Safety valve politics

Voters reaffirmed their trust in the democratic system to give voice to those historically deprived of it, and the main parties will disregard this at their own peril


Just as outmigration of Nepali youth is a safety valve that lets the government off the hook to find jobs for them at home and the money they send home is the country’s economic lifeline, this year’s elections served as a political safety valve.

Economic frustration can easily turn into political unrest, and the election of various independent, excluded and previously outlawed individuals has helped release some socio-political tension.

There were many ups and downs with implementation of the 2015 Constitution, but it did channel accumulated grievances through political representation for those left out in the past.

To be sure, the established parties still hold sway. Proof of this was the election of Sher Bahadur Deuba as leader of the Nepali Congress (NC) parliamentary party, which paves the way for his sixth term as prime minister.

But the elections in 2022 also allowed Nepali voters to vent their fury, and bring in the likes of Balen Shah in Kathmandu and Rabi Lamichhane in Chitwan.

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The polls have even provided new political space for former Madhes separatist C K Raut, and for the indigenous Tharu community of the Tarai to carve a separate political identity for their Janamat Party.

Just the presence of these personalities and parties will not be enough to bring meaningful change, but their representation is the first step in righting past wrongs.

The Constitution may be flawed and incomplete, but it has recognised Nepal’s ethno-cultural diversity to a limited extent. There is a difference between diversity and division. Nepal’s ethnic, linguistic, and religious mosaic is in fact our nation’s social capital, our cultural wealth.

The role of elected representatives now is not to try to meld, but manage this medley. Nepalis are now politically astute, and cannot be pushed around. The goal of the new Parliament must be to broaden this awareness so it translates into inclusive and equitable progress.

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Deuba defeated Gagan Thapa to lead the NC party by the vote count, but he lost at the moral level. Gagan has rightly gauged the national mood for generational change not just within the NC but in the other old parties. He has shown that internal party democracy is necessary to safeguard Nepal’s democracy.

Unlike Deuba, there were no rivals for Pushpa Kamal Dahal and K P Oli from within their parties because they sidelined all potential adversaries long ago. But the Maoist and UML parties are already feeling the aftershocks of Gagan Thapa’s challenge to Deuba. Many young turks are thinking: if he can do it, so can we.

The rise of the RSP and RPP in November elections also show that there is a socio-political churning afoot in Nepal. There is disenchantment in a section of the electorate with federalism, republicanism, and secularism — the three pillars of the 2015 Constitution.  The rout of Madhes-based parties which were at the forefront of the federalism struggle was a rude awakening.

Nepal now needs a stable government that can deliver. But the NC needs support from smaller parties, which means more backroom deals. A NC-UML coalition, on the other hand, would make them too dominant and drown out new voices.

The Nepali people in their wisdom have sent a strong message to the established parties: you may continue to be in power, but your days are numbered. Voters also reaffirmed their trust in the democratic system to give voice to those historically deprived of it, and the main parties will disregard this at their own peril.

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Chandra Kishore is a Birganj-based political commentator. This is his second monthly column BORDERLINES in Nepali Times. @kishore_chandra

Chandra Kishore


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