Politics in a pandemic


KP Oli is now halfway through his term as prime minister. With almost a two-thirds majority, there was much hope that he would show the kind of statesmanship needed to fulfill his election promise of stabilising politics to focus on raising living standards. The people believed him, and gave his party an overwhelming mandate. But the NCP predictably fell into the same rut as governments since 1990 — tainted by cronyism, corruption, poor governance and an utter disregard for the poor and weak sections of Nepali society.
Although Nepal has so far, quite luckily and inexplicably, escaped the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has exposed the structural imbalance and inequality in Nepali society. Poor state management and political failure have been the hallmarks of previous governments, but this virus has brought it up to the surface like nothing before.

It is not just Nepal, around the world the pandemic has exposed governance failure and poor leadership. Some analysts maintain that authoritarian states have been able to better control the spread of the disease, while democracies have floundered.

Even before the pandemic, disillusionment was running high. The Oli government was wracked by one scandal a week – the real estate heist in Baluwatar, the access given to Yeti Holdings over former royal property, the security printing press deal in which Oli’s trusted Information Minister was caught on tape negotiating a $6 million kickback. And now, the blanket coverage in the media of people left hungry, tired and cashless by the lockdown has exposed the communist government’s lack of sensitivity to the proletariat.

Indeed, the timing was all wrong. Why was Oli in such a tearing hurry to allow political parties to split, when the country, and the world, is going through one of its worst crises in recent times? This was the time to focus on figuring out a post-COVID-19 exit strategy, and getting the economy cranked up again. For this, the country needs all political parties to row in the same direction. But what the move exposed is a wholesale disregard for democratic norms, constitutionalism, and an undermining of an elected parliament. This will force the country into prolonged instability. And instead of making him stronger, the move has weakened Prime Minister Oli.

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