Murari Sharma: Nepal needs to regulate transfer of power

The transfer of power has become a major problem in Nepali politics. It has demoralized politics, fueled economic recklessness, and increased unnecessary burden to the people and the country. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has continued that culture. It must be changed.

Have you ever given away something you love voluntarily? Have you ever given up your power at home or in office? I can tell you from my experience that it is incredibly difficult.  Some people stick to power and position forever, going to any extent.

Therefore, democratic societies stipulate specific period and procedure for tranfering power. Some countries have made them more specific than others. For instance, the United States holds its elections on Tuesday after 1 November and requires the transfer of power on 20 January.

Nepal’s constitution lacks such specificities. Therefore, Mr. Deuba has been exploiting the loophole while promising to resign after the elections are finished. I can understand Mr. Deuba’s stand. The federal upper house, indeed, is yet to be elected and obtain its full shape.

However, Mr. Deuba stands on a shaky ground. Even if he had resigned a month ago, he would have continued as the interim prime minister. Mr. Deuba is too smart not to understand it. Then, why has Mr. Deuba not yet resigned resign? While no one can read his mind, we can rationally speculate a range of motivations behind his procrastination.

First, Mr. Deuba expects to become prime minister again during the life of the recently elected federal house of representative if he can break the CPN (UML)-Maoist Center alliance. A coalition of his party, the Maoist Center, the Federal Socialist Forum, and the Rashtriya Janata Party will constitute a majority in the house. Therefore, Mr. Deuba thrown a bait to the Maoist Center leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal by supporting him for prime minister for the next five years. If Mr. Dahal takes the bait, if would be the eighth wonder if Mr. Deuba did not ask him for a roatation and become prime minister again.   

Second, Mr. Deuba has already reaped the benefits by not resigning. If he had resigned, he could not have forced President Bidya Devi Bhandari to sign the upper house election ordinance, which incorporates his choice, the single transferable vote system, not the first-past-the-post favored by the UML. Under the measure, his party will have a respectable representation in the upper house, otherwise impossible. Mr. Deuba might also be able to wangle one or two members to be nominated to it by President Bhandari.

Third, Mr. Deuba has already appointed governors and chief secretaries in the provinces the people of his choice. While there is no guarantee that the government waiting in the wing would keep them all in their positions, some of them may survive, which would be a major gain for Mr. Deuba’s party, which has not won a majority in any of the seven states.

Fourth, Mr. Deuba, by sticking to power,  could announce several populist programs on the fly, without costing them. For instance, he has reduced the eligibility age for the old-age pension from 70 to 65 and for the single or widowed Dalit women to 55.  In addition, he has been spending money from the state coffers to reward his cronies, friends, and supporters in one pretext or another. Even the Finance Ministry and Home Ministry have expressed their concerns about Mr. Deuba’s reckless populism.

However, the left alliance (UML-Maoist Center) is not free from its own shortcomings that have allowed Mr. Deuba to continue in power and take these reckless populist measures. Even though the alliance members have agreed on power-sharing in six states where they would form the government, they are yet to agree on it at the center.

This is not the first time a prime minister has clung to power even though he has lost the majority. Prime Ministers Girija Koirala in 1994 and Man Mohan Adhikari in 1995 dissolved the house and called elections, so they stayed in power until the election as interim. When he lost the majority, Mr. Deuba did the same in 2002, though he knew he could not organize the vote owing to Maoist disturbances. 

After the 2008 elections, Prime Minister Girija Koirala showed no signs of quitting from April to September. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala clung to power by breaking his agreement with the UML until it became untenable for him to do so on the face of the Indian economic embargo and opposition from the UML. K.P. Oli waited for a no-confidence motion to mature and resigned on the eve of the motion hitting the house floor.

Such examples demonstrate that they occur frequently. To prevent such maneuvering and resulting damage to democracy and the treasury, Nepal should introduce specific dates for the election and transfer of power. If the specificity of the United States is impossible to follow for one reason or another, it out to be a limited timefame, so it would not be stretched as an elastic.   

