Dwindling Popularity of the Prime Minister

Is the Government heading for a collapse?

Dr. Jiba Raj Pokharel
Read Time = 8 mins

The Coalition Government led by Prachanda of the Maoists Central(MC) was at one time scaling the dizzy height of popularity in the Parliament with near to 99 per cent supporting it. But now like an unfortunate plane doomed to disaster, it has taken a sharp nose drive. Because it is left with a slim majority of 10 seats with 147 seats due to 138 parliamentarians voting against it. It was glaringly seen in the vote held to decide the fate of the budget presented in the parliament. After the country entered into a democratic era following the Peoples Movement of the year in 1990 which restored the Multi Party Polity, this is the first time that the voting was resorted to with regards to the passing of the budget which was otherwise decided by the applause of the majority of the law makers. Thank God that the members of Coalition the Janata Samajbadi Party(JSP) and the United Socialist (US) Party supported the budget despite their threat till the end that they will vote against it unless the budget is amended unlike the Jana Mat Party(JMP) which has withdrawn its support.  The Prachanda Government would have been enveloped in the pages of history by now had they stuck to their earlier stand.

The budget has been like a bull's eye in view of the criticism aimed at it both by the Government and Opposition members since it was tabled in the Parliament. The doling of the public money through the much despised Parliament Fund to the Parliamentarian despite the Government's stance that their role was confined only to the selection of the Projects attracted the fury of the Parliament members. It was aggravated by the raising of the taxes for imported onions and tomatoes even though they were aimed at providing market to the local produce in the absence of which the tomato farmers have been compelled to dump it in the road.  The last nail in the coffin of the budget was glaringly seen in the disproportionate higher allocation of budget in the three districts which happen to be the constituencies of heavy weight politicians. The scrapping of the district Election office was yet another bone of contention, the decision of which was however reversed at the end after the Rastriya Swatantra Party(RSP) and the United Marxists and Leninists(UML) mounted a united opposition.

The Front has been allegedly formed to scare the NC as well as the UML by appearing to establish as the third largest force in the Parliament.  It has also been seen as the attempt of Prachanda to present a new face during his China visit in view of allergy developing about Maoism in China.

The budget was seen as a savior by the people at a time when the country is coasting in the troubled economic waters. But it received what is called proverbially the stone in the first gulp. It is natural that the Finance Minister Mr. Prakash Sharan Mahat will lose motivation to implement such a heavily criticized budget. If there is the change of the Government, the new Finance Minister will certainly develop allergy towards its execution. Both ways, the budget will be at the receiving end.

The formation of a hastily cobbled up Socialist Front participated by the MC, JSP, US and the Communist Party headed by Biplab also created a political distraction. It has been portrayed as an untimely concert or playing waltz in a funeral. The Front has been allegedly formed to scare the NC as well as the UML by appearing to establish as the third largest force in the Parliament.  It has also been seen as the attempt of Prachanda to present a new face during his China visit in view of allergy developing about Maoism in China.

One can see that Nepali political parties have been passing through the phase of party switching, the rise as well as their decline. What happens in such circumstances? Such a situation had developed in Japan. The Liberal Democratic Party(LDP) was enjoying dominance till the early nineties. But the Democratic Party of Japan(DPJ) has been giving tough time to LDP. It can be seen how parties in Japan attempt to change the dynamics of policy competition through switching and reorganizing.  They also attempt to shift their policy positions to attract public support and to gain a competitive edge in Government formation.

This however is not likely to be in Nepal for two reasons. Firstly, political parties in Nepal lack such a political vision. Their focus appears to be on making an easy buck through corruption rather than building a strong and self-dependent Nepal. Secondly, they have lost credibility from the people because of their irresponsibility and unaccountability. The statement of the Agriculture and Livestock Development Minister Mr. Beduram Bhushal that the tomato producers were themselves to be blamed for overproducing tomato is a pointer in the direction. In fact, they had to be awarded for this deed. If all the farmers like the tomato farmers step up the production of the respective crops, the country will not be dependent on India as it is hopelessly at the present. It has been importing rice and other cereals which it was importing at one time in history.

Prachanda's popularity had sky rocketed like a stream swollen up in the Monsoon rain but it has now reduced to virtually nothing with ants merrily crossing it in the winter with his dwindling majority in the Parliament. This has occurred at a time when he is planning to visit China after his fairly successful India visit though unfortunately overshadowed by the religious pilgrimage in one hand and Morra Buffalo import in the other.   His visit in the capacity of a Maoist leader is less likely to be successful as the Chinese view Maoism as responsible for pushing China backward even if he chanted the slogan of Leap Forward Movement.

The Government has been facing a political dilemma. The only way by which it can survive is through the opening of the corruption files which were closed by the previous Governments.

Prachanda however proudly dons two feathers in his cap. The first one is that of bringing the Bhutanese Refugee and secondly the newly Lalit Niwas Scam into the light. It has however brought worries within his party and the members of coalition including the opposition UML as all of these parties have been implicated in the corruption somewhere or the other. Mr Sher Bahadur Deuba is said to have been continuously haunted by the ghost of Wide Body Scam while Mr Oli is tormented by the Omni Scam. Mr. Prachanda himself is alleged to have amassed huge fortune from the fund allocated to the People War fighters. Even Rastriya Prajatantra Pary has its members are said to be tinged by corrupt scandals. The only parties that are untouched by the corruption drive are the new ones like RSP and the JMP. Even RSP had begun to demonstrate similar trait after the corrupt acts of one of its members Mr. Dhaka Kumar Shrestha. But the firing of Mr. Shrestha immediately from all the Party responsibilities saved the RSP for the time being.

The Government has been facing a political dilemma. The only way by which it can survive is through the opening of the corruption files which were closed by the previous Governments. Because people are attracted by this singular agenda of rooting out corruption from the country. They are fade up with the promises that the parties make as these are seldom fulfilled. Doing so would mean the political demise of all the parties including MC.

What is the way out then? It is said that there is delay in the world but not utter darkness. Like islands amidst ocean, there are few clean persons in all the parties. The present leaders should surrender the responsibilities to them and present themselves for their scrutiny in alleged corruption scandal. These leaders can stage a comeback if they are cleared by the impartial and independent inquiry set up for this purpose. Sita of Ramayan fame did not hesitate to jump into the fire ordeal to prove her innocence. In our country, Mr. Hari Prasad Pandey, the former minister for Water Resources had resorted to a sit in program appealing the Government to try him for his corrupt practices. The towering leaders of the political party should also emulate this good practice for their own sake, people and the country. This is the only way that the parties will restore confidence in the eyes of the people. Otherwise, the peoples' verdict may drift to those who denounce republicanism as well as federalism and seek to restore the monarchy in the country.

In fact, people will be very pleased if the Government was focused on cleaning the corruption dirt that has accumulated from the past. Development can be on hold for one year. If the corruption that has swallowed the country could be done to death, the development will attain an exponential pace in the future. Nepal can thus shoot into development of the kind never seen before. But for that the new leaders holding clean image have to emerge and try the old leaders for possible corrupt dealings. If they come out cleanly, that would be yet another moment of happiness for the people as they had raised above their head and shoulders at one time in the past.

The author is the former Vice-Chancellor of Nepal Academy of Science and Technology (NAST).

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