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Next Door Nepal: Limits of democracy

Elections are no guarantee of an end to the prevailing political uncertainty.

Written by Yubaraj Ghimire | Published: November 13, 2017 12:45 am
nepal, nepal elections, nepal election panel, nepal protests, nepal constitution, communist party of nepal, pushpa kamal dahal, kp oli The hiccups aside, all eyes are focussed on “the historic election” that is sure to deliver a parliament, most likely with the Left Alliance in majority

International observer teams from distant Europe and elsewhere have started arriving in Nepal ahead of the provincial and federal polls slated for November 26 and December 7. The over-enthusiastic Election Commission has earmarked a huge budget — approximately 11 billion rupees — to conduct the first election under the new constitution. Some suspect a lack of transparency in financial allocation and management.

Elections in a democracy trigger enthusiasm and hope in the people. It is shared by the contesting political parties as well as external stakeholders. Nepal is no exception. The arrival of international observers’ teams much in advance of the elections is an indication of the interest Nepal, a tiny nation of 290 million people, generates in the rest of the world. But there is also a visible sense of fear and scepticism. Will this election enhance hope and opportunities among the people, especially the youth? Or will it trigger more frustration and corruption? This is what the German ambassador to Nepal, Roland Schafex, asked while hosting a reception to celebrate German unification last Thursday. Germany’s goodwill as well as cooperation towards the yet-to-be completed peace process and political transition is much appreciated in Nepal. Ambassador Schafex’s question reflects the general mood and apprehension about the post election scenario.

The top leaders of all three major parties — the Nepali Congress and the Left Alliance (LA) consisting of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist and Communist Party of Nepal (Moist Centre) — had claimed that this poll would be proof that the 2015 constitution has been fully executed and a failure (to hold the poll) could lead to Nepal’s rebirth as a Hindu kingdom. The fact is the threat to the constitution emanates more from K.P. Oli, the prime ministerial candidate of the Alliance, made it clear that the communists have no reason to stick to the “parliamentary system” if they win the poll. “Why should we communists stick to the parliamentary system?” he asked, while addressing election meetings in the eastern region, his home ground.

The controversial 2015 constitution is clear about parliament electing the prime minister as the chief executive and a ceremonial president. What Oli was hinting at was that the Alliance may amend the constitution and opt for an executive president with sweeping powers and no accountability towards the parliament. With the prospects of the Nepali Congress, the oldest but a clearly confused and demoralised party, on the decline, the fear of the Left dumping the constitution and imposing party supremacy in statecraft is real. Incidentally, the top leaders of the Left Alliance, Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the CPN (Maoist Centre) and Oli of the CPN-UML, share a common political lineage. Both started their political careers with the annihilation of “class enemies” and preferred “one-party dictatorship” throughout the 1970s. It is only many years later that both were forced to shun the politics of violence and join the democratic system.

Dahal and Oli now seem to nurture hopes of reviving the idea of a totalitarianism system. This could well be triggered by their recent experience in government that the civil bureaucracy, judiciary and almost all the other constitutional organs of the state could be turned servile, at the cost of constitutionalism and the principle of separation of powers. The Nepali Congress has no reasons to complain for it had actively endorsed this subversion of the democratic system. It should not surprise anyone if a verdict in favour of the Left Alliance is interpreted as an endorsement of the party’s supremacy over parliament and judiciary.

A democratic system in which the executive is not accountable to the elected parliament, which lacks an independent and credible judiciary, and where effective service delivery mechanisms are absent, in Nepal’s context, will undermine the peace process, the very foundation of political change inaugurated in 2006. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that would cease to exist in three months has not been able to take up any of the 61,000 human rights violation cases that took place during the Maoist insurgency because political parties, mainly the Maoists, refused to cooperate, out of fear that their top leaders and cadres could face trial.