We lock our doors to prevent the well-meaning people to be tempted to steal. Similarly, we should put in place rules for checks and balances, so well-meaning politicians would not be tempted to stretch their power as an elastic. Firm rules and strong institutions are the locks of democratic politics that help secure our democracy and freedoms. 


Murari Sharma: Crime and Reward

The United States is a democratic country both in form and in substance, for no one, including its president, is above law. Its checks, balances, and institutions work effectively to keep the executive, legislative, and judicial branches within their limits and to protect citizens’ rights.

In contrast, Nepal looks democratic in form — some may call it an illiberal democracy — but not in substance.  Checks, balances, and institutions exist, but they do not work on political leaders, especially at the top. To sustain democracy, we must make them work on all.

Here is what I mean. In the US, courts have rejected Trump’s several executive orders, including the travel ban on the citizens of six Muslim countries, as unconstitutional. Trump was furious, but nobody has moved an impeachment motion against the justices. The president cannot initiate it, and the bar for Congress to it is much higher than in Nepal. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is conducting a criminal investigation into Trump-Russia collusion that might have tipped the presidential election in his favor. Furious, Trump asked its Director James Comey to terminate the investigation and fired him when he refused. It has only motivated the FBI to widen and deepen the investigation and the Congressional committees looking into the matter to do the same. 

Certainly, Trump will face impeachment if he himself or his campaign had colluded with Russia to benefit him, accepted money from Russia or promised undue favors if elected. Likewise, he will likely be impeached for the obstruction of justice for asking the FBI and the intelligence agencies (like CIA and NSA) to terminate the Russia investigation. 

Bear in mind that Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton faced impeachment for the obstruction of justice.  Nixon resigned and Clinton survived it.

Contrast this to the situation in Nepal. Our top leaders are not investigated and punished for committing any crime, including murder, or for obstructing the course of justice. They get rewards for their crime.

Dostoyevsky had given the title of Crime and Punishment to his most famous novel. But in Nepal, there are only crimes and rewards for influential political leaders.

Here are some examples of crimes and rewards.

Maoist leaders Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Baburam Bhattarai had given a written commitment to a foreign country to protect its interests in exchange for its support to them to harm Nepal through their armed insurgency. They became prime ministers. No investigation, no punishment for this treasonable crime.

A few Maoist murderers have become ministers and other high officials. Balkrishna Dhungel, the Maoist murder of Ujjan Shrestha, is ‘absconding’ under the nose of the police, thanks to the protection of senior leaders.  

If they or their close supporters commit such heinous crimes as terrorism, murder, and rape, our top leaders treat such cases as political, so they are not filed with courts or withdrawn if they are already filed.

The latest example is the government’s decision to withdraw the cases against those who had killed several policemen and a child in cold blood in Tikapur. The perpetrators of such serious crimes will be further rewarded.

The leaders who had allegedly compromised Nepal’s interests in the Tanakpur Bund and the Mahakali Treaty retained their high posts; they were rewarded with repeated appointments to those posts. 

The leaders who have allegedly accepted from foreign governments money, scholarships, free medical treatment, and other expensive gifts for them and their relatives in return for advancing policies favorable to such countries have become prime ministers and ministers. Crime and reward. 

The leaders who have been shown in the media visiting foreign countries and asking publicly for their support to bread Nepal or change the constitution and law remain respected. Crime and reward. 

Our leaders are some of the most corrupt in the world, but they continue thriving by obstructing justice without facing justice.  Most of the current leaders who entered politics in poverty have become millionaires and billionaires within a decade without ever having a steady job or doing business.  Transparency International finds the political sector more corrupt in Nepal than any other sector. But our politicians continue to rake in corrupt money and to thrive. Crime and reward.  

Sure, some second-tier leaders have been jailed for corruption. It happened only because they had lost the blessings of their top leaders due to personal conflict. Sure, several leaders have corruption cases pending in courts, but they have used their supporters in the bar and in courts to defer their cases indefinitely, using all kinds of procedural obstructions.

