Democracy under threat

News Digest (February 1-7, 2020)

CESIF Nepal Democracy & Governance, Economy & Development, Gender & Social Inclusion, International Relations & Foreign Affairs, National Security & Climate Change, News Digest, News Digest, News Digest, News Digest, News Digest, Thematic Areas Leave a Comment

DOMESTIC POLITICS

The Ruling Party: In its first Central Committee Meeting after the unification, NCP leaders and members discussed party and national issues such as intra-party factionalism, dispute, and corruption, government’s performance, and MCC—a much-debated national issue that was not on their agenda.[1] NCP co-chairs, KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, “admitted that the party was yet to be united—in spirit and true sense.”[2] The statement hinted at the existing factionalism despite the merger.

Prabhu Shah of Province 2 claimed that all the provincial level disputes in the party are artificially created and politically motivated from the center.[3] Other leaders also accused senior leadership of NCP of their unwillingness to address internal disputes in the party.

Alleging that many leaders of NCP have illegally amassed property and are involved in corruption,[4] a section of NCP leaders demanded that the party investigate properties of leaders through a robust investigation commission.[5]

Likewise, the party also formed a 3-member team to study the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact after a number of its party members raised questions at the Central Committee Meeting. The team, led by Jhalanath Khanal, has Bhim Rawal and Pradeep Gyawali as members.[6]

The Central Committee meeting also agreed to amend the party statute and make Bamdev Gautam the party’s vice chair.[7] Gautam, who is also the chief of the party’s organization department, is a key player now.[8]

The concluding session discussed the possibility of transitioning to an electoral system of directly electing the executive head.[9]

PM’s Press Meet: In a press meeting called on February 4, Prime Minister Oli defended his government’s recent actions, criticized for limiting freedom and democracy, by stating that the government is creating a “civilized society,” where everyone should “practice freedom responsibly.”[10] He also stressed that the Parliament would endorse MCC at the earliest.[11]

Parliamentary Affairs: Although the House now has Agni Sapkota as the Speaker, the post of the deputy Speaker remains vacant since Shiva Maya Tumbahamfe resigned on January 20.[12] Prime Minister Oli seems willing to offer the post to RJP-N if the party enters the federal government and agrees to change the alliance in Province 2.[13]  

A parliamentary panel study indicated that the deadline for endorsement was inching closer but the government failed to promulgate at least 15 regulations on various fundamental rights. Regulations on Rights Related to Land, Public Security, Personal Privacy and Environment Protection, Cast-based Discrimination and Untouchability and Social Security have not been drafted. However, regulations on the Right to Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health, Public Health, Right to Residence, Food Security, Free Education and Protection of Victims of Crime are being drafted.[14]

After the appointment of the new Speaker, the lawmaking process in the winter sessions of the parliament has gained momentum.[15]

OPPOSITION POLITICS

Nepali Congress: The main opposition, silent most of the time, has been vocal against the government’s wrongdoings but is also protesting CIAA action on its leader for alleged corruption on Lalita Niwas Land Scam.

NC lawmaker and senior advocate Radhe Shyam Adhikari spoke against the unconstitutionality of Section 4 of the proposed CIAA Amendment Bill that gives the anti-graft body a jurisdiction to investigate officials for abuse of authority.[16] On February 1, NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba accused the government of “attacking democratic norms.”[17]

On the MCC complication, NC lawmaker Gagan Thapa stated that Nepalis have a culture of speaking without studying and understanding about any topic.[18] Nepali Congress obstructed the parliament on February 6 defending the party’s deputy chair Bijay Kumar Gachhadar in the Lalita Niwas land scam. The main opposition accused the government of targeting its leader for political reasons.[19]

RJP-N and SP-N: Despite an offer from PM Oli, the Rashtriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N) leader Rajendra Mahato expressed that his party will not join the government unless “the ruling party amends the constitution, releases their cadres from jail, and frees MP Resham Chaudhary as well.”[20] He also reiterated that RJP-N and Samajbadi Party-Nepal “must unite to create an alternative force.”[21]

NCP-Biplab: Responding to the NHRC report that termed the death of Kumar Poudel, Sarlahi district in-charge of the Chand-led NCP, “extrajudicial killing,” the Ministry of Home Affairs “has directed Nepal Police to take action against police officers involved” in the killing.[22] Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, however, has been accused of misleading the parliament in the past, as his initial statement to the parliament claimed that Poudel’s death was a result of a police encounter in retaliation.[23] 

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Corona Despair Hits Nepal’s Hydel: Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, most Chinese operations in Nepal have gradually come to a halt. The Chinese workers engaged in the undergoing construction of hydropower projects in Manang and Lamjung districts went home for lunar celebrations and haven’t returned yet. The projects employ 60 Chinese workers each.[24]

MCC Debate: The MCC is facing opposition within the ruling Nepal Communist Party despite support from all the other major political parties since the grant was formally requested in 2012. A fringe within the Nepal Communist Party that opposes MCC argues that the United States has imperialist intentions.[25]

Although the MCC states that it is sans security components, senior American officials have repeatedly stated that it is a part of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy which is perceived as antithetical to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This would not only go against Nepal’s non-alignment policy but also runs the risk of upsetting Beijing and hindering Sino-Nepal relationships.

