By Sankar Ray
Nepal’s commitment to ‘an independent, indivisible, sovereign, secular, inclusive, democratic, socialism oriented, federal democratic republic’ has been hit by a speed breaker- an unprecedented extravaganza in the poll campaign for federal and provincial elections. Freed from a 250-year-old order of monarchy, the Himalayan state has been transiting historically into a federal democratic republican order. The two-phase federal and provincial polls aim at a transparent democracy, based on proportional representation of law-makers after a decade-long debate in the Constituent Assembly. Sadly enough, the very essence of transparency is being turned into a mockery by corrupt practices imbibed by political parties in the fray.
High-profile leaders have been using hired helicopters for weeks, each copter costing around $2,000 per hour on average. Among the political biggies who indulge in such lavish expenditure include Prime Minister and nationalist leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, chairman of Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, commonly known as K. P. Oli, and CPN (Maoist Centre) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal a k a Prachanda. The expenditure incurred on helicopters within a couple of days exceeded the upper ceiling of Rs 2.5 million, stipulated by the Election Commission for a candidate contesting parliamentary elections under the First-Past-The-Post system. The EC has set Rs 2.5 million as the maximum poll expenditure for the overall poll campaigning.
President of Transparency International Nepal and senior advocate Shree Hari Aryal in an interview to a major English daily exposed the EC. “EC’s mandate, both the ceilings and the call for transparency have proven to be completely toothless. Nepal is suffering from policy corruption, where our constitutional mandates and various rules and regulations are not being enforced to the degree necessary.”
Numerous ‘dons’, including 20 business contractors, ten candidates from the lucrative education sector, and one billionaire with extensive business holding, are in the contest, causing a genuine apprehension whether the new elected bodies would lead to a conspicuous value-based politics. Endorsing this apprehension, the regional chief of TI said, “There will definitely be possibilities of conflicts of interest. The EC should have enacted measures to make sure such issues would not arise. The EC needs to state that candidates running for elections should provide their detailed background. Thorough background checks should be conducted and the business history of candidates should be studied. Business interests have to be identified to make sure that conflicts of interest do not arise. If these checks reveal that certain candidates do have vested interests in specific areas, they should be prohibited from sitting in committees that address these areas. Candidates should also understand the reason behind such a move, and excuse themselves from participation in such cases”.
The first phase of elections was over on 26 November when polling in 32 mountainous and hilly districts took place with about 3.2 million eligible voters. The EC took no step to force the extravagant candidates and their campaigners to adhere to the rule book. Thus money-spinners keep merrily funding campaigns so that if elected to power they will ensure handsome return from the powers-that will be. Political parties, belonging to both the National Alliance and Left Alliance, are complicit to this murky exchange,
The seedbed for vested interests in the land-locked and poverty-stricken state is being helped by refusal of political leaders to relinquish their power. This is true for PM and NC leader Deuba, KP Oli and Prachanda, who do not want to let others have a shot at state leadership. Gradually, the commoners have become very much acquainted with the “behavioural characteristics of the tired-old political leaders, but because they do not have better alternatives, they believe that their vote has to go to the same timeworn parties”.
According to a TI survey, 70 percent of political parties in Nepal are involved in corrupt practices. “It is because of these overwhelming levels of corruption that the state of our country has been sorely compromised. Our constitution states that political parties should promote democratic practices, both within the parties as well as in running the state. But it is obvious that political parties do not follow this constitutional mandate; none is truly democratic. The reason behind this lack of democracy is corruption”, stated Aryal. It is an open secret that deserving contenders, judging by moral character, were denied tickets by not only NC and CPN(UML), but CPN (Maoist Center). Dahal was not known for honesty and straight-forwardness during his tenure as the Prime Minister. During his tenure as PM, he was accused of nepotism and corruption for granting his son Prakash (died prematurely due to a massive cardiac arrest) a $250,000 grant to climb Mount Everest. It was further revealed that Dahal pressurised the then finance minister, Dr Baburam Bhattarai, (then second-in-command of the Maoist party) to release the funds to the 11-man expedition team, which set off in 2012. The Maoists were ridiculed by the student wing leadership of NC for ‘emptying the state coffers for new princelings.’
This election, scheduled to be over on 7 December, during the second phase will elect 275 law makers, our of which 165 members will be elected from single-member constituencies by first-past-the-post voting and 110 seats will be elected by closed list proportional representation from a single nationwide constituency. Each voter participates in both electoral processes. A party or electoral alliance is to receive at least 3 percent of total to be eligible for allocation of a seat under the proportional representation system.
There is a possibility of the Left Alliance coming to power, thinks a section of seasoned political commentators of Nepal. But there is little to differentiate between the communists and nationalists, judging by contemporary experience, let alone the commonality of softness towards nouveau riche, who patronise gangsters. Political analyst Suman Khadka recently made significant observations in an opinion piece. “The ideological war, especially between the grand theories, is hence over, and even if the parties and opinion makers squabble over rhetoric, in practice, Nepal too adopts the middle path. So fear or desire for a ‘communist take-over’ is rather fanciful. The idiosyncrasy of Nepal is that the ‘Left’ routinely utilises the private sector and the NGOs while promoting the state, only to extract from it, letting neither the market nor the state flourish”.
Nonetheless, Nepal is the first country to introduce proportional representation. Will the invasion of money power make the emulation-worthy Constitution a laughing stock? Only time will tell. (IPA Service)