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Back to square one
Publication Date : 01-10-2012
Yet another political protest is coming up for a change in the leadership of the Nepal government. This change could be a good opportunity for some leaders to return to power, but people generally believe that this change in government alone will not bring any positive impact unless there is a clear idea about what to do and the commitment to do it. We have realised after much experience that a mere change in government will not bring any substantive change in economic, social or political development. This is because it is difficult to influence the established political system. The negative feedback loops in our political system are, to name a few, corruption, nepotism, support and impunity to members and cadres of political parties and extortion from entrepreneurs.
Most leaders who have come to power have used these mechanisms at the cost of a fair and effective political system. With leaders focusing on these mechanisms, they give less attention to leverage points like rule of law, social service like education and health, infrastructure like road and electricity, agriculture and job creating enterprises. As a result, the performance of productive sectors like agriculture and small industry has been dismal. Entrepreneurs hesitate to invest in employment generating activities. The net result is that employment prospects for young people are declining. Electricity generation is another area which has suffered from lack of common strategy among the political parties.
The Nepali people had great expectations when Baburam Bhattarai became prime minister. While there is no doubt about his good intentions, he did not show any courage to reduce the leakage points or enhance the leverage points and improve the political system. His government did what other governments had done in the past, and he turned out to be just another run-of-the-mill prime minister. In fact, he promoted leakage points to satisfy his own cadres by giving them leeway to indulge in corruption.
Reducing the number of leakage points and maximising the leverage points needs a long-term strategy and continuous attempts until there is a reasonable balance in the political system, which could lead to ability to correct itself. Until this time, there needs to be a broad consensus among the political parties to continue the strategy devel oped for this purpose. It would be naive to expect consensus on every issue in a competitive multiparty political system. However, given the present transition period where there is no constitution to guide the political process, consensus on basic political principles is necessary. Otherwise, the present situation will continue and it will be like a race to the bottom.
The planned election, in a way, will be a rerun of the Constituent Assembly (CA) election conducted in 2008. This means that we have come full circle without achieving anything substantial except for management of the Maoist combatants. As this task has been completed, we can expect the new CA-cum-Parliament to write the constitution quickly. As consensus was the main basis for holding the CA election in 2008, the same is also equally important now. It will be required even after the election because of the likely scenario that any party or coalition of parties will not win an absolute majority. This will again lead to the same situation that we observed in the last CA. If the political parties do not forge consensus even then, it will be a repeat of the drama of the last CA for another four or five years. And the tasks of writing the constitution and restructuring the country into a federal republic will remain an illusion.
Given this political situation, demand for a change of government will only be fruitful if there is a commitment among all the political parties to improve the political system as a whole. Otherwise, a change in government will just be a ritual. Therefore, restraint is required on both sides, the government and opposition parties. They should realise that the main task at hand is a free and fair election, and the onus for this clearly lies on the political parties running the government. If the opposition parties do not trust the government and want to have a consensus government for a free and fair election, the government should pave the way for this purpose by making sure that proper conditions are set for this to happen. These conditions would include, among others, fixing the date of the election and logistical arrangements to make sure that the election is held on
the set date. In other words, in the present context, it is the moral responsibility of the government to make sure that a free and fair election is held. If this means leaving the government, it should be prepared to do it.