The grant of USD 500 million was signed for the purpose of economic growth and poverty alleviation by way of strengthening the energy sector and infrastructure development.[26]

On February 5, NCP Chair Dahal hinted at the possibility of rejecting MCC. However, Dahal said the party might endorse the committee’s recommendation. The party will not be rushing into any decision and have not rejected the US Aid outright. [27]

Chinese Visa Fee Hike: China has hiked the visa fee by nearly three folds. The surge is due to an additional service charge that is levied as per the revised China Visa Application Service Centre. Conversely, Nepali authorities have been providing free on-arrival visas to Chinese tourists. [28]

Pashmina Industry Woes[29]: Efforts to promote Nepal’s pashmina industry is facing a lack of publicity and a scarcity of raw materials. The export earning of pashmina drastically decreased even though it is listed in Nepal’s high priority export list. Locally produced pashmina does not have a competitive advantage over the item from other developing countries. The traders are sensitive to high production costs, and the dying industry has failed to create jobs.[30]

Japan‘s 50 million for disaster reduction: The government of Japan disbursed Rs 50.36 million for the implementation of the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Strengthening Project in Chitwan. The agreement was signed between the Japanese Ambassador to Nepal and Country Representative of Shapla Neer Nepal Office.[31]

Union Budget of India slashes Fund for Nepal: Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman endorsed the Union Budget for FY 2020/21 on February 1, 2020. The budget allocation observed some drastic changes which will have a significant impact on other economies including Nepal as India lowered the total foreign aid allocation by approximately 9% to Rs 69.07 billion from a whopping Rs 75.83 billion. Nepal’s foreign aid from India dipped to Rs 8 billion from Rs 12 billion. The dramatic decrease is likely to cast shadow on development projects that India carries out in Nepal. The Indian government had revised the grant from Rs 10.5 billion to Rs 12 billion[32] and has again seen a reduction.[33]

The Indian government prioritized agriculture in its budget this year and increased the overall subsidy provided to the agricultural sector. This increase in food subsidies is likely to make agro-products more attractive for Indian customers while also making it cheaper for foreign importers like Nepal. A massive influx of commodities and rising imports will worsen the trade balance by increasing the overall trade deficit. This will be quite alarming for the developing nation.[34]

To promote the ‘Make in India’ initiative, India increased custom duty on fully imported commercial vehicles from 25% to 40%. This will impact the Nepali automobiles import from third countries and Nepal’s market opt for more India made vehicles.[35]

NATIONAL SECURITY

International Terrorism: Security experts argue that high-profile terror suspects hiding out in Nepal and using the country as a base shows just how easy it has become for international criminals to enter the country and live here without fear. Effective and reliable coordination among the security agencies must be established in order to mitigate security challenges faced by the country as threats of terrorism are rising and Nepal is not an exception.

On January 9, the special cell of the Delhi Police arrested three alleged Islamic State operatives from a north Delhi locale.[36] They allegedly crossed the Nepal border with fake documents. The arrested claimed that they have a base in Nepal where they met their “foreign handler”. Nepal police, however, said they have not seen or are aware of any suspected terrorist activity. No formal notice or information was received by Nepali authorities.[37]

Suspected Islamic State operatives hiding out in Nepal and planning cross-border terrorism should be a cause for concern for the country’s security and intelligence apparatus. However, the Home Ministry responsible for overseeing the security agencies operating in Nepal admitted to being unaware of any such operations in Nepal. Although this is not the first time suspected terrorists have operated via Nepal; concerned officials insist that it is difficult for international criminals to enter Nepal as the surveillance is thorough and effective. [38]

Cybersecurity: Despite the growing number and staggering impact of cyber-attacks across both private and public sectors, cyberspace remains largely ungoverned. Most cyber attacks, like the technology they run on, cut across borders, rendering national laws and regulations inadequate. The threat is transnational, therefore, the rules and frameworks must be as well.[39]

After the United Nations called for an investigation into the claims that Jeff Bezos’s smartphone was hacked by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, another investigation revealed that the UN itself was hacked compromising some core infrastructure servers. The US asserts that International Humanitarian Law (IHL) applies to cyberspace, but it has yet to offer definitive guidance on what cyber-attacks, short of those causing obvious large scale kinetic destruction, constitute a prohibited use of force or invoke the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC).

