August 2023 Analysis: Domestic Politics and Governance


Posted by : Sourav Dahal

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Date : 2023-08-31





In the month of August, the government continued its anti-corruption drive and the Nepal Police recommended prosecuting 238 accused including former ministers, senior bureaucrats and middlemen in the infamous Lalita Niwas Land Grab Scam. On 24th August, the Lower House resumed its function – the main opposition had been obstructing the House for over a month with a demand to form a high-level probing panel to investigate the gold smuggling case. And on 28th August, presidents for all ten parliamentary committees were elected unanimously after nine months of the general election.


Timeline of Major Events

Date Events
3rd to 7th August The CPN (Maoist Center) held its central committee meeting.
5th to 15th August Nepali Congress conducted a nationwide campaign.
22nd August The government transferred five Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) including two key officials investigating the Bhutanese Refugee Scam.
22nd August The ruling coalition and the main opposition agree to form a high-level probe panel to investigate gold smuggle. The same day, two Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) including who were investigating the Bhutanese Refugee Scam were transferred.
23rd August Nepal Police recommended prosecuting 238 people including former ministers in Lalita Niwas Land Grab Scam.
24th August The House resumed after a month.
 28th August President for all ten parliamentary committees were elected.
 

Government’s Anti-Corruption Drive and Its Many Hurdles

On 23rd August, Nepal Police recommended prosecuting 238 people including former ministers, senior bureaucrats and middlemen in the infamous Lalita Niwas Land Grab Scam on charges of organized crime and forgery of government documents. Two former Prime Ministers, namely Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal, and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, were interrogated for their potential involvement but they have been spared of prosecution. In 2019, the corruption scandal surfaced wherein middlemen conspired with land revenue authorities, officials of ministerial rank, civil servants of high positions and politicians to unlawfully appropriate the ownership rights of Lalita Niwas – a government-owned area spanning over 100 ropanis; altogether worth billions of Nepali rupees which were sold at significantly lower prices than their actual value. The current vice-president of the CPN-UML and ex-Finance Minister, Mr. Bishnu Poudel along with several other high-profile leaders were also implicated in the scam. But the investigation hadn’t taken off until the formation of the PM Dahal’s government which has been opening files of many corruption scandals. Even now, Mr. Poudel along with ex-justice Mr. Kumar Regmi are spared of prosecution.

The government’s anti-corruption drive has met with many hurdles with the main opposition CPN-UML obstructing the house, and the CPN (Maoist Center)’s main coalition partner the Nepali Congress too trying to interfere in the investigation process. The CPN-UML had obstructed the parliament ever since July 26th with a demand of a high-level probing committee to investigate the gold smuggle scandal. The CPN-UML also question the alleged role of Mr. Krishna Bahadur Mahara, ex-speaker and vice-chairman of the CPN (Maoist Center) and his son in the gold smuggling case. While Mr. Mahara’s son is arrested, the ex-speaker isn’t brought under investigation. On 24th August, the House of Representatives resumed after the ruling coalition, the main opposition CPN-UML together with other five national parties agreed to form a probing panel under the leadership of a justice of the high court. While the CPN-UML was adamant to not let house function until the formation of a high-level probing committee, it is reported that PM Dahal intimated to investigate “Giribandhu Tea State Scam” –  a case similar to that of Lalita Niwas Land Grab Scam – in which Mr. K P Sharma Oli too has been accused. Then, the CPN-UML let the house function after the agreement to form an investigation panel giving up its demand that an agreement wouldn’t suffice.

The Nepali Congress, the largest party and the main coalition partner of the CPN-Maoist Center questioned the government’s motives with an accusation that the PM Dahal government had been selectively targeting leaders of the party despite NC being main coalition partner. The party’s leader and ex-Home Minister Mr. Bal Krishna Khand was arrested in May, and on August 10, another lawmaker Dr. Sunil Sharma was arrested for producing fake academic certificates. There have also been reports that the Nepali Congress’s top leader Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba has been pressuring PM Dahal to appoint next Home Minister. Then on August 22, the government transferred five Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs) including two key officials who were investigating the Bhutanese Refugee Scam. It was reported that government transferred these officials when other senior leaders like Ms. Arju Deuba Rana, lawmaker of the Nepali Congress and wife of Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba, among others were being investigated for their alleged involvement in the Bhutanese Refugee Scam.

