The new normal

Diwakar Chettri

It does not matter who advised Prime Minister K P Oli about attending the dubious Asia-Pacific Summit in Kathmandu last week organised by the Korean Unification Church of Sun Myung Moon. He should have refused to go.

Even if he had been told that other Asian leaders would be attending, just glancing at the invitee list should have made it clear to him that they were ones currently ostracised by the international community: Cambodia’s Hun Sen and Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hun Sen got himself elected again this year in an another staged election, and the former Khmer Rouge guerrilla who has brutally silenced critics is Asia’s longest-ruling prime minister. Aung San Suu Kyi may still retain her Nobel Peace Prize, but she has been stripped of numerous other international awards for her refusal to condemn her government’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority and imprisoning journalists who covered it. 

Nepal’s entire political leadership, including even President Bidya Devi Bhandari, tarred themselves by hobnobbing with this disreputable evangelical cult that has been known to buy political influence in soft states around the world. Seeing Nepal’s political spectrum on stage with Moonie figures was not just shameful, but exposed gullibility and collusion with a shady born again sect.

A promotional video (above) made by the Church boasts about how it has the backing of Nepal’s political leadership. It shows clips of UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal on hand at the Kathmandu airport tarmac to welcome the group’s ‘True Mother’ earlier this month, and other leaders receiving ‘blessings’ from her.      

Moon’s Unification Church and Universal Peace Federation (UPF) has nearly 15,000 members and dozens of churches across Nepal. It has also bankrolled various political parties to give its Chairman and head of the Nepal Paribar (Family) Party Ek Nath Dhakal berth as Peace and Reconstruction Minister in successive coalition governments in the past four years. Dhakal has taken Nepal’s top politicians and MPs on frequent and lavish junkets to Korea. 

The Oli administration has been hapless about getting its timing right even when it makes positive moves. It squandered the PR  advantage of signing the much-vaunted Trade and Transit Treaty with Beijing earlier this year by installing a controversial head of the Nepal Telecommunication Authority on the same day. Headlines about the  appointment overshadowed the geopolitical significance of the China treaty. The government has done little to followup on the treaty, but that is another story we will go into some other time.

Prime Minister Oli also announced a bold social security scheme for private sector employees, but the extravagant publicity campaign, in which his face was plastered all over the country, undid any brownie points from it. It will take a long time to undo the damage from the ridicule the government and Oli personally suffered in the mainstream media and social networking sites.

Read also: 

Not just social security, Josh Glover

Social insecurity, Om Astha Rai

Many Nepalis would probably have ignored all this nonsense if in the past nine months of assuming office the Nepal Community Party-led government had used its two-thirds majority to perform. Not only has the government not been able to deliver, its accomplishments in just about every sector has been less than underwhelming.

Last week, we lamented in this space how the government has managed to spend only 11% of its outlay for development projects in the first quarter. In the same period, foreign direct investment in Nepal is down 75% from the same period last year, and it is the lowest in three years. Combined, these two trends mean that Nepal is unlikely to achieve the projected 8% growth target.

Successive governments have promised that the pace of development and economic growth will pick up once things get back to 'normal'. The war has been over 12 years, the constitution was promulgated three years ago, elections were over and done with and the three levels of government have been in office for nearly a year. When are we ever going to be 'normal'?

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Communist capital, Editorial

Roadblocks, Ramesh Kumar

A rape/murder case in Kanchanpur that could easily have been solved with detective work at the local level was bungled with a cover up, and the framing of innocents until it grew into a crisis of national proportions.

Such weakness and chronic failure, especially of an elected government with a strong mandate, is not good news for Nepal’s long-suffering people who have waited out two decades of conflict and transition. It also undermines the people’s trust in their elected representatives, and belief in democracy.

The response of the prime minister and his spokesman has been a knee-jerk attempt to blame the messenger and lash out at critics in the time-honoured way of all failed leaders. Our unsolicited advice to the prime minister would be to make a list of can-do deliverables and just get them done. The public will give him credit without him having to beg for it. 

10 years ago this week

Ten years ago this week, the Nepali Times edition #428 of 6-11 December, 2008 had the front page headline ‘Red carpet’ alluding to the string of foreign visitors in Kathmandu. An excerpt from the analysis:

Since the UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon in October, there have been four ministers from India, Britain, Denmark and China. The Chinese sent a military delegation and the British their army chief. Most visitors expressed concern about delays in the peace process, army integration and lamented the lack of consensus politics. They urged the Maoist-led government to deliver law and order, prove its commitment to democracy and the free press and ensure industrial security.

Some visitors said privately they saw a gap between what the Maoists were saying and what they were doing. There was concern that Nepal, which two years ago was hailed a model country for conflict-transformation, was about to slip back into anarchy. Nepal had a great opportunity after the peace accord to restore stability and be stronger internally. But the country now seems to be going in the other direction. The only way to dissuade foreign meddling is to build consensus during the transition period and to cooperate in the constitution-drafting process. If the Maoists who lead the government can’t do this, opposing geopolitical blocs will start getting jumpy and try to influence political decisions. When that doesn’t work, they will interfere directly.