Monday, December 23, 2013

Unearned victory

Everyone is contemplating the factors that carried the Nepali Congress (NC) and CPN-UML to an impressive victory in the recent CA elections. The scale of the NC and UML’s victory has surprised not only political pundits, but also NC and UML cadres. The victory came despite the absence of fresh candidates and clear messages, and wavering political commitment towards empowerment and emancipation of Madheshis and ethnic minorities. 

The debate over whether people who voted for NC and UML actually subscribe to their liberal ideals will continue to play out over the months ahead. However, the most important question that everyone should be asking is: what led to the withering of the symbolic emphasis that voters placed on the need for radical change in the first CA elections? 

Long-standing socio-economic grievances, disputes among ethnic political parties, and security dilemmas brought about by weak and unaccountable system of governance are some factors that could have led to a more pragmatic move towards the center, leaving the bourgeois Maoist populists and ‘ethnic entrepreneurs’ that hijacked and subsequently maligned the genuine need for ethnic empowerment and emancipation to fend for themselves.

The Maoists and ethnic parties failed miserably to gauge public intelligence. Their attempt at defeating NC and UML by stoking the same agendas—establishing an ethno-centric republic, building an inclusive society, administering equality and justice, etc—failed. They ignored the same issues when in power, grossly underestimating the public’s intelligence. However, the loss of Maoists and ethnic parties which are infested with ethnic entrepreneurs is by no means a death of the quest for “total equality.” It will come back to haunt NC and UML if the ideas of social justice and egalitarianism are not enshrined in the constitution. 

Having witnessed the defeat of Maoist and ethnic parties, people are now in the process of figuring out what a NC-led coalition government means for Nepal’s peace and stability. Since the current polity is one that the Maoists have defined, it will be extremely difficult if not impossible, for NC and UML to deviate from the Maoist interpretation of democracy. While the Maoist leaders have said that they will be “pragmatic and cooperative,” it would be naive to imagine that this group will abandon its basic ideology and play second fiddle to NC and UML. 

There simply is not enough evidence at this point to believe that two Brahmins—Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai—who failed to fulfill their political dreams under multiparty set-up and turned the country into killing fields will consume NC and UML’s “liberal democratic” bait hook, line and sinker! The second CA elections might have temporarily transformed the political landscape whereby moderate democrats will now replace radical ideologues and ethnic entrepreneurs, but it will not take very long for Dahal and ethnic entrepreneurs to mount a comeback if the root causes of Maoist insurgency and ethnic unrest are not adequately addressed.

The Maoists lost for a simple reason. Dahal and know-it-all Bhattarai believed that political manipulation, belligerent rhetoric and occasional violence were sufficient to endlessly sway public consciousness. Their inability to transform from a guerilla outfit to an open, viable political party that is capable of translating popular support into effective policies was the main reason behind their electoral debacle. 

While the Maoists lost because of their inability to actually transform, NC and UML won despite the absence of clear vision on how they would actually solve burning socioeconomic problems, growing insecurity, and wavering political commitment towards empowerment and emancipation of Madheshis and ethnic minorities. 

More than anything else, the victory of NC and UML is a result of incompetence on part of the Maoists and ethnic Madheshi parties, and that is where the problem lies. When the opposition’s victory is largely a result of an inability on part of the party in power to fulfill the aspirations of the people, there is a great risk of screw-ups. You tend to value things that you earn the hard way. 

If you look at the history of the people who have won big lotteries, most of them waste their newfound wealth on women and alcohol. Another classic example is of Nepali students and the diversity visa lottery winners in the United States. Students outperform their fellow citizens who have won the diversity visa lottery a large percentage. Students’ competitive edge comes from their conscious decision to be in the US and belief that hard work can conquer all obstacles.

The early signs of an unearned victory are already becoming visible. It’s been a month since the completion of CA elections, and major parties are yet to give full shape to the new CA. NC’s opposition to elections for President and Vice-President exposes its lack of seriousness towards democratic institution building. Selective preference of this nature will open the door for political perversions, which is the last thing we want at this juncture. NC’s political immaturity is also quite clear from the way it is engaged in appeasing the Maoists. 

Yes, you want them to be on board, but not through endless appeasement. The more you try to appease them, the more inflexible they will get. They would try to drag the political process down to a level so juvenile and debased that the infant democratic order could find itself in a dump. It would not take much after that to convince voters to vote them in. After all, if we look at our history, parties get back in power not because of their vision, good governance, and service delivery, but because of the incompetence and failure of those in power. 

Nepali people have, once again, given NC and UML a chance to prove their worth. It will become clear within a couple of weeks whether NC and UML’s learning curve continues to be hampered because of their self-inflicted mental block, or if these parties have actually learned from their mistakes. One will not have to wait too long. All you got to do is see the kind of people that will be nominated under proportional representation and brought in as cabinet members.

 If Girija Prasad Koirala’s protégés make a comeback, we can be pretty sure that the Maoists and ethnic entrepreneurs will have the last laugh. All that they will then have to do is keep riding the wave of people’s anger and wait for these drunken sailors to push the country into another political and constitutional abyss, which they are very much capable of doing. 


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