Whither political stability?

  • As Nepalis hope to bear the fruits of the much awaited political stability, it is important to understand what this idea entails
- CHANDRA D BHATTA
If for any reason, the left alliance does not transform into a unified party, there will be sufficient room to argue that, as in the past, it is merely a marriage of convenience for power

Feb 12, 2018-The desire for political stability has become important for every one of us, precisely because of the perpetual political instability that Nepal has been undergoing for more than half a century. Political stability coupled with other factors has forced nearly a quarter of the population to move abroad for their livelihood. This has completely changed the social structure in many ways. The recent electoral results, however, provide hope that the long awaited political stability could become a reality and bring better days in the future. Many of us hold the view that political stability would also create sufficient conditions for economic prosperity. Views such as these are fuelled partly because the alliance led by two major political parties, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) has acquired nearly a two-thirds majority, which allows them to govern for the next five years. The article here tries to explain the future of ‘political stability’ based on a cursory look into some aspects of the current political state of affairs.

What is stability?

To begin with, let us first understand what stability really entails. Can it be achieved under the given political circumstances? Political stability is an abstract term and cannot necessarily be visualised easily. Political stability also depends on the state of mind of the people residing in a certain geographical location, and their capacity to resist various internal and external shocks. This is, however, simply a philosophical explanation of the term. The crux of the problem as it stands now is how we translate this philosophical concept into real politics that can improve the livelihood of the people. 

The issue of political stability gained prominence in public parlance recently owing to the successful completion of the three layers of elections. The elections, in principle, have ended the long-awaited political transition for some of the political parties. There are fringe parties, like the one led by Netra Bikram Chand and others, who still regard the current political project as incomplete. Whatever the case, the extant state of affairs, for obvious reasons, has been taken as a prima facie source of political stability. This said, however, we also have to be mindful of actors (political parties and their leaders) who could potentially create instability. We have to observe what significant changes they bring while in power. This is important because it is the actors who drive forward the ‘political process’.

A marriage of convenience

In view of the seats acquired by the political parties, one can argue that none of the political parties has garnered the appropriate majority to form a government. The left alliance certainly has the numbers, and has also emerged as a force to be reckoned with. It is, however, simply an alliance formed entirely for the purpose of political ‘power-sharing’—based on an agreement reached among the top brasses of the parties. Both parties share the same ideology, but not necessarily the same values and modus operandi in politics. The alliance, also, has not yet become one political unit. Unity between them is becoming more difficult than was initially thought. If for any reason, the ‘alliance’ does not transform into a party, there will be sufficient room to argue that, as in the past, it is merely a marriage of convenience for power. To explain, we do not need to go very far. We have witnessed many such political pacts in the past, which have only enforced what economist Douglas North calls the state of ‘limited access order’. He explains that such an order is nothing more than the ‘monopolisation’ of power in various forms and survives as long as those forming the pacts are able to reap the benefits. There is always danger looming from outside and inside the pact, particularly from those who do not benefit as much as they would wish to. In the context of Nepal, the way parties have opted out of past power sharing agreements are classic examples. The fact remains that if we look into past political agreements, or even the peace-process for that matter, they have always been dominated by the ‘limited access order’ which, with the passage of time, have sowed the seeds of conflict or political instability in society. 

Another point on political stability is that we cannot or do not see any fundamental change in the ‘political culture’. Political stability is also contingent upon the extent to which political actors are willing to change themselves. This is certainly not happening. Look at the ‘commitment’ they made just a few months back. If there are no fundamental changes, the extant political system will not generate ‘political order’. A society like ours calls for some fine-tuning between the past and the present with respect to continuity of policies and values. We need to leave behind the political culture that we have inherited so far.

Many of us also have misunderstood the idea of ‘stability’. Stability does not mean that there should be no change. Change(s) will certainly occur, but such changes will have to be peaceful, and bring prosperity onto the lives of people. Political leaders should not equate change with their own arrival in politics, as it does not make any sense for the common people. What is important for them is that they should be able to feel the positive impact of change in their livelihood. Likewise, stability also does not rule out conflict. Conflict(s) certainly will be there, but they have to be managed through negotiation. Again, stability does not mean that there will be no use of power, because power will certainly be used. But it need not be used to antagonise others, or for personal benefit. What is equally important is the type of stability we are looking for—positive or negative, democratic or autocratic. We have to understand that democracy and stability are not antithetical to each other. Genuine democracy and stability can, in fact, complement each other, even if there is instability at the beginning of the process. Only then can we think of acquiring the prosperity that all of us desire so badly.

- Bhatta is a political scientist by training

Published: 12-02-2018 08:04

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