Nepali Times Asian Paints
Guest Column
Rock and hard place


At a recent interaction on democracy and governance in Kathmandu, a senior leader of a major party conceded that people were not supporting the seven-party agitation because they fear that the parties, once restored to power, would lapse into the same misbehaviour that characterised their post-1990 stewardship.

Upon being quizzed why her party did not come up with reform proposals that would convince the people that next time around her party would mend its ways, she replied that the issue would have to be taken up by all the parties acting together.

The seven parties which have by now squandered most of their popular support still seem to be keen only on wresting power through largely ineffectual street protests led by hired stone pelters or by begging Indian politicians to put whatever pressure they can on their behalf. However, to their misfortune, the credibility of the Indian visitors was suddenly punctured right on arrival at the airport when they confessed to an inquisitive reporter that they were not keen on promoting democracy in autocratic Bhutan.

It suddenly became clear that it was not their ideological commitment to democracy that brought them to Kathmandu. Although the people would probably never know what deal was struck between them and the NC and UML leaders, for lay observers such moves only smack of the behaviour of Sikkim's politicians in the runup to 1974 when the country was annexed by the Indian Union.

Now that dates for elections to the municipalities have been announced and there is a deadline for general elections, the country and the parties are in for a new ball game altogether. Since the security forces seem to be in a strong position to ensure order for the elections to be held, the parties are going to find themselves stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Should the so-called seven-party alliance stick to their pledge of boycott, and should there be more than 50 percent turnout of voters in the elections, this would be a de facto referendum on the behaviour of the political parties meaning that the Nepali people no longer regard them as relevant institutions of democracy for the time being. They want stability, peace and development and a chance to get on with their lives. For the political party leaders who have kept their parties in their own paralysing grips to play cynical games such a development will be a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

Conversely, should they find their interest better served by contesting elections they may have to watch their historically fragile alliance unravel. When they do go to the people for votes, the parties will have to demonstrate to them that unlike in the past, they are now a reformed lot and are therefore worthy of their trust.

Here, the public admonition and sane advice tendered recently by the EU Troika mission to try "to restore the faith of the electorate in the political parties" would stand them in good stead. With all the excess baggage of corruption and broken promises still fresh in the mind of the electorate the only way out for the parties would be to scoop out their own corrupt cores and make visible structural reforms to prevent malgovernance in future.

Either way, forthcoming elections are going to be a referendum on the function and identity of the political parties themselves.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)