“We have turned helpless in this political set-up,” says Krishna Adhikari, who was severely wounded when a public transport bus he was travelling in was ambushed by the Maoists a decade ago in Chitwan district. Thirty-eight passengers had died in that incident. “This was the worst case that took place during the insurgency,” Maoist chief Dahal, now a parliamentary candidate, admitted at an election rally last week. However, he neither promised justice to the victims nor did he apologise to them on behalf of his party. “We can’t do much, but the TRC must fulfil its mandate,” says National Human Rights chairman, Anup Raj Sharma. Many however, fear that the TRC and the peace process will be dead if the Alliance wins. It could well mean that the victims of the insurgency can’t expect any justice.

In the midst of all this confusion, questions are being raised about the transparency or lack of it on the part of the Election Commission. Misuse of government funds by the ruling parties, including the distribution of discretionary funds, has become brazen and routine. President Bidya Devi Bhandari signed a bill to ensure transparency in the conduct of private medical colleges only after a public-spirited doctor, K.C. Govinda, threatened to go on indefinite fast. In the past six years, he has sat on hunger strike 15 times for the purpose.

The hiccups aside, all eyes are focussed on “the historic election” that is sure to deliver a parliament, most likely with the Left Alliance in majority. That, however, does not guarantee a new lease of life for democracy in Nepal.


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  1. B
    Bihari Krishna
    Nov 13, 2017 at 7:07 pm
    While Western observers in particular always descended for such elections, Nepal's 'democracy" has progressively deteriorated, the current situation being the worst yet. Four politicians dictate Nepal's "democracy": UML's KP Oli, a former "class annihilator" and known "owner" of goons, Maoist Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who oversaw, with India's backing, the bloodletting of 18,000 Nepalese during their campaign of death and destruction, dubbed people's war, NC's Sher Bahadur Deuba, now PM and party chair, the epitome of political corruption in post-1990 Nepal, and a few Madhesi politicians who have mostly been India's Trojan horses in the sustained mutilation of landlocked Nepal like the 2015 blockade. So, what sense does it make for Nepal to hold "free and fair" election that re-elects these very same crooks? China, India and the West must help Nepal to reinvent her democracy to make it work for the people. They must realize that present form of "democracy" is killing people in Nepal.
    1. L
      Laxmi Santoshi
      Nov 13, 2017 at 3:21 pm
      This is called journalistic 'Scare-mongering' on speculations of some individuals! The article is full of prejudices and errors (the population of Nepal is quoted as 290 millions it is close to 28 million only!). Suggestion of Executive Head instead of Prime Ministerial system exist in many democratic countries - this does not mean a totalitarian government! Reputed newspaper like The Indian Express should take care to allow this kind of cheap article!
      1. P
        Proud Nepali
        Nov 13, 2017 at 1:41 pm
        Greater public support towards communist alliances is more of the outcome of anti-Indian sentiment that followed in the aftermath of India's trade embargo of 2015 and how then PM Oli resolutely faced off India, hitherto unheard of in Nepal's politics and signing of host of ground breaking treaties with China. Though ousted from PM, people rewarded his party UML in local election and is expected do much better in forthcoming provincial and federal elections in the light of alliance with Maoist... The country has faced 24 PMs in 27 years and very soon we'll have 25th PM, post election results. Modi will receive fifth PM within 4 years of his first term. If nearly 3 decades of misrule and instability is not enough to demand for directly elected Executive Head, what else is remained to be seen in this country.... Parliamentary system has failed to deliver and 3 decades of political experimentation is overbearing. To assume directly elected Executive as a VICE is unwarranted...
        1. K
          K. K.
          Nov 13, 2017 at 8:51 am
          To the general public, system is not important delivery is. To them system is what the system gives, irrespective of what it maybe called or named. All ins utions and organizations in Nepal have already been politicized, and are under the influence of on or the other the political party .. so this imported notion of the "division of power" is not there in reality.
          1. R
            Rituraj Sapkota
            Nov 13, 2017 at 3:46 am
            Ummm... 290 million people? We don't even have that many gods
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