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Dahal’s arbitrary rule and docile Congress

Dahal’s arbitrary rule and docile Congress
When the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government decided to mark the Falgun 1 of the Nepali calendar as a “People’s War Day” and announced a public holiday, there was no reaction from the major political parties, except from the pro-monarch Rastriya Prajatantra Party. The decision not only glorified the decade-long Maoists armed rebellion that killed over 17,000 people, it was also a cruel insult to those families who lost their loved ones in the conflict and are now awaiting justice. Understandably, there was an uproar about the decision on social media platforms and newspaper columns, but it was not enough for the political parties like Nepali Congress and CPN-UML to raise their own voice. Instead, they quietly assented to Prime Minister Dahal’s decision to celebrate the bloody war waged by his party. The UML, the key coalition partner at the time, remained mum, because he was working hard to continue the coalition. The NC’s silence was born out of its own ambition to break the Maoist-UML coalition.

It was an ugly display of political avarice by the UML and the NC, and an act of power abuse by the Maoists. The Dahal government also made the controversial decision of providing Rs 200,000 cash handouts to the former Maoist child soldiers disqualified to serve in the integrated national army during the verification process conducted by the UN, which ended in 2007. Again, the decision was made without seeking consensus from the major political parties.

It was easy to see what prompted Prime Minister Dahal to come up with such a decision. There is a widespread disenchantment against the Maoist party among former combatants. The UN-facilitated program to integrate disqualified Maoist fighters back in society by teaching them skills has not produced the desired results. Today, many former Maoist soldiers are struggling to earn a decent living, and they blame their former party for abandoning them. With his cash distribution scheme, Prime Minister Dahal wants to appease the former party soldiers. It is also a move to strengthen the Maoist party’s political base, which has been eroding over the years. After registering a major electoral victory in the Constituent Assembly election of 2008, the party has been sliding behind. It won only 32 seats in last year’s general elections, which was far behind UML’s 78 and NC’s 89. By handing out a one-time dole money, the Maoist prime minister wants to keep the former combatants happy. It does not offer any long-term solution. The Ministry of Home Affairs, which is led by Maoist leader Narayan Kaji Shrestha, has endorsed the procedure for distributing cash to former Maoist child soldiers. The problems faced by Maoist combatants are genuine, but experts say offering cash handouts is not the right solution. Former Supreme Court justice Balaram KC says if former Maoist fighters are facing problems, it must be addressed through the transitional justice commission. The current decision, he adds, is arbitrary and goes against the principle of peace process. NC senior leader Shekhar Koirala has also opposed the decision in a Facebook post, stating that the government should think about providing employment to the former child soldiers instead of cash handouts. He also raised the issue of transparency, noting that the Maoist party had failed to provide the bills of the money provided to Maoist combatants in the past as well. Other than Koirala’s Facebook post, there has not been any reactions from the NC, the main coalition partner in the Dahal government. It appears as though the ruling coalition partners have agreed to freely take any decisions that suit their interests. In order to keep the coalition going, they are apparently willing to ignore the unpopular moves made by the ministries led by one or other party in the government. Following the Maoist’s footstep, the NC-led Finance Ministry is now planning to introduce populist programs in the upcoming budget, as the party has been rattled by the unprecedented popularity of the newly formed Rastriya Swatantra Party. Political analyst Chandra Dev Bhatta says the arbitrary decision making process without any consultative process is the manifestation of political opportunism. He adds parties are making decisions to serve their interests rather than the country’s interests, he adds. If the political parties continue to act this way, people’s trust in them will continue to erode, which is already happening today. Experts also worry that as Prime Minister Dahal and his ministers are taking one populist decision after another, there is no one to monitor their activities. Former justice KC says the constitution allows a coalition government to yield a positive result and ensures stability. But the ruling parties are taking decisions which could be construed as a form of corruption. One of the major priorities of Prime Minister Dahal is to address the remaining war-era cases including the transitional justice process. But he has been taking decisions without consulting other parties and considering the legal process, which is likely to be challenged in the court further complicating the matters. Experts say the NC, as a key coalition partner, should act conscientiously and have the courage to criticize the prime minister and his party, instead of giving him the carte blanche in order to protect the hard-won coalition.