Sources of instability in Nepal

  • Only a change in the political system will make progress and development possible
- Hisila Yami
With every movement in Nepal, there was some progress towards democracy, republicanism, secularism, inclusion, and federalism, but because of frequent changes in government, we have not been able to consolidate the gains

Feb 14, 2017-Nepal has gone through many political changes in the last century. After doing away with the the oligarchic Rana rule in 1951, a brief period with a Westminster kind of parliamentary system followed until 1960. Within that period, there were eight governments. From 1960 to 1990 there was the one-party Panchayat system. In that period, there were 15 governments. Between 1990 and 2008, a constitutional monarchy with a parliament produced 16 governments. And since 2008, government has changed hands nine times and a constitution was agreed upon by a Constituent Assembly.

Incomplete revolution

If one were to see 1951 as a turning point, after which popular movements began changing Nepali politics, then there have been 48 governments within 66 years. No wonder the country’s economy takes the 151st place worldwide.

Compare this with political change in China. The country went through a revolution to end feudalism and Japanese occupation, resulting in a secular presidential system with a monolithic state in 1949. Since 1951, China has seen only seven changes of government under this same political system. It is the second richest country in the world, thanks to the stability of its political system and its government.

Similarly, India went through an independence movement which overthrew the rule of the British Empire in 1947 to herald a Westminster form of parliamentary system. Since 1951, the country has been ruled by the same system with 18 changes of government. However, of late, a culture of coalition government has started operating and a short span of rule by minority governments has been taking place too. 

Why are there so many political changes in Nepal? And why are there so many changes of government? It has been observed that the revolution in Nepal was left half finished: each revolution—be it the 1951 popular movement, the people’s movement 1990 or the 2006 Maoist War—ended with negotiations. Why was there no complete revolution? Is it because we are not able to manage internal differences of class, caste, ethnicity, region and gender within the country? Or is it also because we are not able to balance the geo-political position of Nepal? If so, both internal and external factors need to be addressed.

A new form of government

With every movement in Nepal, there was some progress towards democracy, republicanism, secularism, inclusion and federalism. But because of frequent changes in government, we have not been able to consolidate the gains of each struggle. As a result, political gains have not been matched with economic and social gains. Hence people are getting fed up with politics and political parties. And the frequently changing ministers and prime ministers are being belittled at home and abroad. 

The Westminster parliamentary system has lead to many changes in government. It is said that the separation of power is the pillar of democracy, as the executive, legislative and judicial branches help check each other and, at the same time, function independently from each other. This works well with a presidential system. But with the Westminster system, the legislative body infringes upon the executive branch by electing the prime minister. And the prime minister can infringe upon the legislative body by dissolving it. As a numbers game is the main strategy for staying in power, politicians are forced to elect defeated but nominated parliamentarians as the prime minister. Similarly, minority governments are more likely to be formed. All this has encouraged a bargaining culture, resulting in short-sighted political games.

These processes are leading to corruption, disruption of bureaucracy and instability of government. The biggest loser is the economy. There is little investment. Companies are slowly leaving the country. Motivational factors, both in economy and governance, are dwindling. This, in turn, has left the country devoid of a young workforce, as youths have  started going abroad for work. In the absence of a private sector, the public sector is increasingly becoming the only source for jobs, making government posts lucrative. When the government becomes corrupt, it poisons the whole country. 

It is obvious the old system of governance is not in harmony with the new political system. For a new political system, a new system of governance is required. It is to be noted that 88 percent of the people voted for a directly elected presidential form of governance against the 22 percent who voted for the old parliamentary system when a committee of the first Constituent Assembly sought the opinion of the people.

Inclusive development

It is worth remembering that the people’s war was started to overthrow not only the monarchy but also the old Westminster system. However, the same Maoist party, which advocated an executive presidential system, abandoned the idea to gain power quickly. 

In this context, the Naya Shakti party has proposed a new form of government: an executive presidential system with a proportionate parliament. The executive presidential system allows people to choose their president through direct elections. This system makes sure there is stability for five years to boost production. And a fully proportional parliament makes sure all the oppressed nationalities and regions are represented in it. Thus centralisation by presidential rule and decentralisation by a fully proportionate parliament would bring sustainable and inclusive development to Nepal. It allows the induction of experts as ministers to make governance professional and efficient. It allows the members of the legislative branch to concentrate on making legislation. With stability, a unified foreign policy would emerge, which would help check external threats. With inclusiveness would come ownership of development, which in turn would bring about internal stability. 

Finally, it is important to note that an unstable Nepal does not benefit India and China. This is especially true when this region is becoming a global powerhouse, both economically and politically.


Yami, a former Cabinet minister, is associated with Naya Shakti Nepal

Published: 14-02-2017 08:52

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