A democratic culture is not something you develop overnight. Nor is it a given that it will materialize. The responsibility for its flourishing largely falls on the shoulders of the country’s top political leaders. To do so, they must abide by legal norms, realize the importance of check and balance, and commit to building strong institutions. As important is a periodic transfer of power. As in any other discipline, the competent ones need to be promoted, and the old generation paves the way for the next generation. Nepal’s current political leadership is deficient in all these fronts.
Be it Nepal Communist Party’s KP Oli, Nepali Congress’s Sher Bahadur Deuba, the ex-Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or Baburam Bhattarai—they have all at one time or other been complicit as prime ministers in playing fast and loose with democratic norms and values. Across the board, what we see is top leaders using every dirty trick to remain in positions of power and to sabotage their political rivals. They thus become ready to dissolve parliament on fictional constitutional grounds, to politically interfere in the national army, to install a sitting chief justice as the chief executive, and to plot against their party colleagues: there really is no limit to what they can do.
What we don’t see is a party leader who loses an election quit active politics or to at least vacate the top position. We don’t see them groom successors. This is why the same cast of characters who have been repeatedly tried and been found wanting have been running Nepali politics since the 1990 change. They want to forever remain in power, literally, until their last breath.
Prime Minister Oli’s unconstitutional house dissolution is thus hardly a surprise. Like most of his predecessors as prime minister, rather than have the guts to realize his weaknesses and see the failures of his government, he smashed the government machinery that was being taken away from him. Again, this is not to imply that his (former) party colleagues in Dahal or Madhav Nepal have in the past proven themselves to be better leaders, either of their party or their country. Yet past mistakes cannot be an excuse for present failures. The wise rather learn from past mistakes and apply the lessons in the present. Unfortunately, our incumbent all-knowing prime minister is not taking any lesson from anyone.