The present political scenario raises some questions: Are we destined for prolonged political instability? Will Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal continue for a limited period or full term?
Generally, the electoral system is blamed for instability, as it produces a hung parliament with no single party securing a majority in the House of Representatives. But a hung parliament can hardly be blamed, as in parliamentary system coalition culture has been practiced in many countries in South Asia and Europe.
We cannot blame the parliamentary system, which envisages joint responsibility, as it is also called the ‘Cabinet System’ in which the Prime Minister is held as the senior among the equals. Ministers are responsible not only to the Prime Minister but to the House as well. The job of a PM is to coordinate among the ministers. However, it is also called the prime ministerial system, as the parties, while contesting general elections, informally select their leaders who lead the election campaign. A PM is changed, of course, but with the change in the confidence of the House. It is never bargained among the parties or groups before a PM is elected as the leader of the House.
We have a history of frequent changes of guard since the election to the Constitution Assembly. We have had about a dozen governments from 2008 to 2023. Interestingly, the same old faces have replaced one another all along. It shows a handful of leaders controlling their parties and the absence of inner democracy in party folds. No doubt, periodic elections are held in the parties but candidates not enjoying the endorsement of leaders hardly win such elections. Worldwide, several popular PMs have continued for years. But the same leader serving as PM time and time again is a case unique to Nepal.
It is a truism that political power is required to do good to the people. It is a means. But when a means becomes an end in itself by becoming an insatiable hunger for power, it corrupts leaders absolutely. Perhaps, this is the reason behind instability. Political parties, especially the major ones, are not ready to learn from the past, mend their ways and develop a coalition culture for which leaders have to make adjustments with other parties, in the best interest of the country.
Politics in Nepal appears to be treated as an enterprise where an entrepreneur succeeds if he takes the risk of investing even in unfavorable circumstances. If he invests and uses his maneuvering skills, his success is more guaranteed. It has been proved recently that success in politics depends on the art of maneuvering and the impossible becomes possible.
In the last election, the Nepali Congress (NC) secured 89 seats (32 percent of total seats), the CPN-UML got 78 seats (28.36 percent) and the third largest party, the CPN (Maoist Centre) got 32 seats (11.63 percent) in the House of Representatives. But the third largest party is leading the government. This is because Dahal knows that the leaders of the first and the second largest parties can neither form alliances themselves nor can they form their own government without support from the Maoists and some other fringe parties.
In such a situation, it was easier for Dahal to float his own candidature for premiership and bargain with the NC and the UML to accept his leadership. First, he approached the NC for forming a government under his leadership, only to find the largest party reluctant. Then he approached the UML, which accepted the idea. But then Dahal found relying solely on the UML support for his government not a very good idea, so he sought and got the support of the NC in the vote of confidence. Dahal courting the NC made the UML suspicious. As anticipated, Dahal ditched the Maoists’ alliance with the UML by supporting the Congress candidate in the presidential election. This was perhaps meant to maintain a balance of power in the parliament, given that the UML has already bagged the position of Speaker. Dahal perhaps hopes to be able to serve a full term by managing to keep the current ruling coalition intact.
Let’s hope that our leaders show maturity by focusing more on political stability than on satiating their thirst for power.