13-19 May 2016 #808


Foreign Hand
Diwakar Chettri

Despite having tried everything from absolute monarchy to absolute anarchy the goal of finding a system of governance that’s accountable to the people seems more distant than ever. Instead, aristocratic privilege and the divine right of petty rajas seems to be back in vogue, including time-honoured concepts of staying ‘above the fray’, so nobody has to work, and being firmly ‘above the law’, so nobody goes to jail.

For eternal outliers like your columnist, getting here has been a journey of linguistic discovery, rich in terminology if poor in meaningful change. During the Panchayat days everyone hoped for prajatantra (democracy) and bahudal (multi-party system), soon followed by cries for janatantra, loktantra and the Maoist specialty: ganatantra, or communist ‘democratic people’s republic’, which, history shows, is neither democratic nor the people’s.

So what does Nepal have now? Though supposedly democratic, village level elections haven’t been held for almost 20 years. Any pretense of internal democracy within the parties has long been abandoned and the last national election in 2013 was for a Constitutional Assembly that no longer exists.

With six Deputy PM’s and an absurdly bloated cabinet this government was designed primarily to enjoy the spoils of power rather than actually govern. KP Oli’s coalition brings Marxist-Leninists, Maoists, Royalists and a Moonie together in an improbable cabal that’s best described as kakistocracy (from the Greek ‘kakistos’ meaning ‘worst’), rule by the least qualified and most unprincipled citizens.

As a high-school dropout and life-long communist our PM has proven himself to be consistently out of his depth at every turn. His abrasive attitude towards Madhesis surely added months to the blockade, enriching the black marketers at everyone else’s expense, while his sheer determination to enjoy his turn at the top was especially inappropriate when disaster struck. The great earthquake’s recent anniversary brought international attention that, though mercifully brief, was clearly unwelcome, captured in a BBC interview that must be one of the shortest on record.

When asked why reconstruction had yet to begin, our remarkably relaxed PM agreed it was slow, delayed, and stated he wasn’t happy, though he looked much less upset than the agitated journalist. Sounding like a guru explaining the mysteries of the Orient to an impatient acolyte he delivered his punch line with fatalistic gravitas: but that is reality.

Indeed, yet surely those still living under tarpaulins, waiting for aid promised a year ago, deserve better from the man most able to help. But there’s more to the new ethos permeating the parties then simply forgetting the peasants or trying to get rich quick.

Recent headlines declared Congress was ‘even ready’ to support Prachanda as PM in their efforts to topple the government, showing the voters that once the horse trading begins their vote counts for nothing. These Congress MP’s seem to forget the only reason most of them got elected in the first place was to keep these same Maoists at bay. Does it not occur that such opportunistic support of a party their voters rejected is a betrayal of their constituent’s sovereign right to choose? (Picture our lawmakers asking: Who? What?)

When asked why the Maoists were withdrawing support from the coalition, spokesman Haribol Gajurel explained they’re upset because so many of their leaders were getting arrested. Ten points for frankness, though he doesn’t explain why arresting convicted criminals isn’t a good thing. This threat of desertion was enough for KP Oli to sign a nine-point agreement giving the Maoist leadership everything they want, including immediate dismissal of all war-era crimes. The fact the PM has no legal authority to do so, proven by the Supreme Court’s previous ruling that dismissal of such cases is illegal, was conveniently ignored.

In yet another betrayal of democratic principles the deal makes Prachanda our next PM, despite the Maoists getting only 15 per cent of the votes/seats in the last election and the unfortunate detail he’s been charged with war crimes.

Further examples of this departure from democratic norms include KP Oli’s unprecedented confrontation with the Human Rights Commission, demands from the military for details on those filing complaints of war-era disappearances, and more recent reports of open intimidation at regional TRC offices. Needless to say, such behaviour goes against the spirit of the peace agreement and is illegal.

The arrest of prominent journalist Kanak Mani Dixit on spurious charges, widely seen as a personal vendetta/reign of terror conducted by the anti- corruption chief against all who get in his way, was followed by the random deportation of a foreigner for tweets that ‘threaten the state’.

By all accounts the human rights situation is deteriorating and those in power, now quite used to overstepping their legal authority, aren’t even pretending to play by the rules anymore. One wonders if there’s a term for governance geared specifically to gaming the system and subverting the functions of state. Suggestions are welcome.

In some ways the war still continues 10 years later, for the victims who await justice as well as the perpetrators who continue to doggedly undermine the system and institutions of good governance. We suspect more of the same to follow and can only hope the judiciary and civil society can save the nation from those without principles.

Read also:

Post Truth Politics, Foreign Hand

It’s governance, stupid, Om Astha Rai

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