Political parties brought the change people pushed for but who will sustain it?The achievements are at stake as political actors engage in power games without commitment to the system.
Nepal’s political parties for long have fought for change. But it appears that they have failed to sustain the change they brought about.
In the last three decades, parties have played an instrumental role in political transformations. The restoration of democracy in 1990 was a major milestone in Nepal’s political history. The monarch, the ultimate ruler of the country, was brought under the constitution. Multiparty democracy made a comeback after it was hijacked by King Mahendra in 1960.
Nepal’s “fledgling” democracy, however, struggled and fumbled. Nepali politicians did little to strengthen the system, and rather got embroiled in power games. Six years after the restoration of democracy, the Maoists in 1996 waged a war against the state in a bid to bring yet another “socio-political transformation”. The Maoists saw the monarchy as the source of all ills in the country and they believed until Nepal became a republic, the country cannot prosper. The Maoists harbourned a loathing for parliamentary democracy. Nepal as a federal republic was the goal of the Maoists. The Maoist war lasted for 10 years; 13,000 people were killed and thousands disappeared. The victims are yet to get justice.
A peace deal in 2006 among political forces, including the Maoist party, and the second people’s movement that year set the stage for Nepal’s transition into a democratic federal republic.
The centuries-old monarchy was abolished in 2008. The constitution in 2015 guaranteed Nepal as a secular federal republic. But in the last six years, the parties have once again failed to institutionalise the achievements and strengthen the system. Rather, the system, democracy and the constitution have come under threats at the hands of these very parties. The dream for stability continues to remain a chimera.
At a time when parties should have been working to strengthen the system, something sinister appears to be looming. Nepal has come to such a pretty pass that all key branches of government—the executive, the legislature and the judiciary—are in a deep crisis.
Politics has slipped out of political actors’ hands.
Amid this, voices are now growing, no matter how feeble they are, for a change in the system.
Observers say there is a lack of commitment on the part of Nepali politicians to protect and strengthen the system. The parties have done exceptionally well in bringing in the changes but they have invariably failed to sustain the achievements, according to them.
The Janata Samajbadi Party of late is at the forefront of demanding changes. Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai, the party chair and federal council chair of the party, have been advocating for changes. The Madhes movement under the then Madhesi Janadhikar Forum led by Yadav is credited with ensuring federalism. Yadav, however, was one of the leaders who objected to the promulgation of the constitution, which they said marginalised some sections of society.
In the past years, Yadav has become minister in the federal Cabinet taking the oath under the constitution that he once objected to.
Currently Yadav has been advocating for a review of the judicial system, federal structure and electoral system.
Addressing a function organised by his party’s Municipal Committee in Janakpur on October 25, Yadav said that the country cannot progress unless the political system is changed.
His statement comes at a time when Nepali politicians are facing criticism for failing to safeguard the achievements and protect the system.
“The rulers alone are not to blame for the country’s backwardness, lack of change in the political system is equally responsible,” he said. “Changes in the system are the need of the hour, not just the change of government.” He said that the judicial system, federal structure and the electoral system need revision to bring the country back on track.
Only on Tuesday, Bhattarai, a former Maoist leader, said the country must adopt a presidential system for stability and progress. He also demanded for a revisit of the present delineation of provinces.
Bhattarai was a senior leader of the Unified CPN (Maoist), currently known as the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), which lobbied for a presidential system of government and even projected its chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the country’s first president with executive powers before the Constituent Assembly elections.
It continued to advocate for a presidential system of governance until major political parties in June 2015 forged a 16-point agreement to continue with the existing system–a prime minister elected by parliament and a constitutional president.
The Constituent Assembly adopted the agreement which had decided the forms of government, judicial system and parliament and electoral system.
Bhattarai, however, quit the Maoist party and also resigned as a member of the Legislature-Parliament a week after the promulgation of the constitution.
Not just Yadav and Bhattarai, other parties which claimed the constitution to be the world’s best too have started advocating for major changes in the system. Observers call such demands regressive.
“The parties are making irresponsible comments. While there is room to strengthen the existing system, it is unnecessary to advocate for a change,” Bipin Adhikari, former dean at Kathmandu University School of Law, told the Post. “How long will the country be experimenting with new systems?”
The Maoist Centre too has started advocating for a fully proportional system of election and directly elected executive head.
Though the top leadership of the CPN-UML hasn’t formally spoken, one of its leaders Mahesh Basnet, a close aide to party chair KP Sharma Oli, has been saying that both federalism and secularism need a revision.
At the party's Central Working committee in July, Basnet presented a proposal to review federalism and secularism. Similarly, at the party’s statute convention last month, the leaders raised a voice to revisit the present parliamentary system and adopt a directly elected prime ministerial system.
Political experts say the parties should stop experimenting and that they should rather be working to strengthen the existing system. According to them, the present political system actually came into implementation after the 2017 general elections and the parties making a pitch for revision of the system even before the three tiers of governments have completed their first five-year tenure is out and out wrong.
“I don’t see any alternative to the existing system at the moment though I agree it is necessary to strengthen the provinces and increase inclusion and promote equality. The rest is unnecessary,” Lokraj Baral, a former professor of political science at the Tribhuvan University, told the Post. “The practice across the world has proven the parliamentary system we have adopted is better than other systems. It would be a blunder to adopt a directly elected executive system.”
The observers say the political parties might have been floating the idea of a system revision as they have failed on delivery. They argue that the people had high hopes when the country embraced the new system but the parties failed to act accordingly. Now as they failed to deliver on their promises and the elections are around the corner, they have been floating new ideas.
“It hasn’t been long since the present political system came into existence,” Meena Vaidya Malla, a former professor of political science at the Tribhuvan University, told the Post. “It is too early to review it.”
Party leaders, however, say they are advocating for changes for an equitable society.
“By calling for changes, we are seeking transformation in different components within the political system,” Ashok Rai, a senior leader of Janata Samajbadi Party, told the Post. “Changes in the electoral and governance system are necessary to ensure equality and inclusion.”
Political analysts, however, see the problem within the parties and their leaders than in the system. They say most of the things will be on track only if Nepali politicians mend their ways and correct themselves.
“There is no political culture in parties and their leaders,” said Baral. “Most of the problems will be resolved only if Nepali political actors act the way they are supposed to.”