A case of political déjà vu
The past few months have been tumultuous for the nation, as the country has seen widespread deaths from Covid-19 coupled with political dead ends. Since early 2020, former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has been the target of Kathmandu’s neo-elites, be it Twitter or print and digital media. One of the important reasons was his mannerism at the head of the business. Oli would not have been consultative and democratic within the party. He was accused of rendering parliament unimportant, and was blamed for destroying state institutions such as concentration of power with the prime minister’s office, resistance to devolution of power to provinces, etc.
The reasons, as mentioned earlier, combined with growing dissatisfaction among the nation’s ruling elites and a few catalysts, turned out to be the final nail in the coffin. With Oli’s ouster, there was a general hope that the situation would stabilize if not improve. But, rather than stepping away from the perils of the Oli regime, the current government appears to be trapped in the vicious cycle of derailment of democratic institutions. Hence the déjà vu.
While this vicious cycle is not something new in Nepal, the nation has fallen victim to an extraction-oriented ruling class since the inception of the nation-state. The Ranas and the Shahs being the torchbearers of this extractive regime. Rather than building inclusive institutions that promoted the interests of the people, regimes were interested in extracting maximum resources for themselves and their loved ones. This extractive tendency is contrary to inclusive institutions, which strengthen democracy and pluralism. The vicious circle, although not inevitable, once in place is difficult to break.
History has many anecdotes of how this circle works, but right now the current scenario provides us with a clear path to the nation’s future. Unfortunately, for the people of Nepal, we are trapped in a maze of instability. One of the most controversial issues of the past two years has been the amendment of the party division provision in the Law on Political Parties (PPA). There were two main reasons: first, the law on political parties was aimed at safeguarding the institutions of democracy and the weakening of the provision risked eroding democratic principles. Second, an amendment to such a provision will have a long term impact on the political regime of the nation, and therefore it would be done by the legislature and not by ordinance. But the current government has lowered the provision by lowering the threshold to 20 percent of the parliamentary party or central committee. The legislative intent behind said provision of the LPP came against the backdrop of unstable governments of the past. It is interesting to note that the big five parties broke up at one point or another. It was also against the New Nepalese culture of bargaining and opportunism. But as always, realpolitik took precedence over all the others The factors.
The other allegation against Oli was to render the legislature without business, and indeed. Oli had issued 25 ordinances in one year, of which seven were promulgated twice. It was his ace in the hole to get around the legislature. When all of this was done, there were fierce debates on television, in the newspapers and in the streets regarding the derailment of institutions by the communist regime. There was a silver lining that the new change of government would curb such perversions. But here we are; after only one month in government, the prime minister recommended to the president to prorogue the parliamentary session and to promulgate an ordinance hostile to parliamentary democracy just like Oli. The Prime Minister has been busy with public relations campaigns at the expense of strengthening democracy. He has been unable to expand his cabinet over the past month due to a lack of consensus within the electricity brokers union led by his coalition partners. At this point we need to ask ourselves if this is the change we want.
In my opinion, a change at the helm is unimportant for the nation at this point. In the life of a country, there are few opportunities to break the vicious circle. These opportunities can be seen as being at a crossroads in the life of a nation, towards a virtuous circle where inclusive democratic institutions work for an equitable distribution of resources. Then there is the vicious circle, where although a usurper brings about a change at the helm without major policy changes to facilitate the proper functioning of the government apparatus. Nepal has had many appointments with critical moments. But instead of learning from the mistakes of the past and moving towards building and strengthening institutions, medieval extractive and exclusive methods continue to dominate politics. The English learned their lessons from the Glorious Revolution, and the French pulled up their socks after the French Revolution; the Japanese improved after the Honorable Restoration, these were the critical moments of their journey, after which they set out on the path of creating inclusive political institutions that prevented the usurpation of power. They developed inclusive economic institutions, strengthening the continuity of inclusive political institutions. It seems that the Democratic Movement of 1950, the Popular Movement of 1990 and the Popular Movement II of 2006 could not have assumed the role of a critical turning point. In this case, are we waiting for the “divine fight”?
In his essay “The Eighteenth Brumaire by Louis Bonaparte”, Karl Marx asserted that historical entities appear twice, “first as a tragedy, then as a farce”. Hopefully this government action is just a joke and not a tragedy. Anyway, it is a textbook case of déjà vu for the Nepalese people.