The last dance of the old guards

The results of General Election 2022 are out now. With a few exceptions, most veteran leaders of the major political parties in the ruling coalition and opposition have secured their constituencies with a comfortable margin. The sitting Prime Minister of the ruling coalition Sher Bahadur Deuwa (NC) won from Dadeldhura, Puspa Kamal Dahal (CPN-Maoist Center) from Gorkha-2, Madhav Kumar Nepal (CPN-US) from Rautahat-1, the opposition leader KP Sharma Oli (CPN-UML) won from Jhapa-5 and Mahantha Thakur (LSP) won from Mahottari-3 whereas other prominent leaders like Jhalanath Khanal (CPN-US), Upendra Yadav (JSP), Ishwor Pokhrel (CPN-UML) and others suffered losses.

Overall, the old guards have performed well individually but the emergence of Rashtriya Swatantra Party (RSP) led by former charismatic TV host Rabi Lamichhane as a national party out of nowhere depicts a change in the political landscape of the country. Considering their age and shifting sentiments of the general public, we could possibly call this term the last dance of the old guards in Nepali politics.

Nepalis have always welcomed and supported the agenda of change. They gave mandates to the Maoists just after they joined the mainstream politics in the country after the civil war. After a few terms, CPN-Maoist Center proved to be just a mirror image of the old parties (NC and CPN-UML). This time again, unlike the absolute majority given to the Maoists during their first term, the votes cast in favor of RSP under the proportional representation show the people’s desire for change and their disappointment towards the old guards.

The rise of the RSP, or basically “Ghanti,” defeating incumbent ministers, former deputy prime ministers and prominent figures was inevitable from the public but it was a complete shock and hard pill to swallow for the political elites in the country. Southern Nepal also showed reluctance towards voting in the old Madhes-based parties again and showed support to Janamat Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party. Janamat Party even crossed the threshold to establish itself as a national party.

It is high time the old guards in the government performed based on the mandates given by the public and especially the ones staying in the opposition acted as true opposition.

After the establishment of multi-party democracy, we have come a long way from the Maoist insurgency and dethroning of the long reigning Shah monarchy to the republic at present. After the constitution of Nepal came into effect in 2015, the general elections held in 2017 brought forward a unified communist government that went short lived. It all came down to disagreements in power sharing between the leaders of the then CPN-UML and Maoist Center. The governments in Nepal have never been measured on the basis of indicators of good governance, corruption, economic growth, inflation and most importantly employment rates. The agendas of change have always been limited to paper.

Similarly, the recent conventions of so-called major parties have brought forward the same old faces into the top positions. Major party legislations have been changed in order to wipe out competition within the party. They have never taken the risk of passing on the baton to the dynamic and intellectual youths that are even well received within the senior party cadres. The history and trend till date shows that the senior leaders of the prominent political parties in Nepal have always taken the general public for granted. They have always set their priorities straight on who governs rather than changing the ways of governance whether it be within the party or national level politics as a whole. These malpractices of power hungry politicians have cost the Nepali public dearly.

Coming back to contemporary politics again, most of the party chairmen and prominent leaders will cross 70 years of age at the end of this term. It is the final chance for them to grab the positions of House Speaker, President and Prime Minister. There is a lot of anticipation as to whether they will still try to go for power or sensibly leave it to the young cadres. With the recent drive of youth sensation in leadership, partly thanks to the current mayor of Kathmandu Metro, public sentiment seems to have shifted more towards the younger generation of politicians and new faces. There is a high chance of the ruling coalition to form the new government with CPN-UML and RSP in the opposition. The old guards must have already realized that each and every move they make is going to benefit the rising RSP camp. The ones in the government face choice no other than efficiency and good governance. Breaking away from the coalition could be riskier this time because of the anticipated strong opposition. If there is a chance of mid-term election, the changing public sentiment might cast a devastating blow to the old parties.

It is high time the old guards in the government performed based on the mandates given by the public and especially the ones staying in the opposition acted as true opposition instead of turning blind eye on one another to get shady deals done in their favor.

In hindsight, we simply cannot ignore the fact that NC and CPN-UML can still join hands after this term beyond their party principles and maintain the status quo of  the plagued governance in the country.

Nabin Kafle ​​is a researcher at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based in Kathmandu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization. [email protected]