How Long Will This Nepali Government Last?

No other government in Nepal in the last 50 years has been so powerful as the present one. It has backing of the people, the civil society, and the international community as well. Even Indo-Nepal relations which haven’t quite traveled in a smooth pitch for the last half a century seem to be getting warmer with the formation of this government. The security forces that always were loyal to the palace have been kept under the grasp of this government. The parliamentary proclamation has made it even more stronger.

But a government’s durability and popularity doesn’t depend on how powerful is it.

A few decisions that this government has made after its formation have raised eyebrows – for instance the sacking of all officials appointed post October 2002 but not replacing the vacancies even after three weeks since the decision. The National Planning Commission is vacant despite the preparation of the budget moving on its last leg. All ambassadors abroad have been told to return home. Almost all secretaries of prominent ministries including the police, armed police and the national intelligence agency are run by officiating chiefs. In any democratic polity, the executive, judiciary and the legislature are separated so as to ensure that a dictator is not born out of a centralized power structure backed by popular mandate.

But so extensive is the parliamentary declaration that it has made the present government above decrees and above the Constitution. Is this what rule of law is all about? Three weeks ago 5 ministers of the last cabinet were arrested using the same security act exploited by previous governments to arrest pro-democracy supporters.

The only difference is that during those days of “autocracy” habeas corpus cases of even Maoist cadres would be settled in days now it is taking weeks. We are actually moving backwards in time. The Asian Forum for Human Rights, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal, the U.S. assistant Secretary of State have all unequivocally criticized the arrests but does the government care to listen?

The very essence of a democracy is that the legislature enacts laws, the executive implements them and the judiciary interprets them. There is separation of power in every democratic country. Where one organ is above the rest, that country could be an axis of evil. In India and the United States too, there is supremacy of the Constitution not supremacy of their parliaments.

But here, all chiefs of even the constitutional and independent bodies are required to take oath on the basis of a whimsical political declaration. The Speaker of the same House did not even bother to take the oath of office before the head of state, how will the decisions adopted by the session chaired by him be considered legal? While the euphoria lasts, all these rash decisions can be hailed as being authorized by the people’s movement but once the government begins tumbling; these will be illegal, illegitimate and reckless doggedness for nothing else but a power grab.

There is absolutely no difference between the February 1 action by the King and the parliamentary declaration made by the Lower House, in fact, both are mere attempts to go beyond the parameters of the rule of law in the name of securing peace. Both have vowed to make the people happy and in that pretext, declared themselves as sovereign.

In a country where 88 percent are Hindus, the House has gone beyond its jurisdiction to declare Nepal a secular state. Now, a new controversy has arisen to “re-declare” Nepal as a Hindu kingdom only because of this senseless and short-sighted parliamentary declaration.

Birgunj was tense and the entire Mahendra highway was shut for a few days due to the agitation in protest of the decision to turn Nepal into a secular state. A problem that never was in the lifespan of nearly 3 centuries; will now grow as a major headache even if the Maoist problem is to be settled.

Furthermore, the government-Maoist talks are not making any headway despite the 12 point understanding. The attack at Everest nursing home and Lumbini zonal hospital are glaring examples of the Maoist desire to keep on turning up the heat until the final victory is achieved.

Vandalism, looting and day-light robbery of banks and shops and extortion from even middle-class families have terrified the general public but the police seem least bothered to be active in subverting these malicious activities. Its entire rank and file is nervous with the thought of another probe commission recommending the punishment of the remaining top officers who have escaped the last mass slaughter ranging from the IGP to middle-level officers.

Even when the Lower House has already passed the resolution to go ahead with constituent assembly elections and deleted “royal” from almost all the state institutions, the Maoists seem to want more and more. All Maoist prisoners have been freed but they have not shown any inclination to join multi-party competitive politics let alone laying down arms and stopping extortion.

On the contrary, they have stepped up their mass gatherings with full show of valor and armory as if a major battle is just round the corner. On Friday, Kathmandu’s cocktail circuit will see for the first time the Maoist might in the heart of Tundikhel. Nobody knows how the supposedly peaceful demonstration will ultimately turn out because both the current Home Minister and the Foreign Minister are known to be sympathetic to the Maoists.

The clock is ticking and time is running out. The slogan of a democratic republic will now turn into a want for a “people’s republic” just like in Castro’s Cuba, Mao’s China and North Korea. The Nepalese people that have seen the King’s rule and the party’s rule and have frustrated themselves trying to bring them together may give a lending hand to the idea of a totalitarian republic.

As things begin tumbling fast, one would hope that the present government headed in 7 different directions will at least be able to maintain the rule of law and preserve the security of the cities if not the villages.

But the last month has told us that it cannot.