Thirty months of poor governance and weak oppositionDespite a huge electoral mandate, the ruling Nepal Communist Party has failed to deliver on many fronts and the main opposition Nepali Congress has been a mute spectator.
When Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli took reins two and a half years ago, hopes ran high. He led a powerful government, courtesy the alliance of his CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre which had swept the elections. As the leader of the Nepal Communist Party, the strongest communist force in the country, Oli had the electoral mandate to run the government for the full five-year term, something that had never happened in the country for more than two and a half decades.
But the Oli administration failed—almost on all fronts. Despite “Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepali” promise, his administration failed to connect with the people.
As the Nepal Communist Party government enters the midway of its tenure, disenchantment continues to grow.
“Half-way through of the strongest government the country ever had, people are now questioning if a two-thirds majority for a single party is good for democracy,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political analyst. “I don’t see any change and difference in the ways this stable and previous unstable governments performed.”
What again has fuelled poor governance is a weak opposition, many say.
The Nepali Congress, often called the country’s grand old party that has ruled the country for a considerable share of the last three decades, faced a spectacular loss in the 2017 elections. The party was relegated to third position, as at that time the UML and the Maoist Centre had fought the elections by forging an alliance but they were yet to merge.
In the federal parliament, the Congress party won just 63 seats—against the communists’ 174 seats.
Analysts say democracy and good governance function well only if there is a strong government and an aggressive opposition. In Nepal’s case, there was a strong government which lacked vision but was arrogant and a weak opposition which could hardly question the government’s actions.
Geja Sharma Wagle, a political commentator and columnist for Kantipur, the Post’s sister paper, said the main opposition initially gave the ruling party the benefit of the doubt, but later it failed to present itself strongly.
“Subsequently, it failed to make the government accountable to its actions,” Wagle told the Post.
In the initial days after the government was formed in February 2018, Oli’s braggadocio had no bounds. The Oli administration started with quite some unusual moves—from banning protests in places like Maitighar to bringing various agencies like the Department of Money Laundering Investigation under the Prime Minister’s Office—in a clear indication that it was trying to centralise power.
But as days passed by, there was not much for the Oli administration to show on the governance front. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli kept on making big promises though—from transboundary China-Nepal trains to a ship with Nepali flag on international waters.
At home, criticism grew with people questioning the Oli administration’s failure to manage city roads and the dust emanating from them. Unaware of the ground reality, Oli went on to make a sweeping statement that Nepalis don't have to wear masks to protect themselves from the plumes of dust, inviting censure from the members of the public.
All the while, Oli’s ruling party was embroiled in internal conflict, which too hamstrung governance.
The main opposition, which was still licking its wounds and was struggling to get back on its feet, barely held the government accountable—neither from Parliament nor the streets.
Analysts say the way the ruling party is functioning and the opposition is responding could jeopardise the hard-earned system.
According to Maharjan, the ruling party seems to be promoting middlemen and the opposition is failing to question this, which could have a dangerous outcome.
It’s an irony that what Oli said once about people’s need to wear masks has come back to hound him today: amid the Covid-19 pandemic, masks, which people used to wear to protect themselves from dust, have become a must.
Even his ministers have been dragged into corruption controversy. While Oli has failed to initiate action, the opposition Congress has failed to question.
Some youth leaders including Gagan Thapa and Bishwo Prakash Sharma of the Nepali Congress have tried to raise their voice against the government response to the pandemic. But their calls have been lost in the din of Oli’s fanfaronade which is often followed by a thunder of ruling party leaders’ claps.
Opposition leaders also admit that they have not been able to put a check on the government as much as they could have because of a lack of support from the top leadership.
Ram Chandra Poudel, a senior Nepali Congress leader, said party President Sher Bahadur Deuba has not taken a strong stand against the government—neither in Parliament nor from other platforms.
“We are also seeking answers [from the party president] why we as the opposition have failed to hold the government to account,” Poudel told the Post. “We are yet to figure out if our party president has any weaknesses that have forced him to keep quiet despite the Oli government making so many mistakes.”
Many say Deuba, despite being the leader of the opposition, has emerged as Oli's biggest ally.
According to insiders in both the ruling and opposition parties, Deuba has been in constant negotiations with Oli as well as Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other chair of the ruling communist party, to win some posts and positions for “his men”.
“That makes him weak when it comes to opposing the Oli government’s actions,” said a Congress leader. “Once in a while he comments on the government’s functioning, but these are just cosmetic statements which are made for public consumption.”
Amid the pandemic, the Congress is now mired in its own internal conflict as the party heads for its general convention scheduled for February 19-22 next year.
“I wonder if the Nepali Congress has any character to prove it is the main opposition. The party has lost its way,” said Maharjan, the political commentator. “To play the role of opposition, its leaders cannot have any deal with the ruling party and its leaders.”
Wagle, the analyst, said that in the government’s failure, Oli is to blame but the leader of the opposition needs to take the equal blame.
“The main opposition may have fewer seats in Parliament but that’s not the only reason,” Wagle told the Post. “The main reason why the opposition has failed to play a critical and constructive role is Congress President Deuba’s dealings with the ruling party on constitutional positions.”
According to Wagle, the Oli government’s failure to perform may be an immediate concern but the more concerning issue is that the ruling and opposition parties are working hand in glove, depriving people of good governance, justice and service delivery.
“With the government failing to deliver and ensure good governance and the main opposition failing to play the role of the watchdog, the democratic system is now at stake,” said Wagle. “This will ultimately erode people’s trust in political parties and the government. That will be even more dangerous. It looks like the country is on a slippery slope.”