Nepali Times
The leadership mirage


Addressing the 20th session of the House of Representatives, Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala put forward his 14-point plan for national consensus. He added, for good measure, that he was willing to make any sacrifice (including resigning from his post) in order to carry the plan forward. Madhav Kumar Nepal, leader of the main opposition UML, told the House he agreed with many of the 14 items on Koirala's checklist and would like to discuss them. But before that, would the prime minister mind resigning?

The winter session before this was a dark blot on Nepal's parliamentary democracy. The opposition's demand for the prime minister's resignation on charges of corruption and Koirala's stubborn refusal to do so brought the House to a standstill, and the opposition bandhs brought the country to a grinding halt. What this campaign for the prime minister's resignation ended up doing was eclipse the economic, development and political crises that had been piling up.

The UML could neither explain how throwing out Koirala would solve any of these problems, nor offer alternatives. Similarly, the Nepali Congress could not show an increasingly disillusioned public why it should remain in power if it could not keep the three promises it had made: addressing the Maoist insurgency, curbing corruption and improving governance. The country's future was being held ransom by these two myopic political parties.

At a time of deep national crisis like now, political parties must emerge from their slumber to give a sense of vision and hope, otherwise the public disenchantment will only grow and push us towards anarchy.

Crisis of representation

The present political crisis in Nepal has many facets: economic, social, political, religious, ethnic, linguistic, regional disparities and judicial independence. Koirala has tried to address some of these problems in his 14-point plan which includes citizenship, land reform and women's property rights. But he does not even begin to look at the Maoist insurgency and the psychological impact this has had on the public. The last 12 years have seen new aspirations to address discrimination against dalits, women, janjatis, and bonded labour. Tied to this is the question of their inadequate representation in the national legislature. The increasing cost of electioneering has meant that only a certain class of people from the mainstream are being represented. The status quo on economic inequities and social justice is therefore perpetuated.

The present parliament now faces another challenge: the constitutional monarchy. The massacre of almost the entire royal family has raised the question about whether the monarchy should now be handled by the palace itself, or be brought under the transparent purview of the peoples' representatives as in other modern constitutional monarchies. Should decisions on the royal succession still rest with the palace, or should appropriate laws be made by parliament on the succession question?

Maoist "Peoples' War"

Large parts of the country are now under the influence of the Maoists. The group has seriously over-extended itself, and its leadership now finds the movement is slipping from its grip. This is the result of the Maoists' own immature and adventurous pursuit of armed struggle. By relying on violence, the Maoists are inviting counter-violence from the state. Ultimately this can only push the country towards a bi-polar balance of power between itself and a militarised palace. In this either-or struggle, parliamentary parties in the centre will be forced to chose between the two extremes and will no longer have a future as the country drifts towards civil war.

The current session of parliament must once and for all come up with a precise perspective on the Maoist "peoples' war". First, are the Maoists a political force or not? Second, if they are a political force, parliament has to work to bring them to the table and entice them to join the political mainstream, or try to finish them militarily. Third, if the Maoists want to negotiate, how is parliament going to even begin to solve the Maoists' myriad demands?

Many government development projects have been affected by the insurgency, trade has been affected, businesses have been closed because of threats and extortion. The education of more than a million Nepali children has been affected by Maoist action against schools. In this sense, the Maoists can be seen to be the single most important problem facing the country today. No political force in the country can regard the Maoists as an issue over which to score political points, or consider allying with the Maoists to hit out at rivals. However, if that is the only way our parliamentary parties know how to behave then they will have to reckon with
the whirldwind that will hit them. The coming polarisation between extreme left and right will annihilate them. It will be the path to national ruin.

National consensus

After the restoration of democracy, there should have been a national consensus over the process of economic and social transformation. There should have been progress on making elections freer and fairer, implementing land reform and delivering social justice. But there was no consensus on these vital maters. The self-interest of political parties, their ideological drift, meant that consensus stood no chance. Politics that centred on petty personal interest meant that political parties did not institutionalise themselves. Internally, the parties failed to foster a democratic culture, there was a crisis of discipline and values. This has pushed citizens, political parties and even the country towards uncertainty, causing chasms to open up between the people and political parties, between the political parties and the constitutional monarchy.

Even now, after having brought this upon themselves, political parties continue to be plagued by internal strife and have no time to devote to the country's vital and urgent problems. The result: most Nepalis equating democracy with economic collapse, lawlessness and social anarchy. Unless the political forces come to an understanding on the lowest common denominator that is necessary to address some of these issues, the country is not going to find a way out of this mess.

Leadership crisis

Much of this is a result of a crisis of leadership. Governance has become a mirage. Leaders have shown political, organisational, managerial and ethical bankruptcy. It because of this failure of leadership that consensus, political goodwill and trust could not grow and the country is facing this crisis. Even the Maoist insurgency and the recent royal massacre can be viewed as a by-product of this
moral dilemma.

We now have a new king. The Maoist strategy has been to give the constitutional monarch a hard time and keep up the pressure on the political leadership. Meanwhile, the time has come for the two main parliamentary parties to evaluate their own leadership and hand over the reins to a new generation of fresh leaders. Only this can point the country once more in the right direction, and allow it to move forward. Let us see if the 20th session of parliament will give us any signs of this new maturity.

Hari Roka is an independent leftist analyst.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)