When Chief Justice Sushila Karki began to demolish such artificial barriers and expedite such pending cases, our leaders struck back with an impeachment motion against her. This is a form of the obstruction of justice. I will come to it a little later.

Here is how our leaders thrive by obstructing justice. First, they appoint their loyalist to independent investigative bodies and courts, who would not poke their nose into their benefactor’s dirty closet. Such have been the recent appointments of Supreme Court justices, and heads and members of other constitutional bodies.

Second, they often appoint to such bodies people with a corrupt background who would have no moral standing to go after the top leaders’ corruption. For instance, Deep Basnyat, the recently appointed chief of Commission to Investigate Abuse of Authority (CIAA), has a corruption case in the Supreme Court. It does not mean Basnyat is guilty until proven, but it means he should not have been appointed at all until he was cleared.

Third, if some officials of such bodies begin to demonstrate their independence, as they should, our top leaders take no time to move the impeachment motion against them and get them suspended immediately.

I have already given the example of Chief Justice Sushila Karki. Our leaders had also moved an impeachment motion against the then chief of CIAA Lokman Karki when he began to look into the complaints and evidence about our top leaders’ corruption.

Our leaders have hung the Damocles sword of impeachment over the officials of independent constitutional bodies to protect themselves, so they can continue committing crimes with impunity. For instance, the constitution drafted by them says one-fourth members of parliament can move an impeachment motion against such officials, and as soon as a note to this effect is submitted to the Speaker of the House, the official in question is suspended.

Unlike in the US, the bar for it is very low in Nepal. The constitution has not laid down any provision for the preliminary examination of the charges against constitutional officials by an independent mechanism before triggering the impeachment motion. 

Do you think our leaders will ever face the kind of criminal investigation US President Trump and his team members are facing now? Probably, not in my lifetime.  

Prime ministers will come and go. Pushpa Kamal Dahal has resigned on 24 May 2017 to pave the way for another, under a secret agreement. But their secret and unwritten agreements to break or evade the law and protect each other from justice will stay with us. The crime and reward will continue. So Nepal will remain a democracy only in form if at all, not in substance. That is a pity. 


Murari Sharma: Nepal’s democracy is at stake

The proposal to amend Nepal’s constitution for the second time within a year has polarised the country. It has divided the political parties, the Nepali population, and even the neighboring countries. At stake is Nepal’s democracy.

Obviously, the ruling coalition is pushing the amendment to accommodate partly the demands of the Madheshi regional parties. These parties want to make Hindi a national language, to open the highest posts to some naturalized citizens, to allocate the upper house seats based on population, and to separate hill and Terai states.

But the amendment has no future. The Madheshi regional parties have said they will not accept the amendment without further changes to accommodate all their demands. The opposition has vowed to continue preventing the discussion in the house and protesting in the street.

Foreign backing for and against has made the amendment even more toxic. India has openly sided with the Madheshi regional parties. China has tacitly supported the opposition to thwart India from furthering its strategic advantage in Nepal.

In this situation, one expects the government to find a compromise acceptable to all sides. But Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has failed to do so.

Dahal’s legendary arrogance and propensity to self-harm have come in the way. They had sunk him and his government in 2009. This time, they are preventing him from seeking a common ground, which will be possible only all three sides move to the middle.

Besides, the coalition itself is putting Dahal in a tight spot. Sher Bahadur Deuba, the leader of the Nepali Congress Party and the largest coalition partner, has been waiting for his turn to replace Dahal. He seems in no mood to give credit to Dahl for the safe-landing of the Madheshi regional parties, in view of the elections in the early 2018.

Even for Deuba, it is not going to be a smooth sail. The Madheshi regional parties, which lost significant ground in the 2013 elections, would not want to hand him victory and cement their previous loss further in the next vote. The opposition leader KP Oli, who has become popular due to his anti-amendment posture, would want to cash his popularity for his party, not for the Nepali Congress.