While PM Dahal’s government has shown proclivity to bring corruption cases into investigation, the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML have been pulling all leverages to interfere in the investigation process. The opposition obstruction of the house in demand of a high-level probing committee was, in essence, an attempt to derail the ongoing investigation process – given that in the past too, such high-level probing committee had failed to produce any tangible results; and if anything, those committees had merely served to protect high profile leaders and certain individuals. That some lawmakers of the Nepali Congress too sided with the CPN-UML in demanding for a high-level probe is telling in itself.

This whole story is reflective of the corruption nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and others which has plagued the system for worse. There is a growing pressure from media, activists and some sections within political parties to continue with anti-corruption actions and measures but now that parties within and beyond government are pulling strings against these measures, it is yet to be seen if the government succeeds.

Internal tussles within three biggest mainstream political parties and attempts to rejuvenate

CPN (Maoist Center): The Maoist Center held its central committee meeting from 3rd August to 7th August, and ensuing internal turmoil within the party was apparent in the meeting. The calls for a leadership change in the next convention has grown stronger, and two main contenders, Mr. Barsha Man Pun and Mr. Janardan Sharma have reportedly reached a mutual understanding to support each other so as to ensure there is a leadership change in the party after 30 long years. Likewise, some leaders also were skeptical that investigations into corruption cases would reach a logical end as many leaders within the party have been involved in smugglings, - they also asked the party to book its corrupt leaders. Following the footsteps of the Nepali Congress and the CPN UML, the party has decided to launch grassroot campaign with an attempt to strengthen its organization, and win public’s support.

Nepali Congress: The largest party, Nepali Congress, has been mired in factional politics since long – and it conducted a nationwide campaign from August 5th to 15th sending leaders in all 77 districts to understand the perception of general public towards the party, and its role in the PM Dahal led government. Reflecting upon the results of the campaign, the party concluded that internal factionalism coupled “opposition’s attacks” had led to “illusionary perceptions” regarding party’s policy and leadership. Two general secretaries have been putting stiff opposition against the top leadership – and now discontents are growing even more as the party fails to perform in the government.
CPN-UML: The main opposition CPN-UML is also caught up in internal turmoil as some leaders are now opposing top leader Mr. KP Sharma Oli’s authoritative control over the party. The buzz surrounding ex-president Ms. Bidya Devi Bhandari’s potential return to the party politics, which is against the practice in a republic system in which the president serves as a non-partisan state-head, has further increased tension within the CPN-UML. The CPN-UML had removed the age limit of 70 years for executive committee member paving path for Mr. Oli to contest for party’s top leadership even for the next tenure – but now there are early signs of second rung leader opposing Oli’s penchant to remain as the top leader even after this tenure.

The growing internal tussles, and attempts of these parties to reconnect with voters is reflective of the changing political landscape in which emergence of new parties from November 2022 polls has threatened the mainstream ones, and the second and lower rung leader who are for change in the ways and manner the parties operate are pushing against the top-tier reaping benefits from the status quo. The internal tussles are only likely to continue as the anti-incumbency wave and challenges from the new parties isn’t likely to dissipate anytime soon.

Chairpersons of Parliamentary Committees Elected

On 28th August, Chairpersons of all ten thematic parliamentary committees of the House of Representatives (HoR) were elected unanimously. There exists ten HoR committees, four National Assembly committees, and two joint committees but the 10 HoR committees which act “mini parliament” have been without leadership for nine months after the November 2022 polls. While these committees were formed in January, the functioning of these committees – which are assigned with important tasks like deliberating over provisions of proposed legislation, suggesting amendments on the same, among others - was impacted. That political leadership waited for nine months to proceed with election of the parliamentary committee’s head is revealing enough of the fact that proper functioning of the legislative isn’t in the priority of main political parties which are mostly occupied with affairs of coalitions. Further, chairpersons of the committees were divided amongst the ruling and opposition parties on agreement as per their convenience - such give and take is against the system of parliamentary democracy. And the proper functioning of legislative and judiciary have been impacted time and often due to negligence of the political parties. It is high time that the political parties and government put the effective functioning of both the legislative and the judiciary at the top of their priorities – and act accordingly.