Most of the country was enthused when KP Sharma Oli became the prime minister of a strong government four and a half months ago. Particularly after the formal merger between the country’s two biggest communist parties, there was hope that the government under the newly-minted Nepal Communist Party would herald an era of stability and prosperity. With the appointment of clean and capable ministers and announcement of a slew of reforms, PM Oli seemed determined to act in the country’s best interest, even by displeasing those close to him.
This was the reason we gave his government the benefit of doubt in its early days. We have also given him credit where it is due. For instance he has done a good job on foreign policy, mostly by reducing the country’s overreliance on India. But there have of late been troubling signs too: Listing of popular protest sites as prohibited areas; the underhand way in which the government tried to roll back medical education reforms; lack of follow through on its commitment to remove all cartels and syndicates; and firing of a Nepal Television anchor who had dared question the information minister on his property details—to name a few.
There is more than a tinge of authoritarianism in these actions. They in turn have raised fears that the communist government, in the name of stability, wants to entrench itself in power and stifle dissent. Of course, not all of its decisions have been bad, even on the domestic front. We for instance support better monitoring of NGOs and proper documentation of foreigners living in Nepal. But even here regulation, not exclusion, should be the aim.
Make no mistake. The Oli government that came to power after a landslide election victory still has considerable public support. And, again, when it is doing something worthwhile, it is the media’s duty to appreciate it. But in a democracy a government cannot expect blind support of the media and the civil society, even if it doing a lot of good. Diversity of opinion and belief are in fact the heart and soul of democracy. As important are the virtues of transparency and accountability. To start with, government ministers and ruling party MPs should develop a habit of entertaining and listening to diverse views. An insular government is also an ineffective one, or worse.