When established political parties discredit themselves through chronic mal-governance and incompetence, there is either a mass movement for regime change or we see a rise of an alternative political force.
Whatever you may think about Donald Trump, he rose in response to the perception of a dysfunctional DC swamp. In India, it was the dramatic defeat of the ruling alliance in Delhi by the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party. We have now come to a point where in both countries need alternatives to alternative forces.
In Nepal we have seen outlier politicians like Rup Chandra Bista of the Thaha movement and protest candidate Nani Maiya Dahal in Panchayat-era elections. However, in the post-conflict decade the four-party cartel has used patronage and bhagbanda to perpetuate its power, making it difficult for reformists to break the stranglehold.
Although they did not win any significant seats in local elections so far, Bibeksheel Nepali and Sajha Parties did not do too badly, especially within Kathmandu Valley where they separately tried to capitalise on the frustration of the capital’s residents with unaccountable municipal local councils that had allowed the city to become unlivable.
In his fortnightly column (‘Influencing the influencers’, #868) in this paper two weeks ago, Dinkar Nepal laid out the reasons why Bibeksheel and Sajha should combine forces. That op-ed was prescient: within a week the two parties did indeed unite. Ujwal Thapa of Bibeksheel and Rabindra Mishra of Sajha must have seen the writing on the wall, but what must have convinced them was the calculation that if the separate votes of their two parties were added up there was a strong possibility that the alternative force would have grabbed a couple of mayoral seats.
After splitting off from the Maoists, Baburam Bhattarai also named his party the New Force and positioned itself as an alternative political actor. New Force did not fare well, and even lost in Bhattarai’s own Gorkha constituency. All three parties had nearly identical political manifestos, and if the former Maoist ideologue would give up his rigidity and renounce his support of violence, one could make a convincing case for the three parties to merge.
Daily headlines in Nepali newspapers (see picture) present exposes of massive and widespread corruption in government, the civil service and parastatals that all have a link to an entrenched rent-seeking system. A selective sample from this week: Billions owed by businesses in tax forgiven in return for kickbacks, a caretaker prime minister distributed Rs170 million to party faithful in his last weeks in office in June, Nepal Oil Corporation officials in cahoots with politicians pocketed millions in kickbacks in land deals.
The challenge for the Bibeksheel-Sajha combine now is to channel public anger into swing votes in forthcoming national elections and emerge as a credible fifth force. With a proper strategy, there is no reason why it cannot even be a third force. Public opinion polls have consistently shown that voters are more interested in the day-to-day struggle for survival, jobs, education and health than in populist nationalism. They are wise enough to see through speeches and grandstanding by blame-throwers and buck-passers in the main parties.
The same cartel is trying to roll back on decentralisation and accountability through a legislation that could choke off the money supply to newly-elected local governments (read guest editorial). There is no better reason than this to back the youthful positive energy that drives Bibeksheel-Sajha.
Federalism in jeopardy, Iain Payne and Binayak Basnyat
Influencing the influencers, Dinkar Nepal
New Avatar, Editorial