Who Nepal’s political parties represent anywayNone seem to be concerned about the people hit by the virus, as they deal with crises of their own, paying little attention to their electorate.
At a time when Nepal’s political parties should have been showing unity to fight the pandemic, they are quarreling with each other and battling their own internal crises, in what many say highlights their utter disregard for the people who they claim to represent.
In the Janata Samajbadi Party, a vertical division is just a matter of time. The one party which is not mired in any intra-party fight is Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), but it is directionless.
Observers say political parties themselves are a process and discords and disagreements are parts and parcel of their existence, but the way Nepali parties are behaving, showing no regard for the people who have been seriously exposed to the virus, amounts to criminality.
For the KP Sharma Oli administration, the coronavirus never became a priority—neither during the first wave nor in the second wave. Prime Minister Oli instead engaged in political brinkmanship, thereby plunging the country into a political crisis. When the House was in place, the opposition failed to hold the Oli administration to account.
Now when there is no House, the parties’ focus is not on the pandemic, as they are struggling to put their own houses in order.
What’s intriguing is, according to observers, all the parties in Nepal have their own internal struggles but none are based on ethics or ideology.
“What are the root causes of discord and differences in these Nepali parties?” said Uddhab Pyakurel, an associate professor of political sociology at Kathmandu University. “It does not look like any of these parties are going through a tough phase trying to assert moral, ethical or ideological issues.”
In the UML, party chair Oli has been challenged by a faction led by Madhav Kumar Nepal. The Nepal faction was so furious with Oli that its 28 members even refused to vote in favour of Oli when he sought a vote of confidence in Parliament on May 10. On May 21, as many as 26 members of the Nepal faction decided to support Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba’s bid for the prime ministerial post. On May 24, Nepal faction’s 23 members signed a petition filed by the opposition alliance, led by the Congress party, against Oli’s May 21-22 midnight House dissolution.
Why is the Nepal faction angry with Oli?
Ever since the UML merged with the Maoist Centre, Oli left no stone unturned to corner Nepal and those close to him.
Despite the conflict reaching a tipping point, the Nepal faction has not quit the UML. Both factions, however, are trying hard to mend fences.
Observers say the Nepal faction does not see any incentive in quitting the party and Oli sees an advantage in keeping the dissenting faction within the UML in case the House is revived—or whenever the country goes to polls. According to them, the fight is not for ideological reasons.
The Congress carries a legacy of having two groups—the establishment side and a dissenting group. Ever since the party lost the 2017 elections, the internal division has but widened, as the party president, Deuba, has refused to give up his control and the other faction led by Ram Chandra Poudel has been demanding a larger say.
With the party reduced to a weak opposition, with just 63 seats, the Congress’ role in Parliament could never become effective. In addition, Deuba over the years has faced charges of being a close ally of Oli, thereby emboldening his administration to function how it wished.
Amid the ongoing political crisis, the Congress has to hold its 14th general convention. The party is under a constitutional obligation to hold its general convention by mid of September.
But how it is going to do so in the midst of a pandemic has brewed new tensions, as the Poudel camp is demanding a clear roadmap from Deuba.
“The crisis in the Nepali Congress may not be alarming, but the discord within certainly does not bode well for the country and the people,” said Pyakurel. “After all, it’s a major political party.”
The Janata Samjbadi Party is basically a force led by politicians from the Tarai-Madhes region.
Madhes-based parties have seen divisions and splits in the past at the drop of a hat. While these parties have been credited with championing the cause of Madhes and Madhesi people, the politicians who have led them have faced allegations of trading their ideologies for power.
A little over a year after its formation, the Janata Samajbadi is once again staring at a vertical split. One faction led by Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato is currently supporting Oli and the other led by Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai opposing him.
Both factions have initiated action against each other and the issue has reached the Election Commission.
Chandrakishore, a Madhes-based political analyst, says the unity between Thakur’s Rastriya Janata Party Nepal and Yadav’s Samajbadi Party Nepal was unnatural.
“Their merger happened because both were in crisis. But they did not know their course after the unity,” Chandrakishore told the Post over the phone from Birgunj. “The united Janata Samajbadi Party is once again in crisis now, facing an imminent split. It was bound to happen.”
According to Chandrakishore, the Madhesi cause and agenda still remain the same.
The Thakur-Mahato faction has been accused of supporting Oli at the behest of the south. A section of the Indian media and some in Nepal believe in that theory, but none has provided any substantial ground to say why.
The Thakur-Mahato faction says Oli has addressed some of their demands. It says his administration has assured that it would address their additional demands, including the release of one of their key members, Resham Chaudhary, and constitution amendments, so it’s natural for them to support Oli.
“No matter how parties function and they do their politics, the issues at the core in Madhes are still the same,” he said. “As in other parties, a lack of political culture is seen in Madhes-based parties also.”
The Maoist Centre, which was reborn on March 7 after the Supreme Court invalidated the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), currently seems to be the only major party with no internal strife. But then it lacks an agenda too, say observers.
Political analysts describe the current scenarios as decadence and degeneracy of political parties.
“When political parties fail, the society as a whole fails and democracy comes under threat,” said Lok Raj Baral, a professor of political science at Tribhuvan University. “The moral decay of the Nepali polity is the result of the internal fragmentations in political parties. This squarely affects institutions, the system and constitution.”
Nepal’s constitution which has become more vulnerable than ever in the last five years since it was adopted was drawn by the same political parties which are currently squabbling with each other.
Oli has dissolved the House twice in a span of less than six months by making moves that are described by constitutional experts as unconstitutional.
Observers say all parties need to share the blame for the current political crisis, just as the country’s coronavirus crisis is deepening. However, as the chair of the largest party and prime minister, Oli is more responsible for throwing the country into uncertainty, according to them.
“Oli has lost political and moral legitimacy to govern,” said Pyakurel. “Trying to curry favour with India’s ruling party and courting the Janata Samjabadi Party to cling onto power is from where starts the fall of political culture.”
Baral believes the Congress failed to put a check on Oli's wayward actions and the Maoist Centre became too weak to have its say. “The Nepal faction, despite having strong disagreements with Oli, failed to take any bold decisions.”
According to Baral, the combined failure of other forces gave Oli carte blanche.
“Now divisive politics is affecting society,” said Baral. “There is a huge polarisation.”