Young voters, old leadersAge is not the only problem of our graying leaders. They also don’t have anything new to offer.
As preparations for the November 20 federal and provincial elections gather momentum, top leaders across the political spectrum surely sense a change in the electorate’s mood. Baburam Bhattarai recently warned that anyone could be swept away as the new tide of youth-centric politics becomes a reality. But old habits die hard, and the elderly leaders, while seemingly rattled by the electoral performances of a few young and independent candidates, are eager to throw their hats into the ring one last time, as they desperately try to hold on to the political space that should now be occupied by the representatives of the younger generation.
The most idiosyncratic leader among the top brass must be Ram Chandra Poudel, who has expressed his "desire" to be prime minister even as he is at the fag end of his 70s. He has been at the centre of Nepali politics for long, failing to make a mark even when was deputy prime minister. He could very well retire from active politics. But no, his wish to be at the helm has not satiated despite his string of embarrassing defeats—as a prime ministerial candidate, a federal parliamentary elections candidate, and a Nepali Congress presidential candidate. He seems to have had enough of playing a permanent sidekick in Nepali politics.
Echoing Poudel's desire is his contemporary and partyman Sher Bahadur Deuba, who, believing his astrologer's prophecy of seven prime ministerial terms, is contesting again. CPN (Maoist Centre) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal claims the country wants to see one last stint of his political leadership. CPN-UML chief KP Sharma Oli seems so sure about his return to Parliament that he does not even consider it necessary to talk about retirement or making way for the younger generation. No matter how different their political ideologies, the elderly are each other's comrades-in-arms when it comes to occupying the space they have held onto for years or decades.
Age, though, is not the only problematic factor in Nepali politics today. A general disregard for equitable representation pervades almost all political parties despite their tall claims about inclusiveness. Not only do they fail to ensure adequate representation of those from linguistic, religious, caste and sexual minorities, they also refuse to leave the space for women as patriarchal gerontocracy is still the order of the day. As importantly, nor do they have anything new or exciting to offer.
The world has moved far ahead of the times when these elderly leaders came into politics, and all they have even today is the same old claim to have spent a certain number of years in jail while fighting for democracy. Sadly, the old generation leaders continue to maintain a grip over national politics. Today's politics demands a freshness of perspectives on society, economy and environment, among other issues. It is an injustice to the predominantly young electorate to have to repeatedly put up with today's gerontocracy.
As we commemorate the International Day of Older Persons on Saturday, it makes sense to ponder whether we should let the old netas continue to lead us, knowing all too well that they are well past their prime and cannot give anything new or valuable to the country.