Such bickering between democratic leaders and parties has given room to neighboring countries to advance their self-interest in Nepal at the cost of Nepal. When they were together, they promulgated the new constitution in 2015 despite strong external opposition. They reached the 16-point agreement prior to the promulgation of the constitution in the similar circumstances.

However, the problem before us is not beyond resolution. If all sides come together, then there will be either no problem to resolve or it would be easy to solve. But if anyone suggests that the current impasse is caused by only one side, they are either partisan or lying.

People and institutions are guided by self-interest: Self-preservation and self-promotion. Such self-interest may range from eating and drinking to keeping immigrants out. You will fail if you ask people to forgo their self-interest, as they define it for them and not as you define it for them, at their cost.

Whatever we say and do is motivated by self-interest, and the collection of self-interest is the national interest. Even this preachy article is self-promotion aimed at advancing the national interest.

In other words, you cannot divest self-interest from the national interest. So we who claim to be in the middle should be practical and fair to all sides. Otherwise, the extreme right and left will threaten democratic institutions and even hijack democracy itself.

For example, Donald Trump won the presidency in the USA because the mainstream candidates failed to recognize the self-interest of the common people. The Brexit and the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany also fall in this category.

Nepal has seen it all. Now former King Gyanendra has issued a statement indicating that he is prepared to save the country. The fringe Maoist parties and Terai separatist groups are fishing in troubled waters. The disgruntled people may throw their support behind these fringe elements, as they had done behind the Maoists only a two decades ago.

So the government must take a step back and begin discussions with all sides in the present impasse to find a common ground before it is too late. Otherwise, Nepal’s democratic institution and democracy will suffer an unspeakable damage in the days to come.

Murari Sharma: Will Dahal try to wash some blood from his hand this time?

Aswini Koirala, a writer, writes in his Facebook portal that he would not watch Nepali television as long as Pushpa Kamal Dahal remains prime minister. The reason — his cousin sister Puja, whose father was killed by the Maoists, does not want him to. Puja’s father was the chief of the Police Post in Bethan, Ramechhap, when the Maoists attacked and asked the police to surrender. After the surrender, the rebels lined up and executed all police personnel in cold blood. Now  a grown up Puja, who was three at the time of her father’s murder, blames Dahal for the atrocity and cannot bear watching him.

The photo of Muktinath Adhikari killed and hung by a tree by the Maoists, is all over Facebook once again. Ganga Adhikari is still  on a years-long hunger strike, while her husband has died, seeking justice for the murder of their teenage son by the Maoists. The families of the victims of the Madi bus explosion, allegedly ordered by Dahal in his own district, are waiting for justice as well. So is the family of Ujjan Shrestha, who was killed by a Maoist leader close to Dahal.

These are only a few examples of more than 5,000 people the rebels killed directly and more than 10,000 they killed indirectly during their decade-long armed insurgency. Dahal and his then-deputy, Baburam Bhattarai, presided over these killings and the insurgency. Dahal was the military chief and Bhattarai, the chief of the so-called people’s government.

The duo directly or indirectly ordered the murder of the first group and caused the death of the second group of victims by using them as human shields, a grave war crime under the Geneva Conventions, and asking their guerillas to fire from behind the line of innocent civilians.   

I am afraid, crimes never leave the criminals alone. Sooner or later, justice will catch up with them. Remember Pol Pot, Taylor, and Milosevic? There are only three ways of mitigating the impact and intensity of crimes on your conscience and win the forgiveness of society. Atonement, suicide or jail.

While neither the blood on their hand nor the fear of facing justice will go away completely no matter how much they wash, they can make the blood fade and justice less harsh by expiating themselves and earning the forgiveness of their victims and the people in general. For this, they must rebuild what they have destroyed during the civil war, sincerely work for the country’s advancement, reach out to the victims and their families to heal the wounds inflicted by them, including by accepting some punishment under the law.

