Politics in the midst of a pandemic as people sufferAt a time when politicians should have demonstrated unity to fight the virus, they are busy in their petty political games, which represents a betrayal of citizens’ trust, analysts say.
Ambulance sirens in Kathmandu Valley these days wail like never before. Doctors have been making distress calls, as they struggle to cope with the rising number of coronavirus patients at their hospitals where intensive care beds and oxygen supplies have run out. The media has been constantly reporting about the people trying to get hospitalised. The second wave of the coronavirus has hit the country hard.
For Nepali politicians, however, it continues to be business as usual. For them, both from ruling and opposition parties, everything is hunky-dory in the country, and they are the only ones who are facing the hardest time.
CPN-UML chief and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s maneuverings to save his chair have continued, as the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) are busy hatching schemes to unseat him. The Janata Samajbadi Party, which has become the kingmaker despite being the fourth largest force, is weighing options—whether to side with Oli or the Congress-Maoist Centre alliance—for its own political benefits.
Analysts say the least these parties could do is set their differences aside and give a semblance of unity in the fight against the pandemic, which is ravaging the country.
“The pandemic is a national crisis. But Nepali parties seem to be least worried,” said Krishna Pokharel, a professor who teaches political science at the Tribhuvan University. “It’s strange that they are still busy in the game of saving and toppling the government.”
Nepal on Wednesday reported 4,777 new infections. The Health Ministry said that 17 deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours. The death toll stands at 3,211.
Nepal’s total number of active cases currently stands at 30,209.
What all the Oli administration has done after spectacularly failing in its fight against the pandemic is it has approved District Administration Offices’ recommendation to impose prohibitory orders. Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur are going into a lockdown for 15 days starting Thursday 6am.
Bagmati, where the three districts of the Valley lie, is one of the provinces most affected by the pandemic. On Wednesday, the Bagmati chief minister was busy wooing Provincial Assembly members. Later in the day, he expanded his Cabinet by inducting three ministers into his Cabinet, just to save his government.
In Karnali, Chief Minister Mahendra Bahadur Shahi re-administered the oath of office to three ministers who he had been recently appointed as a “reward” for crossing the floor to save his position. The three leaders, belonging to the Madhav Kumar Nepal-Jhala Nath Khanal faction in the UML, were ousted by Oli for defying the party whip.
In Gandaki, yet another political drama unfolded in the time of the pandemic.
Voting on a no-confidence motion against Chief Minister Prithvi Subba Gurung was scheduled. The Nepali Congress, the Maosit Centre and the Janata Samajbadi Party had moved the motion against Gurung on April 15. The opposition parties in the Provincial Assembly, which never raised the issues of the people who suffered due to the pandemic, didn’t hesitate to book an expensive resort to hold them up to ensure that no one could be cultivated for crossing the floor. The voting could not take place after a Rastriya Janamorcha member remained absent without notice.
In Kathmandu, the Nepal-Khanal faction of the UML held its own Standing Committee meeting.
The Nepali Congress had its meeting scheduled for Wednesday to discuss ways to forge an alliance with the Maoist Centre and the Janata Samajbadi to unseat Oli. The meeting, however, was called off after some of its members tested positive for coronavirus.
According to Pokharel, the ruling and the opposition parties in Kathmandu and all provinces and the local federal units should have come together and shown a united face to reassure the people that they will do all it takes to fight the pandemic.
“Political parties have a responsibility towards the people,” said Pokharel. “They should be holding an all-party meeting and devising a strategy to fight the pandemic.”
When Oli called an all-party meeting on April 17, the coronavirus cases were already on the rise, and expectations were high that the meeting would come up with some concrete decisions on fighting the virus. But it turned out that his motive was to seek support for the parliamentary ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact, a United States programme, which has been pending for quite some time. In the American programme too, Oli was seeing a chance to play domestic and geopolitical games.
It was not that Oli did not talk about the Covid-19 crisis, but it was not his priority.
Analysts say fighting the coronavirus has never been a priority for Oli and his administration and rather it has either become a political tool for him or a means for his henchmen to line their pockets. Last year when the pandemic was at its peak, two of his ministers were embroiled in corruption.
In December last year, Oli, when he was driven to a corner by his opponents including Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Nepal, dissolved the House, taking the entire focus away from the coronavirus.
Ever since the political situation has remained fluid, and Nepali politicians have been engrossed in their own petty interests, completely ignoring the massive threat the pandemic poses.
When the coronavirus was taking its toll on the people, Oli on Saturday was busy inaugurating the Dharahara tower, even before its completion, just to show that its construction was done under his leadership. The National Reconstruction Authority, which is overseeing its construction, says it will take eight more months to be completed.
The Congress and the Maoist Centre have limited their contributions in Covid-19 fight to lip service, with half-hearted press statements, which both parties have used as a tool to lash out at Oli.
Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal for the last few weeks has repeated but one line–that a no-confidence motion against Oli would be registered soon. Political analysts, however, call it an irony as the Maoist Centre keeps on talking about a no-confidence motion against Oli when it has yet to withdraw the support it lent to the government back in February 2018. Technically, the Maoist Centre is part of the government and equally complicit in every mess that Oli has made, according to the analysts.
Public health experts have warned of a catastrophe if the government fails to take immediate measures to increase the number of intensive care beds and ventilators and ensure oxygen supply. That aside, doctors have been constantly asking authorities to ensure contact tracing and increase tests.
The Health Ministry has projected that an additional 300,000 people could be infected with the virus by July 15 and the daily cases could reach up to 11,000. Estimates suggest the daily death count could hit as high as 149.
Political experts say it’s criminal on the part of politicians not to pay heed to the plight of the people, to whom they are responsible and answerable. While it is the responsibility of the ruling party to take all the parties into confidence in such times of crisis, the opposition parties too have failed in their duty to hold the government to account, according to them.
“The UML governments–be it in Kathmandu or provinces–have failed miserably,” Rajendra Maharjan, a political analyst, told the Post. “However, I don’t see the opposition parties, who want to topple the UML government, have any plans to serve the people. Those who want to form a new government should have at least made public their views on the pandemic and how they want to tackle it.”
Many say political morality is on the wane among Nepali politicians, as they have become more self-cetric and self-serving. Everyone is after power and money and no one cares about the people, who they are actually accountable to, say analysts.
“All the parties lack political morality in Nepal. Their sole motive is to attain power,” Surendra Labh, a political economist, told the Post. “The people are frustrated not just with the ruling party but with the opposition as well.”