NEPAL HAS BEEN through chaos, political uncertainty and instability for over a decade. The new constitution has lacked the enthusiastic backing of the people. The government had hoped India would “welcome” the statute promulgated 14 months ago during President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit. But all Mukherjee did was to wish the government initiative the very best and express hope that it will have “all sides on board”.
Despite the hostility to India — a large section of the people and the political spectrum oppose “Indian interference” in Nepal — the ruling coalition recognises the southern neighbour as an unavoidable factor “in internal politics”. Therefore, from President Bidhya Bhandari to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and from the main opposition leader, K.P. Oli, to disgruntled Madhesi groups, everyone discussed internal politics with President Mukherjee and indicated their readiness to amend the constitution. However, there is no clear understanding among parties on the amendments.
Dahal, when he broke away from the left and negotiated an alliance with the Nepali Congress and the Madhesi groups to replace Oli as prime minister, had promised he would have the constitution amended by early November to the satisfaction of the agitating Madhesi groups. Political instability and politics dictated by the lure of power have made it impossible for Dahal to keep his promise. The gap between promise and delivery has resulted in parties and leaders who have been in office since 2006 losing credibility. Hung parliament and unstable coalitions have eroded or compromised the authority of the prime minister. Dependent on allies for continuing in office, the prime minister is forced to turn a blind eye to corruption. The likelihood of a dangerous expose of corruption in public life, involving people in key positions in the government, now looks imminent. This could further discredit mainstream politicians.
Lokman Singh Karki, the chief of the Commission of Inquiry Into Abuse of Authority (CIIAA), an anti-graft constitutional body, faces a legal test with his “eligibility for the post” under question in the Supreme Court and faces an impeachment motion in Parliament after November 10. Indications are that the CIAA is in possession of evidence in corruption cases that could result in the implication of the head of the state and the government and several other politicians. While the Nepali Congress, the biggest party in Parliament and the coalition government, is yet to make up its mind on the impeachment motion, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist and the ruling Maoists — whose leaders are under the scanner — have decided to support the motion.
Karki was never a public hero. But his targeting of the political parties has divided the public opinion, with a section demanding that the anti-graft body be allowed to pursue the cases and reveal details of the investigation already done. It was perhaps this fear of public opinion turning in favour of the CIAA that led PM Dahal to summon five commissioners of the anti-graft body — barring its head who is under suspension following the impeachment notice sent to parliament secretariat — last week. Dahal reportedly asked them to work “fairly” but without undermining the “authority and jurisdiction” of the executive. Such an invitation by the prime minister or ministers to constitutional bodies and the latter’s compliance are rare. It has become the priority of the government and the main opposition, especially the two left parties, not to let the CIAA spill the beans on corruption.
As of now, politicians appear confident that they can tide over the crisis and have sought to give their fight a political colour. Last week, Oli targeted former king, Gyanendra Shah, for a speech he made at the World Hindu Sammelan in Kathmandu that also honoured him as the “emperor of the Hindus world over”. Dethroned by the people, Shah is now approaching the jogis to return to power, Oli remarked. Shah, without taking Oli’s name, retorted that it was time leaders are held accountable for things “that have happened or not happened in the past one decade”. He asked political leaders to be serious about the issues he has been raising “as they are people’s issues as well”.
As the politicians spar, all that the citizens are demanding is they respect the principle of probity in public life.