Monday, August 2, 2010

Identify the problem

Will the nation have a new prime minister on August 2? The chances are slim. The chances are slim not because the political parties are not on the same page on who should be leading the government but because there is no proper framework that forces them to come to an agreement. If the past history is any indication of as and when Nepali politicians come to a consensus, it is the political survival or the chances of losing pay and perks that drive them.

Where has the call for “political consensus” gotten us? There is a rapid decay in social and institutional capital. Insecurity and political instability have triggered massive flight of human and financial capital. Lack of security has forced thousands of village development committee secretaries to resign en masse, which will have disastrous impact on community development. The Maoists cashed-in on local disenchantment when local bodies were functional. Their absence, now, will result in an unchecked mushrooming of radical and criminal groups. The difference between the two is pretty blurred in Nepal.

Let’s accept the fact that living in the hell of misplaced good intentions has not gotten us anywhere. The never-ending cry for political consensus will have to come to an end some day, the sooner the better. Politics is a competitive business and it is better that way. Every politician has an ambition to reach to the top most level. And, especially in a context like ours, where the political process is translucent and rules are arbitrary, it is quite natural for the politicians to do whatever it takes to get the job. Political pundits and the media should shed their obsession with “political consensus” and think about ways to as and how we can make politicians act responsibly and deliver so that we are not at their mercy. They should stop hinting that without political consensus the country is going to go down the drain. We are already on our way there if we don’t reverse our course!

We live in a nation where a majority government did not last a full term. What kind of consensus are we talking about here? Is it even rational to ask for everlasting consensus among the parties with such a stark difference in ideology and agenda?

Yes, we all need a constitution, and without a consensus among the political parties, it is not possible to have one. Makes perfect sense, at least theoretically. But theories are good on paper. We live in a practical world where economic dividends and power define political actions. Constitution-making is neither economically profitable, nor does it bar politicians not engaged in its making ineligible to enjoy power. So why bother? Besides, each party has its own view as to how the constitution should be. The Maoists do not care about it, as they know very well that with the current configuration in the Constituent Assembly (CA), they cannot have the constitution of their liking. The major political parties of yesteryears want to have a constitution not very different from the 1990s, which they very well know is not possible given the fragmented political landscape and upsurge in ethnic consciousness. As far as ethnic parties are concerned, sticking to the ridiculously inflexible ethnic demands, which they themselves put on the backburner while in power, is the only way to remain in circulation in Nepali politics.

If the Maoists agree to the kind of the constitution that the NC and the UML want and the way they want the Nepal Army-People’s Liberation Army (PLA) merger to happen, it will be like mainstreaming into the post-1990 political system. If that is what they wanted, there was no need to fight the decade-long bloody insurgency. For the NC and UML, agreeing to the Maoists’ terms and conditions for constitution-writing and PLA merger would mean dwarfing their own future prospects. Why would they want to do that? The rude awakening that came with the Maoist victory in the CA election is enough to keep them skeptical toward the Maoists for a long time.

Every political parties on the ground will talk about the necessity of having a constitution and moving the political process forward but that is all we will get if the system is not forced to change. The change in guard is irrelevant at this point in time. The debate should be over whether or not the new prime minister will be able to achieve the things that we want him to achieve? If not, how does it matter?

There is a fault within the existing system, which political pundits, media, and the so- called intellectuals are collectively ignoring. Endless regurgitation of the need for consensus is not going to help ease the existing political stalemate, which actually is the result of the consistent abuse of the political system in the name of consensus. By forcing strange bedfellows to conjugate indefinitely, we are dwarfing the chances of realization of democracy. The realization of democracy is contingent upon rules of the game that provide political parties competing against one another a chance to govern within institutional systems that guarantee fairness and a genuine opportunity for alternation of power between competing parties. We need a political system that can punish crime and corruption, mediate between ethnic forces and competing economic interests and turf incompetents out peacefully.

There is no way that politicians are going to agree on the contentious issues, for example, whether or not the entire Madhes should be one province. Such issues determine the political career of many politicians who would be jobless if these issues are solved amicably. The best way to deal with such issues would be referendum. By trying to take a short-cut, we are wasting our time, resources, and energy, which need to be used in creating employment opportunities for youths. In the absence of decent employment opportunities, young Nepalis are being turned into hotheads by conniving separatists, radical ideologues, and criminals.

Our obsession with “political consensus” has allowed politicians to abuse the political system endlessly. They can conveniently choose chance over sovereignty; uncertainty over certainty; darkness over light. The only way to stop the free fall is to take the route that we should have taken after the CA failed to do its duty. We should have gone for fresh elections with contentious issues on the ballet. The process would have been much more transparent. By shying away from the democratic processes and forcing unusual bedfellows to remain in symbiotic relationship indefinitely, we are stifling the prospects of democratic consolidation. It is about time we identified the real problem behind the existing political stalemate.

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