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Certain uncertainty

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

DAMAGE CONTROL: Police putting out flames in a school bus, fire-bombed by Maoist supporters on Monday morning.

When the social discourse is so politicised, it is tempting for the media to be obsessed with the operational strategy of day-to-day politics. Which party wins and which party loses from the dissolution of the CA? Who gained the upper hand from the truncated budget? Which faction of which party holds the trump card against rivals? And so on.

In actual fact, no one wins and everyone loses from this prolonged political deadlock, where the only certainty is the uncertainty of it all. The aimlessness of the political parties has already collectively cost them what little political support they had. There is widespread disillusionment with their mad scramble for power among ordinary citizens, and even more among the district cadre of the parties themselves.

We have often argued in this space that the only way a caretaker establishment can move forward is to forge a government of national unity. Not that a consensus is inherently desirable in a democracy or will resolve all outstanding issues, but at least it will level the playing field ahead of elections. Elsewhere in the world there is an incumbent disadvantage at elections, but here a sitting government can skew the electoral balance in its favour by arm-twisting the organs of state for advantage.

The reason things are completely stuck now is that we have a deadlock within a stalemate. The deadlock in the constitution led to the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly, and now there is a stalemate on government formation between those who want the prime minister to step down before a unity government, and Baburam Bhattarai’s insistence that the opposition presents a viable alternative. It is clear neither side is in a desperate hurry to end the deadlock: Bhattarai is perfectly happy where he is, and the NC knows an acrimonious dispute will erupt within its senior ranks between aspirants for the premier’s post.

This prolonged uncertainty has encouraged crime and corruption, made impunity and lack of accountability the norm. Ad hoc populism passes off for governance. Farmers don’t have fertiliser, even in the monsoon there is six hours of power rationing, half the city has been demolished in a heavy-handed road-widening spree, and all Baluwatar is interested in is passing by ordinance allowances and facilities-for-life for government alumni.

In this climate of impunity, hoodlums set fire to school buses, vandalise colleges in broad daylight. A ‚Äúrevolutionary‚ÄĚ wing of a ‚Äústudent‚ÄĚ body takes responsibility, threatens to do it again, and they do. But no effort is made to catch the known ring leaders. This is not really about the English names of colleges or expensive school fees, it never was. It has always been about making an example of those who refuse to give in to extortion demands.

No profession is untouched. Journalists are harassed and beaten. Doctors are manhandled, and hospitals vandalised. High profile political assassinations go unsolved. More than 60 people are killed in highway crashes during a single week, and no could really be bothered.

The lawlessness will grow worse every day that the country drifts along in this purposeless vacuum. It is time to take certain steps to end the uncertainty, and they are (in order of business):

– Urgently agree on a national government
– Announce a date for local and general elections by the spring of 2013
– Crack down hard and fast on impunity
– Restore investor confidence

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