DEVELOPMENT AND GOVERNANCE

Governance and Politics: After the Home Secretary Prem Kumar Rai resigned on 31 January,[40] Maheshwor Neupane was appointed as the new Secretary of Home Affairs.[41] The government proposed the use of electric vehicles mandatory for high-level officials.[42] Ministry of Law and Justice initiated drafting a “transitional justice law amendment” against reservations from conflict victims and rights activists.[43]

Higher Education: Former TU chancellors warned against the government’s attempt to further politicize Nepal’s higher education. They “urged the government to appoint vice-chancellors and boards of trustees of the universities without further delay.”[44] 

Coronavirus Outbreak and Public Health: The panic generated by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China is extensive because there is inadequate information regarding the characteristics of the virus to provide evidence-based public health instructions on containment and treatment.[45] Nepal government has established screening centers and health desks at the airport for individuals returning from China as screening is the only way of identifying the maximum number of cases entering the country and prevent exposing and infecting the population. While a location to quarantine those being evacuated from Hubei has reportedly been finalized, Nepal’s only international airport is neither quarantining nor screening passengers travelling from other parts of China with no maintenance of passenger records either.[46] Such negligence could have impacts that outlive the chaos created by the virus and have a devastating impact on public health.

Although the government of Nepal, time and again, reassured its citizens that it is working progressively to advance the nation’s crisis resiliency by making preparedness a national priority, it has time and again failed to deliver.

Five years after the devastating earthquake, authorities are still unprepared for similar kind of crisis. Thousands of lives were lost and thousands others injured when a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal on 25 April 2015. Apart from the loss of life and human suffering, the earthquake caused extensive destruction and damage to housing, infrastructure, and livelihood, leading to a drastic reduction in living conditions, income, and access to basic services, such as health, water and sanitation[47].

The earthquake exposed the Nepali authority’s unpreparedness in the face of an emergency. The government has been caught off guard yet again with the ongoing outbreak of the novel coronavirus and no plan to contain it.

Mental Health: Countries across the world have commenced the repatriation of their citizens back to their homelands from coronavirus-inflected China. Repatriated citizens are being nursed under quarantine conditions to minimize the spread of the virus. Although it is entirely appropriate that the individuals remain under quarantine for the 14-day observation period to minimize the risk of the virus spreading, along with following the guidelines enlisted by the WTO to contain the virus under quarantine, it becomes increasingly important to attend to their psychological wellbeing alongside their physical wellbeing. Mental health is otherwise often overlooked. Individuals under isolation and observation are likely to experience psychological difficulties.[48]

According to a report by the Daily Star, quarantined individuals may suffer various degrees of anxiety resulting from the fear of harboring the coronavirus in their bodies along with the feeling of shame of being alienated by society. Furthermore, they might also become victims of mental distresses that outlive the quarantine period and may develop mental health conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and clinical depression. [49]

Security Officials face Rape Charges: Senior Superintendent of Police Saurabh Rana, who was suspended on the charge of sexual misconduct, surrendered to District Police Office, Sunsari. The Ministry of Home Affairs suspended SSP Rana after a woman from Dharan accused him of sexual misconduct.[50] Similarly, former Deputy Superintendent of Police Rajkumar Khiuju also has also been accused of rape. A 21-year-old girl filed an FIR against him, accusing him of raping her multiple times.[51] She also filed an FIR against journalist Raju Basnet for undue pressure on her to not disclose the incident.[52]

PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS

Name, Capital, and other Businesses: On 31 January 2020, the provincial assembly of Province 3 decided Bagmati as the name and Hetauda the capital. The government claimed it as a huge achievement. However, from among the targeted 100 laws, it has passed 46 so far in the last two years.[53] Province 5 has passed 48 bills in the past two years.[54]

Province 2 has been criticized for representatives’ services, protocol, payment of project, and plan. The provincial assembly passed 23 bills out of 43 registered, and 60 bills are under discussion.[55]

Federal government’s national pride projects have not taken place in the six months of the current fiscal year. The federal government recorded merely 18% expenditure on the projects. Similarly, provincial governments do not have a better performance either as they have spent only 10.18% in the current fiscal year.[56]  The lowest expense is of Karnali province which stands at a negligible 3% so far.[57]


[1]https://kathmandupost.com/1/2020/02/02/despite-not-being-on-the-agenda-mcc-dominates-ncp-s-central-committee-meet

[2]https://kathmandupost.com/1/2020/02/02/central-committee-meeting-exposes-divisions-in-ncp-but-leaders-say-it-can-also-be-a-platform-for-putting-differences-to-rest

[3]http://annapurnapost.com/news/146968

[4]https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/ncp-cc-members-demand-top-leaders-disclose-their-property/

[5]http://annapurnapost.com/news/146968

[6]https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/khanal-heads-ncp-team-to-study-mcc/

