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    Volume 11 |Issue 27| July 07, 2012 |


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Just Like a Mirage

Prakash K Shrestha and Anjan Panday

Protests for and against federalism have been disrupting Kathmandu for months.

We have been hearing the phrase “political consensus” since 1990. Its use increased in 2006 with the start of the peace process. Even though the buzzword has existed in political circles for more than two decades, Nepal is yet to see its concrete realisation. Even though everybody kept reiterating the word consensus during the period following the election to the Constituent Assembly (CA), the Nepali people could not get a new constitution. Instead, Nepal is now in an unprecedented political quagmire because of an elusive political consensus, and politicians have restarted uttering the term daily.

Political consensus refers to an agreement between political parties over certain issues. This type of agreement is necessary in a multiparty system in order to execute a common agenda for the welfare of the country. Internationally, this phrase was used to describe the practice of governance in Britain during the period 1945-1979. Britain's two political parties, Conservative and Labour, forged an agreement over certain government policies. Similarly, US President Eisenhower was able to gain a large degree of political consensus in post-World War II period.

In Nepal, the results of the CA election opened the necessity for parties to forge an issues-based consensus. But the political parties never made any serious efforts towards a meaningful consensus. Rather they have been busy spelling the term consensus merely as rhetoric just for personal gain.

Theoretically, consensus politics can generate political synergy for the benefit of the country. If we look back in history, we see that a joint effort of the Nepali Congress (NC) and the United Left Front succeeded in abolishing the 30-year long partyless Panchayat regime in 1990. After the restoration of the multiparty system too, Nepal was in dire need of political consensus to create a platform of stability, growth and prosperity. However, Nepali politics soon drifted in the wrong direction which resulted in a political stalemate.

In 1991, the NC won the first post-Panchayat election with a majority, and Girija Prasad Koirala became the first elected prime minister. It was the right time to pave the way for institutional development. Koirala used to state frequently the necessity of political consensus to protect “infant democracy”. Although he was right in saying so, it didn't materialise in practice. Instead, internal feuds within the NC led to the premature demise of the Koirala government as it lost a no-confidence motion. In the election that followed, no single party obtained a majority, and the country plunged into an era of political instability, providing a fertile ground for the Maoist “People's War”.

Again, in the third election after the restoration of democracy, the NC won a majority in 1999 and formed the government.

Immediately after the dissolution of the CA, the ruling Maoist party split.

Yet again, internal differences within the party resulted in the government collapsing, notably three times in three years. Eventually, the party split into two, giving enough clout to then-king Gyanendra to seize power. Thrown out on to the street, the parties were forced to make compromises and join hands with one another, which resulted in the 12-point agreement with the Maoists. This led to the successful 19-day People's Movement 2 in 2006, which changed Nepal's political landscape by abolishing the 240-year old monarchy. These developments clearly demonstrate the synergetic gains that can be achieved when parties unite.

However, the events that followed showed the fickleness in the political scene. After having some degree of political agreement until the declaration of a republic, the parties diverted towards a majority system in quest of political power, especially to form the government and continued the game of changing it. Even the new political force — the Maoists — behaved no differently than the old parties. Hence, in four years after the election to the CA, Nepal witnessed four governments. The outcome has, however, been worthless — the demise of the CA without promulgating a constitution.

Immediately after the dissolution of the CA, the ruling Maoist party split, just repeating the history of the NC and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist.

All these activities of Nepal's political parties have shown that the leaders are individualistic and unaccustomed to a party system. Fragmentation of parties has become routine, especially when they are at the helm of government. All parties are marred by intra-party conflicts. Hence, consensus is a long shot even within a party.

Surprisingly, in a country of 30 million people, we have more than two dozen parties. Although it would be undemocratic to object merely on the basis of number, what has been true in our case is that parties make or break just to grab power and to develop new power equations.

Nepali politics can rightly be characterised by Prisoner's Dilemma, a widely-known game in the field of Game Theory. In this game, two prisoners failed to cooperate although such cooperation would have resulted in a win-win situation for both. They failed to cooperate due to lack of trust. Guided by individual interests, they won't cooperate; rather, they betrayed each other, which then results in an inferior outcome for both of them. Regardless of what the other does, each prisoner gets a higher payoff by betraying the other in this game. Hence, betraying is the equilibrium solution.

In politics, since a position in power is mutually exclusive, cooperation among different actors may not lead all of them to power concurrently. Hence, they tend to betray each other. There are powerful incentives for political leaders to choose the path of disagreement and non-cooperation for their own individual gain. The country as a whole is, however, losing in this game. In this context, unless the political leaders can think and act beyond their own individual gain, political consensus will remain elusive, and it can be realised only if there is a rotational payoff-sharing mechanism.

Shrestha is a PhD scholar at New School for Social Research, New York and Panday is pursuing PhD at American University, Washington, DC.


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