Prelude to dictatorshipThe opposition and the media do not see how the rule of law has been trampled upon
The way the KP Sharma Oli-led government is now functioning was not at all unexpected. Right after the election results were issued which showed an emphatic victory to what is now the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), there was concern and fear about how it would operate. Concerns over the very future of democracy and fear of vindictiveness, retribution and repressive use of state authority were already looming large.
A political prediction made even before this government was formed will perhaps indicate the air of suspicion that prevailed then:” The governments at each level, from the centre to the local, including the president and the House speaker, for the next five years will come from the same party, and the presence of the main opposition party in Parliament is numerically feeble. This will resemble a leviathan single party rule. The egotism in the entire state mechanism to be instilled by such electoral success and resultant indiscriminate decision-making will indispensably make the ‘communist’ government a dictator for all practical purposes. In Nepal’s context, the risk of such a dictatorship not restraining itself to remain ‘benevolent’ is extremely high.
Perilous times ahead
In a sense, dictatorship was a natural consequence of communists’ capture of the state, albeit through the ballot. The only hope is that the dictatorship turns into a benevolent one. Unfortunately, this was not the case. By now, it is not difficult to see that the priorities of the government are clearly to achieve a totalitarian grip on power through every means possible: fear mongering among the bureaucrats and security personnel, control over the media and civil society and revenge upon those who dare to criticise the government.
Only a few extreme excesses of the government are enough to establish that Nepal is now heading towards ‘an elected dictatorship’. The ‘arrest’ of the vice-chancellor of Mahendra Sanskrit University (MSU) from the departure lounge of Kathmandu airport to prevent him from attending an international conference in Canada, the prime minister’s implied cynicism that he would be least bothered even if Dr Govind KC dies while undertaking a fast unto death to have the medical education bill passed as agreed before and the government’s calculated imperviousness to the deteriorating health condition of Ganga Maya Adhikari of Gorkha who is demanding that the killers of her son Krishna Prasad be brought to justice, among others, are glaring examples of assault by the state against the rule of law, intellectual freedom and human rights.
Even more worrisome is the fact that Nepalis have to live with the same government at least for the next four and half years which seems determined to expand these antics than to amend them. Oli’s ambition to obtain absolute control of state power seems to be evolving according to his plan in a very systematic way. First, Oli and his team have been successful in diverting attention away from the nation’s pressing challenges like the high trade deficit which has crossed the $10 billion mark and the balance of payments situation that is becoming worse. These issues are very skilfully skipped bythe prime minister and ministers in their hours-long public speeches, putatively meant to underscore the official platitude of ‘happy Nepali, prosperous Nepal’.
Second, the government is employing all its efforts to put across a very strong message that criticism in any form, regardless of its merit, will not be tolerated and critics will not be spared of its wrath. Such intolerance is not spewed to the opposition parties, the media and independent thinkers but within the NCP rank and file who even meekly beg to disagree with the all powerful KP Oli. And third, Oli intends to see that his verbal diktats overrule the laws, norms and practices, as happened during the MSU vice-chancellor’s arrest.
No end in sight
The opposition and the media alike have failed to see how the rule of law has been trampled upon, encouraging impunity and up ending the democratic balance of power. For example, in a bid to instantaneously diffuse the Ganga Maya Adhikari case, ruling party leaders advised the accused, one Chhabilal Poudel, to surrender to the Supreme Court last Sunday. But he has been reportedly assured minimum incarceration and the earliest possible ‘pardon’, citing the precedent of Maoist leader Balkrishna Dhungel’s early release in a similar murder case.
Also, on the economic and federal management fronts, the government is engaging in policy tapering so as to fulfil its ulterior totalitarian motives. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the country is heading towards a budgetary crisis and will need international support to meet is substantially increased finances. At this crucial hour, the government is changing its foreign aid policy, not only giving implicit advantage to the two giant neighbours over other multilateral or bilateral international partners, but also intentionally creating unavoidable traps to resort to single party funding, read Chinese. Even while operationalising federalism, the government is attaining gradual success in maintaining what is known in federalism literature as a tragic brilliance.
The failure of the main opposition party, the Nepali Congress (NC), however small, to prioritise its own political preferences vis-a-vis the government’s actions is also greatly helping Oli to function in a ruthless and totalitarian fashion. For instance, instead of raising serious issues like the gross mismanagement of the economy that is threatening the very viability of Nepal as a functional state and addressing the concerns of its development partners after they were officially warned to ‘remain within their limits’, the NC is wasting time by engaging in protests against trivial and regular issues like hikes in oil prices and the sacking of a handful of opportunist appointees which, in fact, is a normal phenomenon with every change of the guard.
With regard to some cases like truth and reconciliation, the NC leadership has also succumbed to Oli’s argument that if all cases of crimes against humanity during the conflict were duly investigated, NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba too might not be spared. Public life has already become challenging, and this may be a prelude to a full-fledged dictatorship.