[7]https://kathmandupost.com/1/2020/02/03/ncp-amends-party-statute-to-make-bamdev-gautam-vice-chair

[8]https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/once-sidelined-bamdev-gautam-emerges-powerful-again-in-ncp/

[9]https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/02/05/ruling-party-debates-directly-elected-executive-head-once-again-this-time-it-has-the-numbers

[10]https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/oli-says-govt-wants-to-create-civilised-society/

[11]https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/parliament-will-endorse-mcc-at-the-earliest-pm/

[12]https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/02/02/house-got-speaker-after-a-month-but-there-is-no-certainty-when-it-will-get-deputy-speaker

[13]https://nagariknews.nagariknetwork.com/news/115834/

[14]https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/citizens-still-deprived-of-fundamental-rights-in-lack-of-regulations/

[15]https://nagariknews.nagariknetwork.com/news/115678/

[16]https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/ciaa-empowered-beyond-constitution/

[17]https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/govt-attacking-democratic-norms/

[18]https://www.karobardaily.com/news/politics/28657

[19]https://www.onlinekhabar.com/2020/02/834178

[20]https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/rjp-n-sp-n-must-unite-to-create-an-alternative-force/

[21]https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/rjp-n-sp-n-must-unite-to-create-an-alternative-force/

[22]https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/cops-involved-in-killing-cpn-leader-to-face-action/

[23]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/02/07/home-minister-misled-parliament-over-extrajudicial-killing-of-kumar-paudel

[24] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/absence-of-chinese-workers-hits-hydel-plants/

[25]  https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/01/09/why-the-mcc-compact-courted-controversy-in-nepal

[26]https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/the-indo-pacific-vs-the-belt-and-road-nepals-great-mcc-debate/

[27] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/05/73505/

[28] https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/up-to-three-fold-hike-in-china-visa-fee/

[29] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/nepali-pashmina-industry-fails-to-grow-despite-aid-incentives/

[30] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/nepali-pashmina-industry-fails-to-grow-despite-aid-incentives/

[31] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/japan-gives-rs-50-million-for-disaster-reduction/

[32] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/india-increases-aid-to-nepal-by-40-this-year/

[33] https://www.thehindu.com/business/budget/budget-2020-major-cut-in-financial-allocation-for-nepal/article30715809.ece

[34]http://www.careratings.com/upload/NewsFiles/Studies/CARE%20Ratings%20FY%202020%20Budget%20Expectations.pdf

[35] Ibid.

[36]https://asianews.network/2020/01/30/terror-suspects-arrested-in-india-say-they-were-using-nepal-as-a-base-but-security-agencies-are-clueless/

[37] https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/01/30/terror-suspects-arrested-in-india-say-they-were-using-nepal-as-a-base-but-security-agencies-are-clueless

[38]https://asianews.network/2020/01/30/terror-suspects-arrested-in-india-say-they-were-using-nepal-as-a-base-but-security-agencies-are-clueless/

[39]https://www.lawfareblog.com/international-law-and-cyberspace-evolving-views

[40]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/02/01/with-prem-kumar-rai-resigning-bureaucrats-vie-for-home-secretary-position

[41] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/03/73150/

[42]https://kathmandupost.com/2/2020/02/02/electric-vehicles-proposed-for-top-level-government-officials

[43]https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/02/04/law-ministry-starts-drafting-transitional-justice-law-amendment-without-victims-onboard

[44]https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/ex-tu-vcs-warn-against-political-interference-in-picking-vcs/

[45]https://kathmandupost.com/health/2020/01/21/even-as-coronavirus-cases-rise-kathmandu-airport-has-not-implemented-mandatory-screenings

[46]  https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/02/04/government-focuses-on-nepalis-in-hubei-but-travellers-from-rest-of-china-are-neither-screened-nor-quarantined

[47]https://www.malteser-international.org/en/our-work/asia/nepal/nepal-earthquake-a-look-back-at-the-last-three-years.html

[48] https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/news/coronavirus-the-psychology-those-quarantined-1863124

[49] https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/news/returnees-wuhan-quarantine-not-ideally-1862749

[50]https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/ssp-rana-surrenders-to-police-in-connection-with-sexual-misconduct/

[51]https://thehimalayantimes.com/kathmandu/arrest-warrant-issued-against-former-dsp-accused-of-rape/

[52] https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/police-set-to-arrest-rape-accused-former-dsp-rajkumar-khiuju/

[53]https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/35369/2020-02-03

[54]https://ekantipur.com/pradesh-5/2020/02/04/158081907564728771.html

[55]http://annapurnapost.com/news/147245

[56]https://www.nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/35543/2020-02-05

[57]https://myrepublica.nagariknetwork.com/news/only-3-percent-budget-spending-in-6-months-complaints-galore-on-sa-s-oversight-functions/

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