Nepali people cast their votes overwhelmingly in favor of the communist coalition under KP Oli in the 2017 parliamentary elections. The hope was that with a stable, single-party government would come national development. But in a little under three years, their hope on the Oli government looks increasingly misplaced (even as efforts are underway to oust it). In a country that witnessed a change in government every nine months, three years is a long time for any regime.
In 2014, Zahid Hussain, the then lead economist at the World Bank, had highlighted the deep connection between economic development and political stability. However, he added, there are also politically stable autocracies and new and unstable democracies. Hussain wrote, “…political stability can be achieved through oppression or through having a political party in place that does not have to compete to be re-elected. Hence, political stability is a double-edged sword.”
In another paper, “Does Political Stability Accelerate Economic Growth in Tanzania?” published in 2016 in the Global Business Review, authors Abeid Ahmed Ramadhan, Zhi Hong Jian, Kyissima Kelvin Henry, and Yapatake Kossele posit that political stability normally plays an essential role in a country’s economic development. And yet, political stability often blocks change and stifles innovation and ingenuity. Political stability can take the form of complacency and stagnation that undermine competition. As the governing elite faces no effective opposition, it can suppress free voice, which in turn contributes to abuse of power and corruption.
The promulgation of new constitution in 2015 was considered a departure from Nepal’s chronic problem of political instability. People gave the communist coalition the mandate to rule. Yet look at what has happened to the country since.
Some African countries have been able to achieve high growth with stable governments and some are performing badly even with regime stability. Hence, for political stability to translate into economic gain, it should be accompanied by rule of law, strong institutions, an efficient bureaucracy, low corruption, and a favorable environment for investment. This distinction is critical in understanding why Nepal could not make an economic leapfrog even with a relatively stable government in place.
The Oli government’s credibility has steadily eroded. As public trust has been lost, efforts to topple the government are underway. Nepal will enter another cycle of political instability if this government goes away. Yet that may not be Nepal’s biggest problem. The bottom line is, as Hussain argues, not all forms of political stability are equally development-friendly; much depends on the extent to which stability translates into accountability and good-governance.