Nepal: Reflections on the Failure of Governance

Rajat Kumar Kujur

It has been proved several times in the history of nation states that credible mechanism of governance takes years to build but may collapse in a single stroke. Nepal, today, is experiencing the same. Over the years Nepal has been forced to witness the systemic collapse of its political institutions. Democracy in Nepal is still far from realization, as the landlocked Himalayan Kingdom remains entangled in a two-way fight between the autocratic monarchy and Maoists. Monarchical assertiveness and steady march of Maoism has completely overthrown democratic institutions like electoral politics, free media, party system and has left no place for civil and human rights.

Historically speaking Nepal’s experience with constitutional democracy has never been successful. Short-term and informal arrangements of governance characterized 1951- 1980 phase, which started with the end of Rana regime and ended with a constitutional referendum in 1980. However, Nepal's recent political history unfolded in 1990, when amidst popular protests the late King Birendra agreed on a constitutional monarchy. Accordingly a new constitution was drawn-up in November 1990 which created provisions for parliamentary democracy, independent judiciary and citizenship rights. This was followed by a general election in 1991 where G.P. Koirala led the Nepali Congress Party to victory and became Prime Minister only to be defeated in a no-confidence motion in 1994. Subsequently, a communist government was formed which didn’t last long. The period 1997-2001 witnessed many governments, party splits and infirm coalitions.

The contemporary political history of Nepal, especially the 1990-2002 period, is being regarded as the proven track of failed governance as it witnessed not merely an opportunistic model of changing governments but also staggering corruption, mind-blowing ineptitude in governance, rank nepotism and unashamed politicization in all areas of public domain. Political groups in Nepal have a history of division and mistrust, and have been accused of failing to put the interests of the country ahead of their own ethnic or regional interest. Being miserably failed in the political institution front, Nepal has never overcome its perpetual impediments. Nepal is the poorest country in Asia and ranked 48th poorest country in the world. Half of its population lives below the poverty line and about one third of the population lives with no safe drinking water. Most of its population has no access to basic needs such as food, health and education. Half the children are malnourished and under weight. Half the people are jobless in Nepal. Average income of Nepal is less than $200 a year.

Taking advantage of the ever widening political vacuum as well as of the negative human development factors, Maoists in Nepal swiftly positioned themselves in the already unstable political map of the country. Today they are a formidable force and arguably have become the most effective Maoist insurgency in the contemporary world. The Maoists have resorted to force for political ends since the start of their armed campaign in 1996. The insurgency that began from 3 mid-western mountain districts of Rolpa, Rukum, and Jajarkot, western district of Gorkha and an eastern district of Sindhuli has now spread to all the 75 districts.

However, the CPN (Maoist) today may claim this as their achievement, but the movement itself was flawed right from the beginning. Though the movement was successful in highlighting popular sentiments in its early stage, has degenerated since then due to excessive application of terror tricks.

Political uncertainty resulting in political unrest in Nepal entered yet another phase since October 2002 when king Gyanendra asserted himself in the active politics of Nepal. It started with the dissolution of Assembly in 2002 minus election promulgations by the king. What followed next was a pitiable musical chair of successive Prime Ministers with Sher Bahadur Deuba, who was Prime Minister between 2002 and 2003, being reappointed in June 2004. The Maoists saw this royal transition as an opportunity to extend their grip on the country, and launched a fresh wave of violence. Finally, on February 1, 2005, King Gyanendra sacked Prime Minister Deuba and declared an Emergency to assume all powers of governance for three years.

In late 2005, the Maoists and seven of Nepal’s largest political parties came to an understanding to jointly oppose the monarchy. Though the modalities are yet to be finalized, broadly the political parties have agreed to demand the holding of constituent assembly elections for drafting a new constitution– hither to the prime Maoist agenda. In return, the Maoists have agreed to join mainstream politics. Thus in 2006, Nepal again finds itself at cross roads. As political parties demand larger democracy, it could well result in increased confrontation. Of course there is a possibility that the country might head for a peaceful period with a ceasefire or a new political front. Also, increased public demand for peace and increasing concern of the international community could force the King to make way for democracy.

Author Note
Rajat Kumar Kujur, Research Associate, Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, New Delhi