Public confessionsThe election results have come as a complete bolt from the blue for the Nepali Congress (NC), Nepal’s oldest democratic force.
The election results have come as a complete bolt from the blue for the Nepali Congress (NC), Nepal’s oldest democratic force. Now, the NC is in dire need of retrospection as it begins to redefine its ideological lines and reform its organisational structure. While the results have been a hard pill to swallow for most NC party leaders and supporters, many have been viewing it as a blessing in disguise. Perhaps now, young, capable minds will be allowed space in this party that has been spearheaded by a hoary set of leaders.
It is necessary for the Prime Minister and NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba to identify the party’s shortcomings and dissect the numerous reasons as to why such unfavourable results were obtained. This must be done immediately. Only then will the NC be able to transform itself on all fronts and take up the role of the opposition in Parliament.
Calls to retrospect
PM Deuba, against all odds, was successful in holding elections that have more or less cemented the foundations of the new Constitution and have led to the realisation of a federal democratic structure of governance. The NC leadership faced critical conditions prior to the polls, with the Madhes-based forces adamantly boycotting the elections until their demands of a constitution amendment were met, and with the formation of an election alliance between the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre), NC’s coalition partner. However, the NC leadership took these events in their stride and were successful in holding provincial and federal elections within the stipulated time frame.
Another major challenge for the NC was presented in the form of UML leader KP Oli, who proved to be a charismatic orator with populist agendas. His public stance against the trade blockade imposed by India to express its dissatisfaction over Nepal’s new Constitution was effective in galvanising local support. This ‘anti-India’ sentiment was further fuelled when Oli decided to establish a more intimate relationship with our northern neighbour, China. His rather pseudo-nationalistic posture somehow managed to gain popularity, and he often played the China card against our southern neighbour. These dimensions of a populist autocratic personality displayed by the UML leader will have to be kept in check by the opposition.
There were several other decisive factors that shaped public sentiment against the NC. Deuba’s bloated Cabinet that was created to accommodate all of his coalition partners, the controversial decision to impeach a chief justice without proper justification, heavy political meddling in the police force and bureaucracy, and the NC’s rather desperate move to align with the former rebels for state power, were exactly what the public disapproved of. Poor governance and a lost sense of direction was reflected in Deuba’s fourth stint as Prime Minister. The NC will have to admit its mistakes here, and pledge to correct itself.
When Deuba beat his counterpart to assume party leadership, one of his strongest agendas was to vigorously reform its organisational strength. But almost two years later, party departments where hundreds of cadres should be serving still lie vacant—just as they used to under the previous leadership. The party line still has to be reorganised as per the new federal and local body structures. Party office bearers are also yet to be nominated, and internal factional politics is as rife as ever. This introduces the question of whether the NC’s party statute will have to be reformed in order to give the president more power in such cases. Currently, decisions regarding party departments and office bearer nominations require a majority in the NC’s central committee if they are to be passed. Deuba currently lacks the majority to move ahead unilaterally. In other words, his hands are tied.
In the run up to elections and poll ticket selections, the NC’s factional cracks resurfaced. Short-sightedness led to leaders lobbying only for those close to them. By doing so, they failed to attain the support of the people on the ground and also lost the backing of their own cadres. There were accusations of leaders engaging in corruption while handling ticket distributions. Deserving candidates were side-lined for those who were loyal but inept. Massive dissatisfaction was visible and only served to demoralise thousands of long-serving party cadres as well as well-wishers. This, to an extent, was also reflected by the voting pattern.
Once the two large communist forces joined hands to contest elections, the NC was faced with another uphill task in presenting a clear political agenda to the masses. The NC’s lacklustre performance in government added to its woes. Internal partisan politics reared its ugly head. The idea of a stable government put forth by the two communist forces after announcing their unification also proved to be an enticing factor for voters. And why wouldn’t it for the citizens of a country who have seen a new government almost every year for the past two decades?
The recent electoral loss may be a difficult defeat for the NC to accept, however, many now see it as an opportunity for the historically decorated force to redeem itself—both externally and internally. The left alliance is in government, and already its leaders have made several controversial statements regarding a possible change in the Constitution to a presidential system as a form of government. Such propositions have raised questions as to whether the real intention of the communist leaders is to gradually transform into an autocratic leadership. The NC has voiced the dangers of such propositions, and rightly so. It must continue to do so.
Communist leaders entertaining the idea of ‘discovering a special socialist economic model’ have raised a few eyebrows in the international arena as well. In all seriousness, the communist model of economy has been deemed unsuccessful around the globe, and we would certainly not want to experiment with such failed models. The communist forces will have to be warned of these dummy runs and authoritarian behaviours because we believe that democracy, with all its flaws, is still the best political system.
In all, our generation would like to keep politics simple with ideological debates, economic agendas, accountability, transparency, good governance and a strong rule of law. If the NC’s leadership plays a successful role as a watchdog and prioritises these six issues from the opposition’s bench, there is no reason why the party will not once again win the hearts of the people.
Ghimire is pursuing an MSc in International Political Economy at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore