Electing the unelected : Koirala has proved me right

Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala has said that he will not go before anyone pleading for the presidency. Talking to Kantipur Television at the function held at Narayanhity palace on Sunday, he said, “I am not someone who will run around pleading for president from anyone.” (Nepalnews.com, June 15). When

Koirala uttered these words, the blatant hypocrisy drew quite a few snickers and bewildered smiles around the Valley. Even for a man whose claim to the post of Prime Minister is based not on a mandate but on a sense of entitlement, this line was comical. Even for a man who puts self and family

before everything else, this line was puzzling. Even for a man whose strongest attribute is supposed to be his stubbornness, this line was bizarre.

That one sentence showed everyone that what separates Koirala from almost every other politician is the arrogance of not having had to contest an election. In short, we all see the perils of electing the unelected. While a democracy certainly empowers people and demands accountability from politicians, the process of running a campaign and contesting an election is almost as crucial in moulding a politician. For a few months leading up to the election, a candidate’s humility is tested. Shedding every ounce of arrogance in their body, candidates must shake hands and force smiles. They must endure insults, make appeals for donations, plead for support, beg for forgiveness for past mistakes and, of course, ask for a vote. While not humiliating, it certainly is a humbling process.

If the process of running a campaign is humbling, we all know (and accept) that the humility only lasts until the day of the election. While some remnants of a candidate’s modesty can last beyond Election Day and even be found in their acceptance speeches a week later, the fad wears off fairly quickly. That being said, while the humility of having to practically beg and plead for votes gradually diminishes, it does not wear off entirely. The humbling experience of running a gruelling campaign stays with the candidate in a dormant state and this dormant state of humility does not allow an elected politician to view words like “beg”, “ask” or “plead” in a disparaging or degrading manner. It is part of the job and it comes with the territory. It is how you win, and like Bill Clinton once said, “Losers don’t legislate”... unless you’re Girija Prasad Koirala and you didn’t run a campaign, of course.

When the Maoists first demanded proportional representation in the Constituent Assembly, my first thought was that the demand was made so that Prachanda, Baburam Bhattarai and other top Maoist leaders feared losing the battle for a constituency and opted to slip through the back door of the CA. Such an arrangement, in my view, was perilous. My argument against proportional representation was not only that every elected CA member should be required to show a mandate. It was not only that every CA member should represent (and be accountable to) a constituency. It was also that I wanted every member of the CA to have gone through the humbling process of running for office and be required (even if it were for a few months) to shed the arrogance and entitlement that had infested our feudalistic society.

I have been proven wrong (and humbled) by the Maoists but, on June 15, Koirala proved me correct. Having not had to contest an election, his use of the phrase “run around pleading” in a contemptuous manner showed the country the risk of nominating a person who thinks that campaigning and politicking for a presidency is beneath him, yet thinks hanging on to a position to which he was neither elected nor nominated is valiant.

I wonder what Koirala thinks of people like Barack Obama and John McCain, two people who are currently “running around pleading” for votes, money and goodwill from ordinary citizens. I wonder what he thinks of the Maoist proposal to hold direct elections for the Presidency. How would Girija Koirala endure a process that would require him to shed his sense of superiority and entitlement and force him to directly ask me for my support? He wouldn’t … and there is no surprise that under this man’s leadership, the Nepali Congress has gone from winning 53 per cent of the constituencies to winning 14 per cent of them … and there is no doubt that the primary reason for the slide is the self-righteousness that emanates in Baluwatar and has trickled down through the ranks. His party has lost its aura of inevitability, it has forgone its moral leadership and he still does not seem to have got the message.

Let’s have a direct national vote for the presidency. Let’s have the presidential candidate directly ask the Nepali people for their support. Let’s have a President who has endured the humbling process of a campaign and... and let’s have a president who has actually “run around pleading” for our vote.

Panth is associated with Institute for Development Studies