Arnico Panday, the political scientist

Scientist Arnico Panday talks to Nepali Times about why he became a politician and the reason he joined Rabi Lamichhane’s Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) which has seven directly elected MPs and 13 seats from the proportional vote

Scientist Arnico Panday talks to Nepali Times about why he became a politician and the reason he joined Rabi Lamichhane’s Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) which has seven directly elected MPs and 13 seats from the proportional vote. Panday withdrew his candidacy for health reasons, but is in the central committee of the RSP. Excerpts of interview:

Nepali Times: You are an atmospheric scientist, what motivated you to stand for elections?

Arnico Panday: I didn’t necessarily think about coming into politics because I was an atmospheric scientist. But because of the direction the country was going regarding issues including climate change, environment, heritage conservation, urbanisation, I felt a need for myself and others like me to have a louder voice in national affairs.

Issues like air pollution and climate change need attention and solutions that go beyond finding new knowledge. For the past decade, I have been working in various policy advisory roles and found that they were not sufficient to get the change happening. The people who had the mandate and the power to make the decisions were not doing so, or were listening to outside advice. Also, I did have an inspiration in my friend Marcela Omena who I knew as a PhD student. She went on to become a minister of environment in Chile and got a lot done.

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But you stepped down as a candidate after contracting Covid and your replacement candidate Toshima Karki had an upset win from Lalitpur-3. Did that surprise you?

The whole time I was thinking I would contest from Lalitpur-3, the thought was that the chance was very small. And a month before the election, we thought it was a long shot for Toshima too. But about a week before the election when I went door to door with her, I realised how popular she was, and how much support there was for her.

I suppose the trouble she had with the Election Commission gave her a lot of free publicity, and that must have helped. But we saw that in many places people were just tired of the lack of delivery by old political parties and they saw candidates from our party, many of whom are a generation younger represent hope for the change they wanted.

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What will your role now be in the RSP?

I’m on the central committee of RSP and I work very closely with party chair Rabi Lamichhane. We now need to expand the party structure, and switch from a start-up mode to a functioning organisation. What my exact role will depend on what the party’s role will be next, whether we will be in the opposition or part of the coalition government.

I will continue to strongly represent the issues of climate change, environment and urban planning but a lot of other key issues too that resonated with our voters like bringing people back to Nepal. Nepal depends quite a bit on remittance, but that comes at a very high cost. We need to have jobs at home and more industries that create products we can export. We need to go beyond exporting people and importing goods with the money they send home. We also have a very strong anti-corruption message.

Has the RSP been invited by the Nepali Congress to join the coalition government?

We’ve had all kinds of informal reaching out. Our position has been that we are not opposed to joining the coalition government, but it will depend on who will be on the overall Cabinet and what kind of joint agenda there will be. Will joining the coalition help us deliver some of the promises we made to the voters? Will it allow us to build our profile as a no-nonsense party that gets things done at a low cost? Or does it just turn us into another one of the same?

We are not here for just the next two years, we would like to get a majority in the next election five years from now. We got a lot of votes because people had high hopes that we would do something. Next time we will get votes because we will have shown that we get things done.

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What would be some of the reasons your newly-formed party managed to win so many seats in the federal Parliament?

A lot of voters are tired of old political parties, their lack of delivery, lack of care for common people’s problems and corruption. I think Nepali voters have a pattern of giving new guys a chance. We are a fresh group of people, we don’t know how to do politics, many of us do not know how to do speeches, we are coming with good intentions to make a difference.

Our party chair Rabi Lamichhane being a very well-known face also made a big difference. He is someone with a long track record of doing what the state and the elected leaders should have been doing. In parts of Nepal, he is a folk hero who has done a lot from building a hospital in Kalikot to working with the Nepali diaspora to organise oxygen cylinders during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It doesn’t seem like the RSP supports federalism much. But isn’t devolution a good thing?

We have nothing against devolution of power, budget or decision-making. Our only concern has been with the provincial government structure which is extremely costly yet not delivering anything. We are not against having provinces but it is set up all wrong, and we want to improve it. We have put forth some proposals for a much leaner provincial government system.

Does your shift to politics signify that politics is the best way to find a resolution for a lot of our environmental problems like air pollution, waste management and climate change?

As a scientist working in policy advisory coming into politics, I think you need a combination of a lot of things to work. You need knowledge created by science, but that alone will not bring about change. People have known about the basic science behind climate change since the 1960s but actions didn’t take place. It is elected leaders and people in positions of power who make the decisions. So we need knowledgeable, responsible politicians who will act in the best long-term interests of the people.

In my own personal journey, it seemed like the right time to engage in politics even though it is not something that comes naturally to me. I wouldn’t say this is the best way universally to address the issues, but without sufficient attention in politics, things are not going to move forward.

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