Basanta Khadka in nagariknews.com, 24 April
In 2008, Nepal’s 240-year monarchy came to an end. Citizens could be elected to lead the country. But today, there is no difference between how past kings and current presidents behave. The President moves around with the same motorcade as the kings used to.
Police chief Basanta Kumar Panta says traffic arrangements for the movement of the President simply reflect respect for the office. “It is only on certain days that such special arrangements are made and they also reflect security concerns,” he said, adding that such measures are common in other countries as well. A VVIP motorcade requires diverting traffic from certain roads, but Panta said the intention is to minimise inconvenience to commuters.
He added that the arrangements cannot be changed by any one person because they are stipulated by law, and were handed down from the royal days. He disclosed that since the security guidelines are being modified, the new political reality could be reflected in the rules.
There is growing and widespread criticism of Nepal’s leaders, especially the Prime Minister and the President, for the perks that they enjoy and their public displays of power and luxury. While survivors of the earthquake still don’t have adequate housing, the President has been bought an expensive new helicopter, vehicles worth tens of millions and other facilities that would put even the spending spree of kings to shame.
President Bhandari has been criticised for not shaking hands but just doing a namaste, with critics noting the behaviour hearkended back to royal times. However, even though the President is criticised for her facilities, it is Prime Minister Oli who has been more harshly ridiculed for his use of power and has been compared to Nepal’s former kings. A Prime Minister who should be protecting the political rights and wellbeing of citizens is squeezing civic rights and press freedom, and taking decisions on army deployment – indicating the direction in which his administration is headed. Nepal’s republic is being mocked by leaders who surround themselves with unnecessary security cordons and facilities that the country can ill afford.
Analyst Hari Roka blames this culture on the lack of democracy within political parties, which allows leaders to behave like they are from another planet. Nepal Community Party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha admits that although the political system in Nepal changed, the norms and values of politicians did not. “This is a serious challenge, it needs a transformation of the mindset. Our political revolution should have been followed by a complete change in the culture,” he added. “The fear of reprisal within the party has silenced those who want change.”