However, in the past, Maoist leaders have done no such things. Rather, their priority was to shield themselves and their supporters from justice and to enrich themselves economically.  In his first innings as prime minister, Dahal sought to impose Maoist dictatorship, protected his criminal gangs from justice and met with a Titanic crash. Bhattarai disgraced himself by continue protecting the criminals in his ranks and by letting the Constituent Assembly die without producing a constitution, demonstrating his blatant political incompetence, though he held a Ph.D. degree.  

During the insurgency, and more importantly after the start of the peace process in 2005, the Maoist leaders amassed so much ill-gotten money, in the name of the poor and dispossessed and their combatants, that they own dozens of private schools, hospitals, and business establishments in the country. The voters saw and punished the Maoists.  

They reduced the Maoists from the largest party in the 2008 elections to the third largest by far in 2013. In this situation, they have been trying to evade the hand of justice by playing opportunistic political games, including shifting coalitions.

The Maoists have played the principal role in making and breaking political coalitions since 2008. The reasons behind them have mainly been to protect criminals in the party. They joined hands with the UML last year, hoping that they could buy immunity for their crimes. When the UML failed to deliver because national and international law prevented what he wanted, Dahal broke his marriage with KP Oli of the UML  and married Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress. 

His luck may run out soon. Deuba, the bigger partner in the coalition, has used Dahal only as a bridge to power for himself. He can pull the plug on Dahal any time, and so can India. Dahal will have no immediate recourse to the UML’s protection, so soon after he has horribly betrayed UML leader KP Oli and pulled him down from the high chair.

Clearly, the present coalition has no higher purpose than acquiring and sharing power between Deuba and Dahal, 9-monts each, and preserving Indian influence. Based on the euphoria exhibited by the media sources close to the Modi government, the present coalition will safeguard India’s monopoly on political and economic influence in Nepal. It has also been hoped that this government will prevent Oli from winning the impending general and local elections.

However, by pulling down Oli so quickly, Deuba and Dahal have potentially made Oli stronger than before. He has left office as one of the most popular prime minister on account of his standing up to India in the wake of the Indian-sponsored economic blockade, his signing several agreements with China to reduce Nepal’s economic dependence on India, and several election-winning promises, such as the abolition of tuins, single-rope stretched across rivers for crossing, within two years, construction of railway lines and additional roads connecting China, to name a few. 

Due to this, one should not be surprised if the UML emerges as the largest party in the next election. While the Nepali Congress may descend to the second largest, the CPN (Maoist Center) as Dahal’s party is now known) might lose further ground and lose its capacity to broker power anymore. Dahal might find himself in political disgrace — high and dry, without friends and without options — unable to protect his criminal gang.

If that happens, living in ignominy or committing hara-kiri will be the path forward. Those who disgrace themselves commit suicide through hara-kiri in Japan to preserve their dignity and honor. Elsewhere, they use other methods to take their lives in such situations.

I do not think our current or former Maoist leaders who done crimes should take that drastic path if they demonstrate convincing contrition and make sufficient amends for the heinous deeds they have done. This might mitigate the burden on their own conscience as well. If they fail to show such contrition and make such amends, they may end up choosing hara-kiri or jail.

The current opportunistic coalition has given Dahal a small window to redeem himself and his party by doing what is best for the country and by putting on the back-burner his desire to protect his criminal gang and to amass wealth. This is one more great opportunity for the Maoist atonement. Dahal has no time to clear his throat — to get ready for action. He must hit the ground running and win the forgiveness of people if he and his fellows want to avoid jail or hara-kiri.

Will Dahal do everything to obtain forgiveness from his party’s victims in this small window of opportunity? Or will he engage in business as usual and slide himself and his colleagues a notch down towards the eventual jail or hara-kiri. Let us hope he goes for the first option. Puja, the families of Muktinath Adhikari and Madi bus victims and so many other people would be eagerly watching how Dahal’s second innings as prime minister unfolds.