Murari Sharma: Why is Nepali politics so corrupt?

Morality in politics  is almost as rare as blond hair atop Asian and African heads across the world. But accountability is a different matter in that and in western democracies it still largely counts. However, in the barren political landscape of countries like Nepal, neither morality nor accountability has sprouted or grown, so far.

Politicians demand morality of others, but not of themselves. Even in most advanced western democracies, they often swim in the river of immorality. For instance, in Britain, not long ago several members of parliament  were caught fraudulently claiming expenses and asking questions in the house for money from businesspeople. They were also accused of abusing women and children and systematically hiding the ugly information from the public.

Similarly, in the United States, several senators , representatives, and governors have been incarcerated for their immoral behavior as engaging in illegal activities like the Watergate scandal,  accepting kickbacks, and unlawfully sharing state secrets. In France, several senior leaders, including a former president, have been found splashing in the pool of corruption.

However, western leaders do often take responsibility for failure. For example, British Prime Minister David Cameron resigned after he lost the referendum on 23 June 2016 on the European Union. He had campaigned to remain in the EU, but the British voters, who did not agree with him, decided to leave by 52-48. Cameron resigned even though the majority in his party had asked him to continue.

In 2015,  Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s Labor Party lost the general election to Cameron’s Conservative Party and resigned. In 2015, when Labor Party lost the general election to Cameron, Labor leader Ed Miliband quit his party’s leadership.

Such accountability keeps politics vibrant. It forces political leaders to quit their posts when they cannot deliver as promised. This necessity allows political parties to inject new blood into them and keep them energetic and dynamic. The combined effect is that political parties remain competitive, un-ossified and relevant.

Contrast that with Nepal. Several senior leaders have blood in their hand.  Barring a few and rare exceptions, political leaders seldom resign their post on moral grounds. None of them has desisted from gobbling up bribes, abusing power, and engaging in immoral politics. They may frequently point their fingers at the immorality of others, but not theirs. No wonder, voters view them as an immoral bunch of crooks, as numerous public protests against them suggest.

Besides, the fetor of corruption is in every political nook and cranny. Many leaders have served long jail sentences for corruption, only to be reinstated in their high positions after coming out of from the gaol. Those politicians who had come to Kathmandu in flip-flops with a broken trunk just a few years back  now shamelessly flaunt their expensive cars and mansions fit for princes. If the law were applied without fear or favor, a large chunk of Nepali politicians would be behind bars. So much for morality.

What about accountability? Unfortunately, it is too a rare stuff in Nepali politics. Let us start with 1991. In the first general election, the Nepali Congress Party won the majority in the parliament, but Madan Bhattarai did not resign as chief of his party, Communist Party of Nepal (UML).

Likewise, in 1994, the NCP lost the election to the CPN (UML), but NCP President Girija Koirala did not budge from his post. Neither did he when his party slipped from the first into the second position in the Constituent Assembly in 2008. In 1999, the CPN (UML) lost the general election to the NCP, but CPN (UML) leader Madhav Nepal stuck to his nest.

Neither Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal vacated his post in 2013 when his party slid from the first to the third position in the CA.  If the leaders of large parties have no regard for accountability, you cannot expect if from the satraps of small outfits. Our leaders prefer to go to Aryaghat without ever relinquishing their high perch. And junior leaders and voters let the senior leaders do it.

Although junior leaders in all outfits do not tire complaining about the castrated oxen covering the fertile cow, they seldom try to edge out the infertile bulls. Lacking in confidence and ideas, they rather supplicate themselves to the diktats of the outdated men and women for insignificant favors. Voters do not punish the neutered oxen for covering the fertile cow, our land, and keeping it from getting pregnant with new ideas and energy.

Sure, we voters have no say in party elections. But we can defeat those whose date has expired for the country. Unfortunately, we return them election after election, even though they have nothing new or useful to offer.

No wonder, Nepali politics looks so backward. The blatant disregard for moral values and for accountability by political leaders, among other things, is at the source of most our perennial political uncertainty and underdevelopment. Senior leaders jockey for power by hook or crook, for they have nothing to lose. If they win, they rule. If they lose, they do not lose their political career. Aye aanp, gaye jhataro. That is the essence of chaotic  and disorderly politics.

If morality and accountability mattered, political leaders would think twice before doing anything that would put them on the spot. There would be less frequent changes in government. There would be more discipline, order and delivery. Political leaders would not be frivolously over-ambitious or over ambitious if being so would doom their political career. They would try their best to deliver on their promise if a failure meant the end of their politics.

History suggests that politicians will not alter their behavior or attitude unless law or voters force them to. They flout the law and get away with it in soft states like Nepal. Therefore, let us, the voters, ought to take the matter in our hand. We should to hold our leaders to high moral standards and to a high measure of accountability. In a democratic society, we can punish wayward politicians by using our voting right carefully.



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