Seven years is not a long time in a country´s political history. But during this period Nepal has seen unfettered political promiscuity.
It is, to some, a horrific reflection of the state of Nepali politics that Lokendra Bahadur Chand is back in the prime minister´s chair. Mr Chand´s earlier appointment as prime minister towards the culmination of the 1990 “People´s Movement” saw the largest-ever mass protest in Nepal´s history. Granted, the non-menacing Mr Chand´s appointment then was meant to be seen as a conciliatory move by King Birendra. But that day, 6 April 1990, saw the massacre of unarmed demonstrators by security forces in front of the royal palace. Mr. Chand, as leader of the “royalists” went on to establish the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP). He represented the palace in negotiations with leaders of the popular movement and the smashing of his limousine by agitated cadres of the Nepali Congress and the communists during the talks indicated the depth to which the Panchayat pols had fallen in public esteem.
The 6 April massacre ushered the end of the King´s legitimacy to rule absolutely, and two days later he lifted the ban on political parties, effectively ending the Panchayat system.
The period when the new Nepali Constitution was being drafted was under the rule of an interim government, which included two royalist members, but was essentially a Congress-Leftist alliance. This government, headed by the then president of the Congress, Krishna Prasad Bhattarai, failed to carry out a cathartic cleansing of the system by punishing wrongdoers of the old regime; however, it did bring in a Constitution and in June 1991 delivered the first free democratic elections in more than three decades. A majority Congress government took office, but it fell to internal squabbles barely three years into its rule. The directionlessness of subsequent years up to today began with the inability of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to conduct political management. He took dissidence within the party as attacks on his person and over-reacted, to the extent that a sizeable chunk of the Congress party voted against him in Parliament. Mr Koirala was forced to call elections, which resulted in a hung house with the Left romping home with more numbers.
It was then the turn of a minority government of the communists led by Man Mohan Adhikari. They were able to stay all of nine months in power—time . enough for them to understand the exigencies of rule.
But even as they were rapidly engaged in backtracking from their populist sloganeering, a Supreme Court verdict on a minority government´s right to call elections wrested power from their hands.
The communists sputtered with rage, but could do nothing but allow a coalition of the Congress and the RPP to assume government. This Centre-Right coalition, which had the Congress party´s Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister, enjoyed a majority in the house. During the 18 months it lasted, it increased the perks of MPs, pushed through Parliament the contentious Mahakali Treaty with India, and initiated political horse-trading that would shame horse thieves. Most importantly, this coalition rescued the RPP, as a party of the Panchayat-era personalities, from its pariah status. This centre-right coalition, crumbled on 6 March, for the simple reason that it was not possible to provide perks to everyone.
Now in power is the last of the permutations possible: the communists and the RPP in bed together. The communists are in this unlikely left-right coalition for the one pragmatic reason, to be in a position to supervise the upcoming local elections, and the subsequent mid-term polls which they are bound to be call. Indeed, if there is any further evidence required to prove that politics is all about getting or retaining power, it is by this incongruous partnership between monarchists and communists.
Being honed in the school of dialectical materialism, the latter have once again shown their mastery at wordplay. The current arrangement is sought to be justified as the means towards the attainment of bahudaliya janabad (multi-party people´s democracy), whereby they have joined a rashtrabadi shakti (nationalist force) to set up a janamukhi sarkar (people-oriented government). The attempt is made to divert the people (and the cadre´s) attention from the fact that a rightwing Prime Minister heads a leftwing government.
The Nepali experiment of the last seven years has been democracy in fast forward. What became in England the Westminster model, was the result of a seven-century evolution. Nepal saw an authoritarian king transformed overnight into a constitutional monarch, and the political classes themselves are left befuddled with the rapid changes.
Seven years is not a long time in a country´s political history. But during this period Nepal has seen unfettered political promiscuity. Result: apathy towards politicians, growing disillusionment the democratic process among most Nepalis. All this takes politics even further from its real purpose: ensuring good government so living standards can be raised.