Nepal’s Struggling Democracy

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PM Oli

September Analysis

Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” On a global scale, Churchill’s quote holds more valid today than, perhaps, ever before. Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, and even KP Sharma Oli are only a few examples of the leaders who have effectively hijacked democracy by employing its very channels and means. Minority rights, civic liberty, media freedom, constitutional supremacy, and the rule of law have taken a backseat while these leaders forward their populist agendas in the name of national security, economic performance, and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. With an impressive degree of skillfulness, leaders worldwide have exploited the unprecedented situation and democracy’s limitations and loopholes to solidify their rule, in a process hurting democracy irreparably. On this account, Nepal’s infant democracy has been struggling under a powerful communist government and an ambitious prime minister.

The first and the most vital challenge to Nepal’s democracy comes from the country’s ruling communist party. While the country was reeling under a deadly pandemic, Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was busy in an intra-party feud over power-sharing,[1] not to mention several corruption scandals related to the COVID-19 management and controversial appointments. While corruption, irregularity, and favoritism already erode the culture of democracy and meritocracy, the spillover of the party’s internal dispute has made a mockery of Nepal’s democracy. NCP’s internal struggle culminated in a truce between Pushpa Kamal Dahal and KP Sharma Oli,[2] leading to Bamdev Gautam’s appointment to the National Assembly (NA).[3] Gautam’s appointment to the NA shattered Prime Minister Oli’s strong desire to continue Dr. Yuvaraj Khatiwada as the finance minister by re-appointing him to the NA. Nevertheless, in a rather surprising manner, PM Oli appointed Khatiwada as his special economic advisor while keeping the finance ministry under himself.[4] These moves collectively show NCP’s lack of commitment to preserving Nepal’s democracy and PM Oli’s determination to cement his authority irrespective of constitutional breaches.

Bamdev Gautam lost the federal legislative election from Bardiya, which constitutionally bars him from being a minister.[5] However, the constitution also allows an individual sworn in as a member of the National Assembly to be a minister.[6] Amidst an ongoing discussion about appointing Gautam as a minister, a writ was filed at the Supreme Court questioning these moves’ constitutionality.[7] Although the Supreme Court has issued an interim order that temporarily blocks him from being a minister, appointing a person rejected by the people in elections is already a breach of democratic principles.[8] Supreme Court reversal and Gautam’s ministerial appointment is still not an impossible scenario after all. On the other hand, Khatiwada’s appointment as the PM’s special economic advisor makes him a de facto finance minister, which is also against the spirit of the constitution. Besides PM Oli’s past moves to curtail civil and media liberty through controversial bills and ordinances, the NCP’s internal power struggle has severely compromised Nepal’s democracy.

While PM Oli and his party continue to jeopardize Nepal’s democracy, Nepali Congress (NC) has constantly failed to show its oppositional accountability. However, in their defense, the parliament remains shut since the president prorogued the parliament on the PM’s recommendation. This closure has stripped the opposition of the biggest platform to question the government’s actions. Nevertheless, Nepali Congress’ primary interest and focus for the past few months have been their upcoming national convention. Different conflicts and factional infighting over the party’s leadership[9][10] seems to have crippled the vision of the ‘democratic’ party, as the clashing leaders are preoccupied with their petty personal interests and political ambitions. Perhaps due to this misplaced priority, the party’s shadow government has been largely ineffective, too; holding only two meetings in the last 1.5 years, they did almost nothing during the period. In the face of struggling governance by an autocratic ruler and his communist party, NC’s silence only nurtures people’s uncertainty over Nepal’s democratic future; Nepali people are fed up with corruption, a broken justice system, and police brutality.

Nepal’s justice system is broken; instead of working for the people, its instruments have cracked down on them, showing major compliance in the state oppression and brutality. The worst victims have been historically oppressed and minority groups. For instance, after the murder of Dalit victims in Rukum village[11] and the government’s apparent negligence of Dalit issues, there have been several instances of police brutality against the so-called ‘lower’ caste people. The mysterious in-custody death of Shambhu Sada[12] and no serious investigation despite protests demonstrates the state’s discrimination against the poor and marginalized. Instead, there was yet another Dalit death under police custody.[13] These cases expose the authorities’ disregard for Dalit lives and paint a general picture of in-custody tortures and illegal practices. Not only behind bars, on several occasions, Nepal police have terrorized the streets by mercilessly beating silent protestors,[14] arresting by-standers, and abducting the much-revered Satyagrahi doctor.[15] All in all, people, have been either a victim of this brutality or a spectator wise enough to understand that this is not what democracy looks like.

The rule of law, minority rights, freedom of expression, and media freedom, which are some of the most crucial elements of liberal democracy, are all under assault in Nepal’s current scenario. This democratic backsliding is particularly challenging for Nepal because the country got democracy after years of struggle not so long ago, and this new system is yet to be consolidated here. Besides the external threats, the political class’s greed and personal ambitions and determination to quash any voice that disturbs the existing status quo or challenges their access to power and resources act as a significant impediment to Nepal’s democracy. As a result, people witnessing power struggle, corruption, oppression, and brutality have started developing a distrust for democracy; some have even begun to feel nostalgia for monarchy.  


[1] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/09/21/ruling-party-fight-was-for-power-sharing-and-it-has-become-apparent-experts-and-analysts-say

[2] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/51023/2020-09-12

[3] https://deshsanchar.com/2020/09/16/413305/

[4] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/09/17/oli-s-preferential-treatment-to-khatiwada-may-impact-governance

[5] Article 78.4 of the Constitution of Nepal, 2015.

[6] Article 76.9 of the Constitution of Nepal, 2015.

[7] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/09/21/writ-at-supreme-court-demands-annulment-of-gautam-s-appointment-to-national-assembly

[8] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/09/24/supreme-court-blocks-bamdev-gautam-s-way-to-cabinet-for-now

[9] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/09/05/159926573001578090.html

[10] https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/51675/2020-09-22

[11] https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/dalit-killings-in-rukum-village-spark-outrage-over-caste-discrimination/

[12] https://kathmandupost.com/province-no-2/2020/06/14/in-custody-death-of-a-musahar-man-sparks-protests-in-janakpur

[13] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/08/28/yet-another-dalit-death-spotlights-culture-of-torture-in-police-custody

[14] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/policemen-who-beat-up-civilian-at-babarmahal-on-thursday-to-be-investigated/?categoryId=blog

[15] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/why-have-i-been-abducted-asks-dr-kc/

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