Democracy as arithmeticFrom the centre to the provinces, political parties have turned democracy into a mindless race for power.
Nomenclature is not the only thing Koshi Province is heated over at the moment. For the past month, it has been a centre of much political consternation, even affecting national politics, as top leaders of major parties are deeply invested in the race to make and break governments in the province. Uddhab Thapa has come back to power, riding on the back of the magic number of 47, in a 93-strong provincial assembly, after getting Baburam Gautam, the Speaker, to resign from his post.
Gautam’s defection from the Speaker’s dais to the provincial cabinet, where he has clinched the post of the Minister of Finance after hard bargaining with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, is a reiteration of deceit to democracy. Earlier, even when he held the position of the assembly Speaker, he had signed in Thapa’s support, a constitutional overreach that the Supreme Court had to correct.
But the road ahead is certain to be bumpy for Thapa, as there are doubts whether he will get the majority when he attempts to gain the mandatory vote of confidence within a month. To check the Uddhab Thapa-led alliance of the Nepali Congress, the Maoist-Centre and sundry parties from getting majority, the CPN-UML, the main opposition, is likely to force Sirjana Danuwar, the Deputy Speaker of the assembly, to resign too. That will effectively render the assembly headless, as the Speaker’s position is already vacant, and the alliance cannot afford to elect one as that would deprive it of a majority in the assembly. Such an impasse will effectively start the race to power all over again, and could lead to midterm elections if the parties run out of options to outdo one another.
Although the idea of the midterms is not unconstitutional, it will yet again establish that democratic politics is a zero-sum game in Nepal. Above everything else, legality is the domain of ethics, and that should not be breached. Political practices that overlook ethics and depend on deceit to fulfil their self-serving goals are bound to create instability and uncertainty. Above all, they instil in citizens a sense of dejection and mistrust towards politics—and that is dangerous in a democracy.
Moreover, if the democratic process continues to be just a tool for the political parties to rise to power, it will lead to a crisis in the legitimacy of federalism. At a time when there is widespread scepticism about federalism’s relevance in a resource-starved country like Nepal, the Koshi consternation has left the impression that the provinces are nothing but a duplication of the rat-race to power that is the “so-called” democratic process at the centre.
The impasse also has to do with an interesting mathematical miscalculation on the part of the constitutionalists and political leaders who decided on the number 93 while allocating seats for the Koshi provincial assembly. It looks like they did not factor in the position of the Speaker, let alone imagine an impasse like the current one, when they settled on the odd number. It is perhaps something for the framers of the constitution to mull over. More worryingly, the whirlwind race for power—be it in provinces or at the federal level—calls into question the legitimacy of parliamentary democracy itself.