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Opinion

Moral decay and legitimacy to govern

Rajaram Bartaula

Rajaram Bartaula

 |  Kathmandu

Because of the composition of the House of Representatives, the coalition government is the compulsion as a popular mandate to govern. One of the drawbacks of the coalition government is the instability of the government. Despite having two largest parties in the House, the third, fourth and fifth largest parties in representation have gained bargaining for powers and birth in the government. This critical number strategy has made the House a place for political maneuverings and shrewd tactical moves, where the state's administration has been revolving around three leaders- Oli, Deuba and Prachanda playing their tricks to outnumber the other.

The two general elections held in 2017 and 2022 gave a hung parliament ineffectual to govern by a single party with full electoral mandate rather than the existing system has provided space for fomenting conspiracy to change the government quite frequently complementing political instability and denigrating the democratic system of governance. The democratic constraints prevailing in the country are to blame for the electoral system, which has many flaws labelled as expensive, manipulative and supportive of political elites only. The costly election stimulates corruption in governance and all other malpractices, and unethical practices to recover the cost, leaders are inclined towards pursuing authoritarianism with self-assertion through exercising absolute powers.

Since the constitution has guaranteed the freedom of speech and expression, comments and writings, press freedom, criticizing for wrong and passing comments for any misdeeds, unsocial, unethical, or unwanted and unlawful speech, writings or activities, should be the common norm and tolerated within the legal norms as well as socially and morally acceptable practice. While looking back at the speeches and actions of the ruling elites of the recent past, the picture is blurred and it is evident that they are gradually stepping over the fundamental rights of the people through their words and actions. Intolerance, revenge and reactions have become the new normal of the government. Political clowns are visible everywhere in the corridors of Singha Durbar.

People have lost hope in leaders championing political unrest and change but failed because of their ineptness in delivering the fruits of the change to the people materializing their common minimum expectation. The incompetence of the leaders has added fuel to the fire to help raise populism, activism and anarchism among youths.

The expression of dissatisfaction by the common mass especially dejected youths shows the hopelessness of the existing system of governance and political leaders since their lofty ideals and words proved to be a betrayal for the common but beneficial for their near and dear ones. Within these years after the political change, the scandals of corruption and looting of state resources took a new height with the involvement of senior political leaders; some of them serving sentences behind bars. The leaders have brought all the bad images of democracy to light denigrating democracy as the worst form of governance. People have lost hope in leaders championing political unrest and change but failed because of their ineptness in delivering the fruits of the change to the people materializing their common minimum expectation. The incompetence of the leaders has added fuel to the fire to help raise populism, activism and anarchism among youths.

In this light, we can see a “Bizarre festival nowhere, but in Nepal (Kanhi Nabhayeko Jatra Handigauma).” A considerable size of youths who have migrated for foreign employment do not like to hear the positive acclaim of the old leaders instead, without any factual test, believe in the words of populists, demagogues, and anarchists through  YouTubers, Vloggers, and online news portals. However, such leaders are likely to have the chance to dissipate quickly in the space along with their meteoric rise without any lasting impact and contribute politically to the nation. 

The endemic corruption and unethical practices prevailing in every level of government -- local-provincial-federal-- are spoiling the political system of Nepal itself indicating towards becoming a failed state if not corrected in time and regaining the lost opportunities with prudential reform and change in the system of governance. 

Let's look at the major corruption cases that include among many the Bhutani Refugee Scam, Giri Bandhu Tea Estate scam, 60 KG gold smuggling case, Lalita Niwas land scam, Wide-body Jet scam, TerraMax communication equipment scam, Omni Scam, Gokarna Forest land lease scam, Cooperative scam, etc. In these scams, somehow directly or indirectly, most of the supreme leaders who happened to be the former and present prime ministers of Nepal are linked. These include Madhav Kumar Nepal in the Lalita Niwas land scam, KP Oli in Giri Bandhu Tea Estate, Puspa Kamal Dahal in cantonment case, (inflated number of minor soldier recruitment during the Maoist insurgency) to name a few enough to present the state of governance and face of the country. Many other senior leaders and former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister were alleged in the scam and many of them were imprisoned as well.

Misuse of scarce natural resources by ruling elites and going into the private hand instead of its revenue to the public coffer has become the normal practice that goes unnoticed, and unhindered. Giving clean chit by the supreme leaders, if the accused has any political interest or family connection with the leaders, is being taken as their privileged power unquestioned.

However contrary to the people’s expectation for a positive change under democratic credentials is hurt with the political elites' attitudes and performances incompatible with the democratic principles.  We are likely to witness a resurgence of an authoritarian system of governance if the present trend does not slow down or apply brakes.

Erica Frantz, the writer of Authoritarianism (Oxford University Press, 2018) deems the existence of the following four characteristics of a state as symptoms of growing electoral authoritarianism; the first is the placement of incumbent loyalists in high positions of power, primarily in the judiciary; the second indicator of authoritarianism is an attempt to gain control over the media, of the by censoring media outlets, seizing the power of them, or arresting critical journalists, an additional signal of authoritarianism is the manipulation of electoral rules to favor the incumbent; the fourth sign of authoritarianism is the passing of a constitutional amendment that empowers the incumbent; and the fifth indicator is the use of lawsuits and legislation to sideline civil society and government opponents.

Nepal is slowly but visibly sliding backward in the democratic movement and gradually holding the root of electoral authoritarianism which in any manifestation and manner is unacceptable for democratic proposition. 

Unfortunately, Nepal has all these traits described above. Our leaders have dual characters; on their rhetoric, they look committed to democracy, on the other in practice their actions disdain democracy. The Nepali leaders of high stature stand parallel to the demagogues listed as anti-democratic but represent the populist cult.

Samantha Power in her essay “How Democracy Can Win,” writing to Foreign Affairs Journal in the March/April 2023 issue opines that populist parties with xenophobic and anti-democratic tendencies were gaining momentum in both established and nascent democracies. The spread of digital authoritarianism aimed at repressing free expression and expanding government power has adversely hampered functioning democracy forcefully obstructing the expression against their leader through creating a swarm of irresponsible hooliganism in online portals or digital media.  The diehard fans of demagogues -- either ultra-rightists, leftists, or anarchists, whatever their nature, who misuse digital platforms through misinformation and disinformation -- are simply the anarchists and illogical anti-democratic forces.

What is present in the Nepali political domains is the use of digital platforms for petty political gain full of propaganda messages either in favor of their loved leader or hate or threatening messages to the opposition as a tool of misinformation and disinformation spreading through the fanbase.  

In her opinion, Sarah Chayes wrote in “Thieves of States” in 2016 that after closely observing the level of corruption in African states, she concluded that pervasive corruption is the characteristic of a “failed” or “failing” state. That is because the business model their leadership has developed has nothing to do with governing a country. But it is remarkably effective in achieving its objective; enriching the ruling clique. She observed that 80 percent of the humanitarian aid money was skimmed off. In her opinion, it was not the unjust distribution of resources especially when the benefits to ordinary people were indirect, as in the case of a road or a school, while the much greater payoffs to corrupt officials and their cronies came in the form of cash in hand.

Nepal is slowly but visibly sliding backward in the democratic movement and gradually holding the root of electoral authoritarianism which in any manifestation and manner is unacceptable for democratic proposition. A change in the system is looming large for good.  

(Mr. Bartaula is a former Diplomatic Officer of the Government of Nepal.) 



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