Print Edition - 2017-06-19  |  Oped

Who is lying?

  • Democracy and federalism can be sustained only in an environment of political trust and transparency
- ACHYUT WAGLE
If the govt often feels betrayed by the RJP-N, or the RJP-N finds that the govt ‘misleads’ the public, why can’t they agree to negotiate issues of public importance in the presence of the media, the civil society or the public in general?

Jun 19, 2017-

The government claimed that its decision on June 15 to postpone the local level elections in Province 2 to September 18 was taken in accordance with an ‘agreement’ or ‘understanding’ with the Rastriya Janata Party (RJP-N). Such an understanding supposedly meant that the RJP-N would participate in—or at least would not obstruct—the election process in Provinces 1, 5 and 7 scheduled for June 28, and also participate in delayed local polls in Province 2. But the leaders of the RJP-N, within hours of the meeting with the government, retorted that not only did they not agree to any of these ‘deals’ as claimed by the government, but they would also continue with their protest programmes aimed at disrupting all remaining polls. Both sides are now blaming each other for blatant lies.

Norm rather than exception

This is not the first time allegations of breaching the so-called ‘unofficial’ understanding between the government and the alliance of Madhes-based parties have been made. Before the first amendment to the constitution in January 2016, the government claimed that the agitating United Democratic Madhesi Front (now turned into RJP-N) had already been taken into confidence. Or at least the brokers of the amendment deal—both in Kathmandu and in New Delhi—led the then KP Oli government to believe that the Front would be appeased by the outcome and stop protesting against the constitution. The amendment ensured proportional inclusion in state bodies and included a provision to assign electoral constituencies mainly on the basis of population. But the Front did not soften its stance on the constitution.

The erstwhile Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government postponed the local elections for the second phase in Provinces 1, 2, 5 and 7 from May 14 to June 14. It was rescheduled again for June 23 and once more for June 28. The government claims that these decisions to change the dates were taken not only to make RJP-N’s 

participation in the local polls possible, but also to ensure full concurrence. Similar claims were repeated when the government recently amended two crucial election bylaws through a ‘fact track’ process, suspending about half a dozen parliamentary rules on the minimum number of days required for a registered amendment bill to mature. But the entire exercise proved futile as the RJP-N refused to file nominations in Provinces 1, 5 and 7 on June 18, the day scheduled to file candidacies for the June 28 local level polls. RJP-N leaders are now claiming that the party has not committed to take part in September polls either.

A series of such incidents is enough to suggest that at least one party is blatantly lying to the public. If no understanding was reached, how could the government declare that an agreement had been made? If an understanding was reached and breached by the other party, why has the government remained defensive instead of presenting some credible evidence? A breach of political trust becomes the norm and modus operandi instead of an exception. Above all else, democracy will be the first victim. Federalism is sure to be in peril as well.

Building trust

The bedrock of a democratic system is transparency. The government and 

political forces (the RJP-N in this case) that claim to be guided entirely by the interests of the people have no reason to enter into clandestine and corrosive deals and later blame the ‘other’ party of violating agreements. If the government often feels betrayed by the RJP-N, or the RJP-N finds that the government ‘misleads’ the public, why can’t they agree to negotiate all issues of public importance in the presence of the media, the civil society or the public in general? But they will not do so.

Equally important is the question: what element prevents these opposing parties to sign a formal agreement whenever there is an agreement on any issue of importance? Despite disagreements on myriad political issues, there seems to be an agreement that the political playground would be safer for machinations and chicanery only if they resorted to an ‘unofficial’ or ‘informal’ understanding.

Federalism can be sustained only in a perfectly functional democracy and an environment of utmost political trust. Such trust must exist horizontally among the actors in all three levels of  government, and vertically among the three levels. Nepal has decided to adopt a federal system as its political future, yet it is faltering in building trust in either direction.

Constitutional loopholes as an aftermath of the deficit of political trust have already started to emerge. For example, Articles 215 and 216 of the constitution have fixed the tenure of local level officials as five years. But the local elections are taking place in at least three different phases. So there seems to be a legal conundrum to calculate their tenure as the dates of inauguration are different. Any decision would render some worse off than the others.

Who wouldn’t lie?

For Nepal, holding local polls countrywide seems to be a Sisyphean effort. Apparently, the elections for provincial legislatures will be far more arduous than local polls since the delineation of provincial boundaries is yet be finalised and is becoming increasingly contentious. It is because we have substituted almost all the cardinal tenets of democracy with dark-room political deals. Hollow political issues devoid of prime public concerns of peace, stability and prosperity have hijacked the nation’s precious time, resources and opportunities.

Let’s view the RJP-N’s demand of re-delineation of provincial boundaries in context. Does a majority of the Nepali electorate support the RJP-N? And what is the exact democratic mandate of this outfit that has been at the forefront of such crucial political bargaining? These questions could have been convincingly answered, once and for all, had we chosen to resolve all contentious issues through popular vote. But our constitution has closed the door on that option. When democracy is curtailed in this manner, liars rule the roost. Who then would not lie?

 

- Wagle, a founding editor of the economic daily Arthik Abhiyan, is an eco-political analyst

Published: 19-06-2017 07:59

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