Whose turn next?The politics of agreement ensures that every person willing to hang on will have his day
Nepal’s post-conflict peace-building pathway seems to have taken all the wrong turns, creating one of the best ‘lessons learnt’ in development lingo, which would be called ‘failure’ in normal language. The recent removal of Sushil Gyewali as chief of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) is an emblematic case of a negative political path dependency characterising Nepal’s post-conflict history. Gyewali had replaced Govind Raj Pokharel in December 2015 after the UML came to power. Pokharel, who had originally been appointed by the Nepali Congress, has returned to his old post. Thanks to the politics of agreement, the NRA has seen frequent changes n leadership in little over a year while only 8 percent of the 700,000 earthquake affected families have received reconstruction support, and any continue to languish in misery.
The politics of agreement, combined with haphazard sequencing of political processes, has brought us to yet another deadlock. A functional democracy demands common national goals agreeable to all political parties, a constructively critical opposition and strong institutions. If an institution with an emergency humanitarian mandate suffers political interference of this nature, what can be said of other institutions?
With the politics of agreement as the cornerstone, every dog with a willingness to hang on shall have his day. There is no need to win elections or maintain a transparent political career accountable to one’s constituency. In the absence of a clear majority, a brief stint in power and the perks associated with it are possible. Political coalitions thus born need not deliver anything, as other parties will soon collaborate to bring them down to have their chance in the political hot seat. And the cycle repeats. With the number of political parties and the electoral system we have adopted, the politics of agreement will last a long time, and political stability and operationalisation of functional institutions will remain a mirage.
Nepali political parties exhibited a poor sense of judgement in sequencing the post-conflict state building process. The promulgation of the constitution despite Madhesi grievances ensured that amendment would become a major political agenda the day it was passed. As the months passed, stances over federal restructuring have further solidified, and differences seem irreconcilable. It appears that no political party now sees any value in federal restructuring. The three major political parties were advocating local elections even before the Local Level Restructuring Commission had delivered its final report. Politicians find it useful to obfuscate the understanding of technical aspects of the constitution and the state building process because this gives them space for political manouvring. Depending on the winds of change, they can pick any of the ambiguities and start rallying.
The so-called democratic parties of Nepal have mutated into utterly non-democratic bodies without any accountability to the people. The recent convention of the Nepali Congress (NC), which was completed without voting, is symptomatic of democratic decadence. Loyalists got the posts, making it easy for the central leaders to throttle critical undercurrents within the party. By distributing favours in this manner, top leaders secured upward accountability of the youth and local leaders, sparing themselves the trouble of maintaining transparency, having technical vision and planning Nepal’s future based on the constitution. For the local leaders, this made certain that as long as some top leaders favoured them, they need not worry about accountability to their constituency. It is a win-win situation for loyalists both ways; the only losers are the people.
We the Nepali people seem to have adopted passive acceptance as our major coping strategy. We have shown the height of patience when more than 17,000 of our compatriots lost their lives to the elusive promise of change. We waited patiently for almost a decade for the constitution to be written. We, the patient survivors of the 2015 earthquake, are now used to the leisurely pace of political decisions and bureaucratic apathy in reconstruction.
What is also true about us is that we will not read the constitution nor try and envision the shape of our future, confront our political leaders and seek accountability. We will endure and continuously condone all the omissions by the political party we favour. We would rather buy the divisive political rhetoric and clamour over the shifting of imaginary borders than think about concrete ways to ensure better use of resources and service delivery to the perpetually marginalised areas of our country.
If politics in a relatively democratic country has a corrupting influence on development, then the citizens have blood on their hands. We select the wrong leaders and continue to back them. We refrain from collaborating for change, because sometimes the poltical party of our liking may not be leading it, and at other times, the issues may not be directly relevant to us. We cast our ballots, but watch apathetically when a person who lost the elections becomes a minister as part of the politics of agreement. When we take to the streets and shut down Nepal, it is often for the wrong reasons.
Politics is at the heart of everything, and like everywhere else, it can be very corrupting when it is unaccountable. It is high time for us to decide whether we want to remain an ignorant flock led by ignorant leaders, unwilling to take charge of understanding and explaining the possibilities that exist for Nepal. Our political support needs to be backed by the faith that our political leaders have a realistic vision, engage in contentious issues accountably, build on existing structures and processes and use the new media to explain their vision in a constructive way for people to understand and extend informed support to their political agenda. Development is possible only with transparent, constructive and accountable political engagement; and it is up to us to shed our apathy and decide how we want to bring this about.
Karki is a freelance writer