Politics gets a bad rap because its practitioners are generally so self-centred, power-hungry and corrupt. Most people with integrity and a vision are put off by what they perceive as the dirty business of politics and the fear that it will taint them too.
Democracy, also, has earned a bad name for itself in Nepal largely because of the antics of a succession of elected leaders who exhibited an appalling lack of accountability since 1990, many of those faces are still with us aspiring for elected office.
The problem is that Nepalis, while being hopelessly disillusioned with âtrad polsâ and elected ex-revolutionaries have come to blame the system of democracy. Itâs become fashionable to argue that democracy is not suited for Nepalâs divisive culture, itâs poor and illiterate citizenry and that we may need some kind of benevolent dictatorship. Sound familiar? That was the justification King Mahendra used way back in 1960 to dismiss Nepalâs first nationally-elected government, dissolve parliament and imprison the prime minister and his cabinet. There is a nostalgia for the command and certitude of the past, but many forget that authoritarianism has been disastrous for Nepal, whether during the Rana period, the 1960-90 Panchayat years, or Gyanendra trying to turn the clock back. Democracy is the messiest system of government, to paraphrase Churchill, but it is a mess that can be fixed if politicians put their minds to it.
After all, politics is just the mechanism that allows democracy to function. Competitive politics offers a marketplace of ideas through which citizens can select the leader they think has the integrity and managerial capability to govern for four years, and lift their living standards. Unfortunately, the cacophony of the media reduces politics to an endless quarrel over power, where todayâs talking heads in the evening tv news are rebutting yesterdayâs talking heads. It is politics for politicsâ sake. We are obsessed with the operational strategy of politics, and have lost track of the larger picture of what politics is for.
And that is precisely what is happening with the media-fanned row between the President and the Prime Minister. In fact, as we understand it, there is no row at all. If there is a clash it is actually between the Prime Minister and his party Chairman, between rivals within the three other parties for who can scarcely hide their loathing for each other. The President, despite his ceremonial role, is caught in the middle at a time when there is no parliament and the mandate of the prime minister and his government have expired. Any move that President or the Prime Minister make will be constitutionally questionable, even illegal.
These are uncharted waters, and only decisions taken by the President and the Prime Minister together will have a degree of legitimacy and help untangle the overlapping political knots. All the President is trying to do is goad a recalcitrant caretaker coalition that has got comfortable in its job to disassemble itself and accommodate other parties to form a new election government. That is so that no party has an unfair incumbent advantage during the campaign.
The current disagreement is over who gets to be prime minister, who bags the powerful Home and Finance portfolios in that government. The Madhesi parties in the governing coalition are wary of being sidelined, and that is where things are stuck.
This day-by-day jostling for advantage is being played out in the media, and the rhetoric had got shrill ahead of the Presidentâs Thursday deadline for the formation of a consensus government. This being Nepal, it will be a miracle if the four forces come up with an agreement. So, the President will have to extend the deadline, multiple times if need be.
In all this, we should not lose track of the goal of holding elections sometime in 2013, only that will stabilise politics and allow the country to catch up with lost time and move ahead.Go back to previous page