National Government : An Unwelcome Distraction

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Politicians are talking about forming a national consensus government in the aftermath of the earthquake. However, such a government is neither practical nor democratic nor desirable.
 
--By Akhilesh Tripathi 
 
The ghost of a national consensus government is back again. This time, it has risen out from the rubble of a national calamity. The devastating earthquake which has left the country in ruins seems to have jolted some quarters of the political circle to raise the spectre of forming a national consensus government. Even at this premature hour, with talks of forming such a government just at the starting stage, some power-hungry politicians have already set their sights on leading such an alliance.
 
The chorus group calling for a consensus government includes former prime ministers and top-rung politicians who have been eying the post for a long time. Three-time prime minister and senior leader of Nepali Congress, Sher Bahadur Deuba and UML Chairman KP Oli are said to be actively lobbying for the leadership. Oli is said to be especially active. According to political sources, he is even on a mission to cajole and convince UCPN (Maoist) Chairman and former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal to support his bid for the prime ministership. This is evident as Oli, a stringent and vehement critic of the Maoists, has softened his stance towards the formal rebels in recent times. 
 
Dahal, on his part, has not disliked Oli’s overtures. The two have held a couple of one-on-one meetings, which are said to have ended on a friendly note. This sudden climate of eagerness and doubled efforts at winning over former arch enemies smacks of political opportunism following on from a devastating event. Soon after these meetings, Dahal went on to state that a new constitution will be promulgated in two months if a consensus government comes.   
 
Other former prime ministers such as Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Baburam Bhattarai, too, are said to have staked their claims to lead a national consensus government. However, they are neither as active nor as hopeful as Deuba and Oli. On his part, incumbent Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, too, has talked about it, perhaps hoping to continue even if such a government sees daylight.
 
But the simple question is do we need such a government? The idea of a national consensus government only sounds sweet to the ear. But it is neither practical nor democratic nor desirable. One might argue that a national or all-party government is the best way to help the country come out of the devastation caused by the earthquake and start the long journey to recovery and reconstruction. However, this is a fallacy. The issues most pertinent to relief and reconstruction are efficiency, transparency and accountability. A national government will not necessarily serve any of these. 
 
Instead, a powerful opposition becomes even more important at such a critical juncture. We cannot imagine an efficient democracy in the absence of an opposition working as an oversight mechanism to keep everything above board. We cannot assume that the political names mentioned above do not understand this simple principle of a functioning democracy. Then why are they trying vigourously to sell the idea of a consensus government to domestic as well as international quarters?
 
The answer is bitter but it must be told. All top politicians want the PM’s chair and think the earthquake has provided them the opportunity to make this happen. Those who have felt the power of this chair already want to experience it again and those who have not are desperate to fulfill a long-cherished political dream. People like Deuba, Dahal, Khanal and Bhattarai fall in the first category and those like Oli and Ram Chandra Poudel in the second. It is not unusual for a politician to dream of sitting in the PM’s hot chair. However, this is not the right time – not at all – to fulfill an obvious political ambition. 
 
This is the time to get united for the rebuilding of the nation but it is wrong to argue that such unity will be achieved only after the formation of a national consensus government. This is the time when everyone – political parties, civil society, media, business community, individuals and the international community – need to support the state’s rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts whole heartedly. There should be no ifs and buts about it. No distraction from the single-minded determination for rebuilding the country. The call for a consensus government is a distraction.
 
It appears that those who are pushing for this national government agenda are trying to use an old trick - emotional blackmail - using the earthquake as a pretext to grab leadership roles. If not that, then at least a share in the government. 
 
It’s not that national consensus governments haven’t been formed elsewhere. At some instances in world history, such governments have been formed during grave crises such as war. For example, when Britain went to war against Germany during World War II, they formed a national government under the leadership of the charismatic Winston Churchill. All four British political parties of that time – Conservative, Labour, Liberal and National Liberal – accepted Churchill’s leadership to form the war ministry (government). But that was Churchill who could stir up the whole nation even without offering anyone anything: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Lesser mortals would not have been able to rally the entire country’s support.
 
Sadly, in Nepal there is no one of Churchill’s stature. We have many politicians ready and willing to take the baton but none of them has exceptional qualities. So, what is the point in replacing one mediocre person with another? None of them could command the level magnetism required. This is a fallacy that should be done away with immediately. We should get back to basics and leave the political merry-go-round for another day. 

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