Nepal Communist Party Secretariat meeting on April 29, Prime Minister Oli, in response to calls from other members for him to step down, spoke of his intention to resign soon. In a twist, he proposed the names of Bamdev Gautam and Madhav Kumar Nepal for the roles of the prime minister and party chair respectively. Oli’s latest game seems to be an attempt to buy himself more time, by creating more political drama. The move aims to appease a long-disgruntled senior NCP leader in Nepal while sidelining current NCP co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal. It also ensures further controversy and infighting. Gautam lost parliament elections in 2017. Any move by Oli to make him his successor will mean more machinations, not to mention another contentious constitutional amendment, diverting focus from pressing issues to petty politics.
In this unfolding drama, all, especially the leaders of the ruling party, seem to have forgotten that the world is currently in the grips of a viral pandemic. The need of the hour is a stable and effective federal government that can coordinate and communicate a unified response, to be enforced by local and provincial governments. Nepal is suffering greatly due to the enforced lockdown. Migrant and daily wage workers do not know when and where their next job will come from. The middle class is worried about dipping into savings, as corporations and organisations attempt to minimise the burden of diminished margins. Cases of the SARS-CoV-2 infected continue to rise in Udayapur, even as the rest of the country has not reached a level of testing and tracing to allow normalcy to return.
Although the prime minister’s moves deserve rebuke and appropriate punishment, this controversy should not be allowed to create more political drama. The ruling party leaders must choose the most stable action going forward, one with integrity and in haste, so that the discussion can go back to overcoming the current public health emergency. Instead of letting political games get the better of them, there is an urgent need to refocus the conversation on the SARS-CoV-2 virus, ways to offset its effects, and plans to allow a safe and responsible easing of the lockdown.