Political trashThe garbage piling up inside Singha Darbar is an indication of the rot that has set in
On Wednesday, the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) expelled Dhaka Kumar Shrestha from the party and Parliament three days after audio of an alleged WhatsApp conversation was leaked in which he is asking tycoon Durga Shrestha for Rs20 million to be appointed Health Minister.
In the audio, Shrestha says he has to bribe the RSP’s “core team” so he could be appointed health minister in the previous Pushpa Kamal Dahal and K P Oli-led coalition.
The RSP’s Rabi Lamichhane, busy campaigning in by-election in Chitwan, told media on Wednesday that the party would cooperate with corruption watchdog CIAA, where a complaint has already been filed to open an investigation into Shrestha.
But the fact that Shrestha insinuated that the core team was close to Lamichhane has further tainted the RSP chief, who is facing accusations of illegally having a US and Nepali passport. Shrestha himself threatened to reveal the names of the core team.
Shrestha still maintains the voice in the audio is not his. But the other question is why Prasai leaked the recording now, just before the RSP candidates face critical by-elections in Chitwan, Tanahu and Bara on 23 April.
Lamichhane is on the campaign trail in the three districts for himself and his two other candidates, including the economist Swarnim Wagle in Tanahu who defected to the RSP from the NC, accusing his former party leadership of “grand larceny”.
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The by-elections are crucial for the future of the RSP and especially important for party chair Lamichhane, for whom the polls will be a test of whether voters have stood by him amid all the scandals.
“The cult of personality that has surrounded Rabi Lamichhane has caused people to fail to objectively evaluate his pre-political life, how he acquired funding to run for office, as well as work as a politician,” says political analyst Indra Adhikari.
She adds: “Many politically aware people in November voted for change, and it remains to be seen if people in Chitwan still think he represents change. This is not to say that the RSP does not have promising young leaders.”
Dhaka Shrestha’s tape scandal has invited additional public scrutiny of the party that has promoted a strong anti-corruption stance. Goodwill towards the party also took a hit when Lamichhane became Home Minister in January and Dol Prasad Aryal was made Labour Minister – raising strong questions of conflict of interests.
The timing of the audio leak has led many to question if this is an attempt to sabotage the new party at the cusp of by-elections. Mainstream leaders have joined the chorus denouncing the RSP, prompting many on social media to call this ‘the pot calling the kettle black’.
“The timing of the leak is definitely not a coincidence and politically motivated, considering which party the other individual in the tape has been previously associated with,” adds Adhikari, alluding to Durga Prasai being close to Oli and Dahal. “Otherwise, the tape could have come out during the previous coalition government, but it did not.”
Prasai admitted to leaking the tape, but denied having done so at the behest of any party. He said he “wanted the Nepali people to know who they were voting for”.
All of this has come up at the same time Kathmandu’s mayor Balen Shah decided to challenge the federal government, announcing that KMC would no longer collect garbage from Singha Darbar and that the leaders inside the political centre needed to be dumped in the Sisdole landfill site in order to ‘clean up’ Nepal.
‘After nine months of repeated attempts to reach out, it seems like Singha Durbar, which is merely half a kilometre away from the KMC, does not have any intention to work together with the local government for public welfare,’ wrote Mayor Shah on social media.
He lashed out at the chronic lack of cooperation of the federal government towards him, laying out unfinished business and correspondence between the KMC and 14 ministries.
‘If one level of government does not acknowledge or understand the representatives from another tier how can we believe that the central government is for strengthening federalism?’ added Shah. ‘Let the federal government get rid of the bureaucratic red tape so that local governments can do the jobs they were elected to do.’
“Nepal’s centralised political parties, despite having backed federalism in the country, do not seem to want it in practice because they want full control for as long as possible,” explains Indra Adhikari.
She adds: “It shows how immature the leaders are to think that public threats and confrontational tactics, like Mayor Balen’s, will achieve results. Ultimately, this tussle will affect service delivery and the only losers will be the Nepali public.”