Who says there is no freedom of expression in this country? Just listen to the no holds barred abuse that Nepal’s serial prime ministers are hurling at each other in their battle for supremacy.
The barbs are getting sharper as the Supreme Court wrapped up depositions from lawyers on writ petitions against the Prime Minister K P Oli’s dissolution of the Lower House of Parliament, and its constitutional bench prepares to issue a verdict.
However much the rival blocs of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) try to convince us that theirs is a fight to save Nepal’s democracy and the Constitution, it is clear that this has always been a pure and simple power game.
In the nearly three years he has been in office, Prime Minister K P Oli has amply demonstrated that he does not just aspire to be top dog. He wants to be only dog.
It is not unusual for politicians the world over to do everything in their power to get to power, and hold on to it. But it is political failure for a leader to open up so many fronts that his own position is threatened.
Prime Minister Oli should have employed his famous wiliness and political acumen to defuse internal party threats. Instead, he took the opportunity to divide and rule, get back at Madhav Kumar Nepal for past humiliation in the UML, thus forcing him into an alliance with Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Dahal’s main worry is not that the Constitution has been trampled, but that K P Oli reneged on their backroom power-sharing pact. He needs a leadership position in the party or the government to exorcise the demons of his past so that conflict-era excesses do not come back to haunt him. And he has made no secret of his desire to be an all-powerful executive president.
Oil has retained his loyalists as well as former Maoist comrades who have fallen out with Dahal by using the levers of office to dispense patronage. To outflank Dahal, he is now even trying to bring the still underground Netra Bikram Chand faction into the fold.
Madhav Kumar Nepal’s king-maker status comes from the numbers he commands in the former UML ranks within the NCP. Otherwise, there is little to remember from his lacklustre past stints as party chair and prime minister. Ditto for Jhalnath Khanal.
The one hope in all this incessant infighting would have led to a reinvigorated Nepali Congress. But the main opposition party is mired in the personality clash between its own two leaders, Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel.
Deuba is sounding more and more like a toothless lion with statements like the one he made this week that the party had no money to launch an agitation. Poudel can barely hide his frustration that he never got to be prime minister.
So, there we have it: five tried, tested and failed prime ministers all trying to shuffle the deck one more time. In the fray are the following ageing gentlemen with the number of times they have been prime minister:
Leader, age, number of times prime minister
K P Oli, 69 2
Pushpa Kamal Dahal, 66, 2
Madhav Kumar Nepal, 67, 1
Jhalnath Khanal, 70, 1
Sher Bahadur Deuba, 74, 4
It is a glaring demonstration of the failure of Nepal’s parliamentary democracy to bring up a younger crop of leaders with fresh ideas and new energy. Instead we have the same mainly-Brahmin men taking turns to lead the country, as if there was no one else.
The main parties do have young turks who are charismatic and show leadership potential, but the bosses have such a stranglehold on the party machinery that their chances of rising up the ranks is thwarted. The result: the young turks are themselves nearing 50.
On the national stage, flaws in Nepal’s electoral system means that the political parties can ensure tribal loyalty of vote banks through patronage, promises and cash. This means when they do get to power, there is no need to be accountable, or perform.
The result is what we see today: leaders too busy hurling insults at each other to respond to the health and economic emergency caused by the pandemic.