Snail’s Pace

The gov­ern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Sushil Koirala is fac­ing crit­i­cism for its slow pace and in­de­ci­sive­ness in im­por­tant mat­ters.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Jave­ria Shakil

When 74-year-old Sushil Koirala took the oath of of­fice in Fe­bru­ary 2014, ev­ery­one in Nepal was too busy to cel­e­brate the ‘land­mark’ achieve­ment to give any con­sid­er­a­tion to other fac­tors – such as his age and the abil­ity to run a dif­fi­cult coun­try like Nepal, which has highly com­pli­cated po­lit­i­cal dy­nam­ics. The peo­ple, in­clud­ing those who be­longed to the over 130 po­lit­i­cal par­ties of Nepal, were happy be­cause all the stake­hold­ers had fi­nally agreed on one can­di­date for the po­si­tion of prime min­is­ter.

Their joy was not mis­placed be­cause there was bick­er­ing and wran­gling soon af­ter the gen­eral elec­tions which were held in Novem­ber 2013, six months af­ter the Con­stituent Assem­bly was dis­solved in May 2013. Even the con­duct of the elec­tions was an or­deal it­self. There was much de­lay and un­cer­tainty around the is­sue. Calls for the boy­cott of the elec­tions by a num­ber of po­lit­i­cal par­ties, in­clud­ing

the sec­ond big­gest party of Nepal, the UCPN-M, did not help mat­ters ei­ther. Vi­o­lent protests be­fore, and even on the day of the elec­tions, re­sulted in many deaths. So the hap­pi­ness of the Nepali na­tion knew no bounds when it fi­nally chose a per­son to serve as prime min­is­ter, over two months af­ter the gen­eral elec­tions.

In their ex­cite­ment of fi­nally having re­solved a lead­er­ship cri­sis, the po­lit­i­cal par­ties for­got to take into ac­count many fac­tors, the fore­most be­ing ‘who’ they had cho­sen to take charge of Nepal’s af­fairs.

The in­cum­bent, Sushil Koirala, has all the qual­i­ties of a states­man. He be­longs to the well-re­spected po­lit­i­cal fam­ily of Koiralas. He is re­lated to three for­mer prime min­is­ters of Nepal -- Ma­trika Prasad Koirala, Gir­ija Prasad Koirala and Bish­wesh­war Prasad Koirala. Prime Min­is­ter Koirala has spent al­most 16 years in ex­ile in In­dia af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of the Pan­chayat sys­tem by Nepal’s mon­archs, which only served to en­hance his stature.

His po­lit­i­cal lean­ings, which were so­cial-demo­cratic, swayed him to­wards the Nepali Congress. From be­ing a mem­ber of the Cen­tral Work­ing Com­mit­tee of the party, he pro­gressed to be­come the gen­eral sec­re­tary and then the vice pres­i­dent and even­tu­ally rose to the po­si­tion of pres­i­dent of the Nepali Congress in 2010. His per­sonal life is also a per­fect ex­am­ple of sim­plic­ity and aus­ter­ity. He never mar­ried and is a man of sim­ple tastes. In a coun­try where politi­cians are known for their wealth, Koirala does not own even a house or land. His to­tal de­clared as­sets are three mo­bile phones. Af­ter this dis­clo­sure, the BBC de­clared him “one of the world’s poor­est heads of state”. Ear­lier this year, on his re­turn to Nepal from Myan­mar where he had gone to at­tend the BIMSTECH Sum­mit, Koirala de­posited $650, which was given to him as al­lowance for his stay in Myan­mar.

Since Koirala con­tin­ues to dis­play such rare traits, it is hard even for his worst crit­ics to doubt his in­tegrity and sin­cer­ity to work for his coun­try. But while his in­ten­tions re­main above scru­tiny and crit­i­cism, it is the lack of ma­te­ri­al­iza­tion of his plans and prom­ises into ac­tions that have set many a tongue wag­ging.

When the ini­tial eu­pho­ria over Koirala’s se­lec­tion for the prime min­is­te­rial slot died, the re­al­iza­tion hit the peo­ple that he may be too old for the job and may not be able to as­sert his pow­ers like a younger can­di­date would have. In a re­cent par­lia­men­tary meet­ing of the Nepali Congress, a large num­ber of mem­bers crit­i­cized Koirala “for not ex­er­cis­ing his pow­ers and for cre­at­ing in­er­tia in the gov­ern­ment by not tak­ing de­ci­sions in time.”

