The author is a founding board member of Nepal Policy Institute, an independent non-political international think tank, and a former staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
How will corrupt system of political governance, devoid of meritocracy and efficiency, deliver public service in honesty and free us from anarchy of political cartel?
Development observers and analysts are neither optimistic nor encouraged by what occurred in Nepal except for disappointments and setbacks. Perpetual political rhetoric only added to negative perception on political governance as factional interest groups continue to engage in street demonstrations. Surprisingly, leaders were labeling accusations and throwing innuendos on each other.
Political uncertainty will complicate management of global pandemic and already dysfunctional governance. Long-term implications on well-beings of people remain uncertain but economic prosperity aspirations are bound be diminished because political maneuverings could skew state priorities. And, leaders may allude to, in desperation, external power play in domestic affairs. There is, however, hardly an appetite for support to dysfunctional polity of Nepal by international community and the West.
It is unfortunate that ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is engaged in never-ending intra-party feuds, resembling a typical tribal conflict in parts of Africa. This will undermine economic endeavors, national security and sovereignty. What is happening in the streets of Nepal is a sign of a prelude to silent uprising.
Politics and economy
Nepal, poorest country of Asia, is in a state of permutations of political variant which could turn nation into another period of socio-political infliction. The executive branch of government is perceived as the most corrupt followed by bureaucracy and lawmaking branches in this republic. Present environment is such that Nepal may be the only country in modern history where governing political party is running amok for themselves, destroying peaceful fabric of the nation.
Political forces appear far apart in governance and economic outlook. Most of them are entrenched in defunct political ideology and old belief, and incapable of addressing people’s aspirations. None has displayed pragmatic strategy for economic recovery and sustainable future prosperity.
Neighboring Bangladesh, too, used to get embroiled in political volatility but in recent years it has registered unbelievable level of sustained GDP growth, emerging as the fastest growing countries of Asia. Despite political misadventures, GDP growth is stunningly high. Both parties, Awami League and BNP, have little differences in political governing philosophy. Incidentally, a unique characteristic of democratic awakening, born out of relentless manifestations of the past, culminated into an irresistible urge to disliking of incumbency, no matter who is at the helm of government.
Our other two neighbors have advanced well economically benefitting from trade and tariffs liberalization and massive foreign investment. They attracted diaspora talents and foreign direct investments through pragmatic policy, cooperation, and economic alliance. Both China and India are now the dominant economic power houses influencing global political and economic theater. They will continue to dominate global agenda in this century.
In parallel, we also notice spectacular growth of free-thinking think tanks in China and India who are disseminating fresh thinking and provide critical perspectives by building knowledge platforms and innovations and influencing public policies. What really has happened in Nepal is anybody’s guess. The truth is: we are not a learning culture and pragmatism is anathema for political convenience for we pretend as if we are in a deep sleep.
Economic nationalism is rising globally, and economic liberalization paths have narrowed down while our economic planners and leaders continue to spell misplaced economic development narratives wrapped in ultra-nationalist zeal. This will not inspire mobilization of foreign direct investments. Destiny of majority population, trapped in inter-generational poverty cycle, is a farfetched dream of economic transformation. On the contrary, politics in Nepal thrives by selling namesake republicanism as if it is the panacea of all political ills, social and political inequalities. This nationalist narrative, thus, compromises fundamental economic rights of people under the constitution and ignores civil and social discourses.
Paper democracy exists, but not in the true sense of practice, for political machinations through political club-members, loyal bureaucrats and through influential henchmen. This is pushing nation into a state of collapse. Country is run like a cartel of political oligarchs. Aren’t we digging pathways for authoritarianism?
Signs of state of collapse are emerging. Social, economic, and political indicators pointing to this direction include displacement of migrant workers, rising domestic unemployment, eroding value of wages, falling public health standards, food insecurity, rising environmental pollution, rising gender discrimination, people wanting to leave place of origin, demographic disparity, grievance seeking group activities, unemployment, widespread corruption, high level of social and economic inequalities, uneven geographic and uncertain economic development, deterioration of public services, disregard for human rights, lack of law and order, political impunity, and environment for external involvement.
National institutions are weak. Meritocracy and independent thinking have no place. Education system is incapable of imparting critical analysis skill and developing creative thinking because of pre-dominant culture of rote learning. Political mainstream, thus, thrives in rejuvenation of ultra-nationalism with a mixture of democracy and republicanism for sustaining political power structure. There is total disregard for public services delivery and people’s quality of life at large; the very essence of functioning of good governance. Political landscape is conducive for false narratives in compartmentalized boxed-in psyche, leaving no room for out-of-box critical perspectives. National trait is showing distress signals that country is ailing, and immediate cure is unlikely, and may not be sine die.
Political transformation failed to trigger economic miracle because of mis-governance and failures to unite people under one national theme to attain people’s prosperity. Instead, ‘divide and rule’ continues. This rotational game of musical chair of Prime Minister has become the mainstay of democracy in this republic. Good governance is replaced by high-stake game of power-grab machinations.
True notion of ‘democracy’ is transformed into ‘party-of-crazy” for exclusive club of political party members. Likewise, ‘people’s Republic,’ has almost become “rip-the-public”. Political system, bureaucracy and public psyche are entrapped by culture of ‘vicious-circle of political corruption’.
Reforms require critical thinking and re-analysis, followed by system overhaul in legislative, judiciary, executive and bureaucracy. Change is never easy in an environment of institutional corruption for resistance is built-into working culture due to fear of loss and insecurity. Situation is untenable in current state of governance. Surprisingly, no one is held responsible for absence of accountability and failing to deliver services.
Governance is about public service delivery, not self-interests of politicians and bureaucracy. Good governance in a functioning democracy ensures accountability, transparency, equity and inclusiveness, rule of law and order, people’s participation (not limited to casting vote), effectiveness and efficiency, consensus-oriented system, and responsive institutions serving the interests of people. Falling short of progress, political economy may have hit a concrete wall of no return.
The emphasis is on building platforms for life-cycle political career-paths in a cobweb of network of political manipulations, devoid of sense of public service, moral values, and ethics of political office. This is no patriotism. This is no democracy by the people for the people. How will corrupt system of political governance, devoid of meritocracy and efficiency, deliver public service in honesty and free us from anarchy of political cartel? Have not we seen repeat behavioral patterns of political oligarchs?