THE TWO - YEAR ITCH
The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) government completes two years in power next month. Despite its strong majority, the party’s performance has been underwhelming.
It may look like the NCP is just lurching from one embarrassing cockup to another. But there are signs the party may have A Plan. That all along, it has been aiming not for ‘stability and prosperity’, but for the extension of control, the stiffling of dissent, the intimidation of critics, the muzzling of the media and the constriction of civil society. There is even a systematic strategy in place to roll back the development gains of the past decades.
Crushers of justice, Editorial
Given that power is centralised in Baluwatar, the plan is obviously being hatched at the Prime Minister’s Office. There may be a power struggle at the top between Prime Minister Oli and his comrade Pushpa Kamal Dahal, but on matters of control and domination the party has one body with two heads.
The Cabinet has zero accountability and no performance evaluation. Instead, ministers regularly threaten critics with crude scare tactics. They take their cues from Prime Minister Oli, who last week accused editors in the Nepali media of being “without hearts”. It is true that the criticism of Oli across a broad-spectrum of the national media over his dealings with the Yeti Group has been relentless, but we have received no satisfactory explanation of why the consortium gets preferential treatment in leases of former royal property by the Nepal Trust.
The government’s actions over the past two years may seem ad hoc and haphazard, but taken together there appears to be a method to the madness. Let’s take the sidelining the NCP’s own Shivamaya Tumbahangphe and the bullheaded approach to replace a rape-accused Speaker with a murder-accused Speaker. If we had to cite just one example of why there is impunity and blatant flouting of the rule of law in this country, the appointment of Agni Sapkota to the post of Parliament Speaker is it.
Read also: No Speaker, no Parliament in Nepal, Sewa Bhattarai
Ever since the end of the conflict 14 years ago, the Maoists, the UML, NC and the security forces have been partners in crime in sweeping their combined wartime atrocities under the carpet. Families of the victims and survivors of the war demand justice and truth, but every government since 2006 has tried to rig the transitional justice mechanism, and not a single perpetrator has been brought to trial. In fact, perpetrators get to lead Parliament.
Agni Sapkota is accused of murdering Arjun Lama, an activist of the UML, in Kavre in 2005. The irony of it all is that the UML and the former Maoists are now unified in the Nepal Communist Party. After years of struggling for justice for her husband, Purnimaya Tamang finally told this paper this week: “I have lost all hope for justice now.”
Pushpa Kamal Dahal may have been technically right in stating last week in Chitwan that he was responsible for the deaths of “only” 5,000 of the 17,000 people killed during the conflict. But who is keeping count? If this vulgar non-repentance rattled many Nepalis, imagine what it did to the families of the disappeared and the survivors of that terror-filled decade.
One of the provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Accord signed in 2006 was the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a Commission for Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP). But all governments since have conspired to make these commissions ineffectual by appointing party loyalists to their senior positions so that no one ever has to answer for war crimes. This week, the NCP and NC appointed new handpicked commissioners to the TRC and CIEDP.
Aside from transitional justice, the NCP has been trying to dismantle just about every sector in which Nepal has done well. There are attempts to dilute the laws governing community forestry. Pushpa Kamal Dahal hinted in Madi last week that he intended to change the by-laws governing Chitwan National Park. Under pressure from the fossil fuel lobby, the Finance Ministry is said to be thinking of scrapping the tax rebate on electric vehicles. And this week, the Home Ministry was reported to be drafting a new Social Organisations Act which will allow it to close down non-government organisations it does not like.
Taken together, it is not hard to see what the NCP has been working hard to do in the past years. In an Orwellian sense, when the party said ‘stability’, it always meant ‘control’.
10 years ago this week
The analysis by Ashutosh Tiwari in issue #486 of 22-28 January 2010 shows us how the power centre may have shifted in the last ten years, but the lust for power among our political leaders remains the same. As two Communist alpha males continue to battle it out in the ruling NCP, the latest casualty is the post of Speaker, with the sidelining of Shivamaya Tumbahangphe in favour of a murder-accused candidate:
Even accounting for politicians’ lust for power, what’s wrong with our particular democratic structure that keeps on returning the same old politicians to power no matter how many Roman numeral andolans we have?
On the outside, our system has the requisite avatar of a democracy (multiple parties, elections, political horse-trading, etc). Dig deeper, and you will find that it’s not the voters who call the shots but the party leaders, who have designed their parties’ internal structures in such a way as to keep them in power for as long as they live. Voters can express resentment, but come election time, they have to choose among the same menu of candidates.