The Looming Internal Crisis in Nepal
Photo Credit: The Indian Express
By Rishi Gupta

The Looming Internal Crisis in Nepal

Dec. 17, 2018  |     |  0 comments

Following Nepal’s political transition in 2008 from a 250-year-old autocratic monarchial rule to a democratic republican state, the successful conduct of parliamentary and provincial elections under the new Constitution in 2017 brought landmark political optimism to the country. The elections not only saw the two rival political parties, the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), forming an alliance; their merger into the larger Left Unity offered the prospects of political stability and development for the country.

The ruling Left Unity won 174 seats in the 275-member parliament in December 2017. It was only after 19 years that an alliance was able to muster a majority in the Parliament. However, ever since assuming the office of the Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli has been under public scrutiny and criticism for failing on several grounds. As an example, the Government of Nepal launched a Social Security scheme on November 27, 2018. It is the country’s first ever social security scheme funded through contributions made by workers and employers. The scheme provides health, accident and maternity coverage to workers in the private sector. It is a pet scheme of the Oli administration and it is projected as one of the administration’s major achievements. Applauded and appreciated for its inclusiveness, the scheme has also been criticised for being a publicity stunt.

On the day of its launch, the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security published a jacket advertisement in all national dailies and on the first screen of the websites of major media platforms. However, this did not go down well with the public. Having failed to project the benefits, the advertisement carried a headline — “Beginning of a New Era” — with a photograph of Prime Minister Oli. While governments across the globe use media platforms to inform their people about such schemes, for a country still recovering from the 2015 earthquake trauma due to lack of funds, sluggish strategy, and poor planning, the advertisement exposed the lack of political will to put public finances to better use. The Advertisement Association of Nepal estimated the total cost of the advertisement at around “Rs 75 million (Nepali) for one-day publicity.” Despite facing the public’s ire on social media, the government remained unapologetic for the event.

Further, political stability in Nepal has been a prerequisite to development. In the past 20 years of Nepal’s political process, no administration has been able to complete a five-year term. With a convincing political mandate and understanding between the political parties during the 2017 elections, an ideal prospect for political stability was achieved. However, lately, differences within the Left Unity have begun to surface more frequently. While the Left Unity has been forged under a broad understanding of power sharing, the differences in ideology, modes of working, and understanding issues such as foreign policy and the justice system remain critical.

The discontent within the political circle of Prime Minister Oli is wide open to the public. On November 22, Central Committee Members of the ruling Nepal Communist Party protested against the government with their six-point memorandum questioning the lifestyle and morale of the leadership, ideological clarity and lack of good governance. The ongoing power tussle within the Communist Party and outside raises serious concerns about the future of a stable government in Nepal. The promises mentioned in the ambitious 2017 election manifesto of the Communist Party of Nepal continues to run on the old pattern of uncertainty and indicates a larger possibility of splits in the Communist Party.

The Left Unity government (now under the single party umbrella of the Communist Party of Nepal) in its nine months of governance is marred by slow development and its failure to improve the economic conditions of the country.

Further, the country remains on a critical ground concerning its law and governance situation. In last four months, the sexual assault of a minor girl and her subsequent death had created a furor in the public. While the protests against the government continued to rock the narrow lanes of the capital city Kathmandu and other parts of the country, the perceived inaction and ineptitude of the law enforcement agencies seemed to least worry the government. As per police records, an average of six rape cases are registered every day. On a larger scale, a sedentary law enforcement results in the non-reporting of sixty-six percent of such cases. In the light of a low conviction rate, corruption and political pressure continue to keep the perpetrators under the umbrella of safety. The government’s assertive response to criticism has hindered its responsibility towards law enforcement.

On the economic front, the Oli administration is facing further public ire. During his election campaign in 2017, Oli promised to improve the economic profile of the country, especially in attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Nepal. However, lately, FDI saw some reverse effects on the economy. In the 16th edition of the World Bank report Doing Business 2019, Nepal ranked 110 among 190 countries in the category of Ease of Doing Business in 2018 compared to its 105th rank in 2017. In an effort to showcase its initial commitment towards increasing FDI to Nepal, the Oli administration organized an Investment Summit in March 2017. While an initial intent to invest in Nepal by foreign investors accounted for USD 13.5 billion, none seemed to have materialized even though labor reforms had been carried out.

Also, the promise to minimize the trade deficit with India remains to be seen. The tense relationship with India that emerged against the backdrop of the implementation of a new constitution in September 2015 was used as a tool by Oli to strengthen his ultra-nationalistic outlook during the 2017 general elections. The success of his anti-India maneuvering was evident from the uncontested victory of the Left Unity. However, the larger chunk of Nepal’s economic dependency continues to be on India. To an extent, Oli has been able to send signals of shifting dependency from India by opening new ways of economic engagement with its northern neighbor, China, However, differences with India require timely resolution to avoid immediate transit and trade issues. Currently, China ranks third in the list of top Foreign Direct Investors in Nepal with India ranking second. Under the Belt and Road Initiative, China has signed a number of FDI projects in Nepal. Despite the progress, fears of a debt trap by China loom large after countries such as Sri Lanka have reportedly fallen prey to Chinese investments.

To conclude, considering the promises made during the 2017 elections, the Left Unity government (now under the single party umbrella of the Communist Party of Nepal) in its nine months of governance is marred by slow development and its failure to improve the economic conditions of the country. The modus operandi of the top leadership, especially of Prime Minister Oli, remains assertive, and its attempts to control the media, judiciary and civil society indicates an authoritarian rather a democratic way of governance. Also, as per the understanding with the Maoist Party leadership, the forthcoming “power-sharing” will pose a critical challenge for the hopes of political stability in the country. Further, the rise of activism on social media amongst the youth of Nepal is a critical aspect of the questioning and scrutiny of government functionaries. Hence, it should be the top priority of the Oli administration to ensure that governance in Nepal does not become hostage to personal benefits and political pressure which might further hurt the public optimism with the present leadership.

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