His in­de­ci­sive­ness be­came ap­par­ent when his cabi­net failed to nom­i­nate can­di­dates on the 26 va­cant seats of the Con­stituent Assem­bly. In nor­mal cir­cum­stances, 26 va­cant seats in an assem­bly of 600 should not have mat­tered. But mat­tered a lot in the case of Nepal’s Con­stituent Assem­bly which has the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of sev­eral marginal­ized groups and even the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity. If some seats fall va­cant af­ter the elec­tions, it is the gov­ern­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to nom­i­nate mem­bers on those seats. But the gov­ern­ment of Nepal, headed by Koirala, has failed to ful­fill its prime re­spon­si­bil­ity. When the seats re­mained va­cant even af­ter six months of elec­tion, an ir­ri­tated par­lia­men­tar­ian took the mat­ter to the Supreme Court. An an­gry Supreme Court or­dered the gov­ern­ment to fill the va­cant seats in 15 days.

It is not only the seats of the CA which de­manded the gov­ern­ment’s at­ten­tion. A fairly large num­ber of po­si­tions in the ad­min­is­tra­tion, se­cu­rity forces, ju­di­ciary and for­eign ser­vice still re­main va­cant be­cause of the in­de­ci­sion of the gov­ern­ment.

Then there is the mat­ter of the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions. In­stalling the lo­cal gov­ern­ment was one of the ma­jor prom­ises of the Nepali Congress dur­ing its elec­tion campaign. Af­ter com­ing to power, the party an­nounced that it would hold elec­tions for the lo­cal bod­ies by June. How­ever, Home Min­is­ter Bom Dev Gautam de­clared later that the elec­tions would take place only af­ter the pro­mul­ga­tion of the new con­sti­tu­tion. In other words, peo­ple should stop hop­ing to see their rep­re­sen­ta­tives work­ing at the grass­roots level to get the lo­cal prob­lem solved.

The sit­u­a­tion has wors­ened to such an ex­tent that the me­dia has started ridi­cul­ing the gov­ern­ment’s at­ti­tude. Mock­ing the prime min­is­ter, a news mag­a­zine wrote that per­haps Sushil Koirala takes the say­ing ‘bet­ter late than never’ too lit­er­ally. An­other news­pa­per de­clared that he be­lieves in work­ing “at a snail’s pace”.

Prime Min­is­ter Koirala was also crit­i­cized for his “lethar­gic at­ti­tude” dur­ing his visit to In­dia to at­tend Naren­dra Modi’s oath-tak­ing cer­e­mony. Many an­a­lysts were of the view that his visit failed to im­press. Com­ment­ing on the im­por­tance and out­come of Koirala’s visit, for­mer for­eign min­is­ter Ramesh Nath Pandey said, “Nepal failed to main­tain sym­bol­ism and sub­stance in New Delhi dur­ing the meet­ings with SAARC lead­ers and the In­dian lead­er­ship. Sym­bol­ism and sub­stance are very im­por­tant in diplo­macy. Sym­bol­ism helps shape a fa­vor­able at­mos­phere in diplo­macy. Nepalese lead­er­ship failed on this front."

Be­sides th­ese mat­ters, Koirala has also been fight­ing health is­sues, some of which are quite se­ri­ous. He has been un­der­go­ing treat­ment for tongue can­cer for quite some time and vis­ited the U.S. re­cently for a de­tailed health check-up. The age fac­tor and the health is­sues have given the crit­ics of Prime Min­is­ter Koirala yet an­other op­por­tu­nity to tar­get his per­for­mance.

Un­for­tu­nately, Koirala’s crit­ics do not be­long to his ri­val par­ties only. A large num­ber of them are ei­ther from the Nepali Congress or be­long to its al­lies. Crit­i­cism of Koirala wit­nessed a surge as his gov­ern­ment com­pleted its 100 days in power in May. Many ex­pressed their ap­pre­hen­sions about the abil­ity of the Koirala-led gov­ern­ment to de­liver on its ba­sic re­spon­si­bil­ity: make a new con­sti­tu­tion for the coun­try. Writ­ing for Spot­light Nepal, jour­nal­ist Ab­hi­jit Sharma no­ticed that much of Koirala's hun­dred days in of­fice had been “marred by ex­tremely slow de­ci­sion mak­ing, cou­pled with a grow­ing mis­trust.”

The mis­trust may soon lead to wide­spread un­rest in the coun­try. Con­sid­er­ing the threats of the al­lies of the NC gov­ern­ment to quit the coali­tion if it keeps de­lay­ing im­por­tant mat­ters, the days ahead could be dan­ger­ous for Sushil Koirala’s gov­ern­ment. The writer is as­sis­tant ed­i­tor at SouthAsia. She fo­cuses on is­sues of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial in­ter­est.

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