28 Feb - 6 Mar 2014 #696

Better late than never

No surprise that government formation took so long. The surprising thing is that it didn’t take longer

The formation of a new government three months after elections must be some kind of a new world record. In Nepali politics, we are always breaking records of this type, so no surprise there. In fact the surprising thing is that it hasn’t taken longer. We have to be thankful that despite the delay, a coalition cabinet has finally been formed more or less following the rules of electoral democracy. The largest party got the job of hammering out a coalition and after prolonged haggling, formed a government with the second largest party in parliament.

So far so good. But we have seen since 1990 that however arduous cobbling together a coalition government may seem, the job of sustaining that partnership and actual governing is much more difficult. Today, the task is even more fraught because besides governing, the government and elected assembly are also supposed to write a new constitution within one year. Three months have already been squandered in feckless dithering. There is every indication that the fractious governing parties with added distraction from a vengeful opposition made up of the Maoist and Madhesi parties will soon lose track of the ball. Sushil Koirala, whatever one may say about his integrity, doesn’t have the personality to fix infighting. We would be glad to be proved wrong, but there aren’t too many encouraging signs.

The most glaring deficiency of the new cabinet is its inability to reflect Nepal’s true ethnic, gender, and geographic diversity. In fact the cabinet has become living proof that we have regressed since 2008 in having an inclusive Constituent Assembly and government.

This wouldn’t have mattered so much if the ministers in question were truly brilliant managers or specialists, but many of them are not even elected. It is a reflection of how little democratic practice has progressed since 1990 that most of the UML and some of the NC ministers are cronies of powerful puppet masters. If the Home Minister was going to be Bam Dev Gautam anyway, why did we have to wait so long for an agreement on cabinet formation? Here, the internal dynamics within the NC and UML are more to blame than any major differences between the two parties. To be sure, there are some respectable veterans in the cabinet, but the imbalance in its overall composition and the preponderance of unelected members do not do justice to the faith the Nepali people put on elections and dishonour the risks they took to exercise their democratic right to vote back in November.

The euphoria of elections has once more been replaced with dismay. The ministers are back to speechifying, again lecturing to bored audiences about ‘the way things should be’.

Don’t expect this lot to pay much attention to the plight of the Adhikari couple who are very near the end as they protest the lack of justice for the murder of their son during the conflict. Don’t expect much progress on other war crimes, or on a meaningful Truth and Reconciliation Commission being formed.

An Economic Summit and Hydropower Conference are happening and we will hear a lot of speeches about the energy crisis and the need to encourage investors. Development will get lip service when what we really need is concrete steps to hold local elections.

Compared to Bangladesh, which suffers an intractable Battle of the Begums, or the ruinous Red-Yellow War in Thailand, and cycle of uprisings in Ukraine, Egypt or Venezuela, Nepal’s political paralysis is actually not looking that bad. We may just have to tell ourselves that it could be a lot worse.  

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Home sweet Home, ANURAG ACHARYA

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