Socio-political crisis

The challenges ahead

Prakash Chandra Lohani

Our country is facing difficult times, a period of societal turbulence that has unleashed violence and political division causing pain and suffering to the people. The task ahead is to get out of this morass of distress and misery on a platform of consensus and cooperation among all the political forces in the nation so as to provide adequate political and economic space to all segments of the society, especially the downtrodden, marginalised and the oppressed.

It is a historical challenge before us and it has clearly four components. First, the country faces an ideological challenge from the Maoists. Here is an insurgent group willing to use all the elements of psychological as well as physical terror in the belief that transformation of the Nepali society is not possible within a democratic and a parliamentary framework based on a competitive multiparty system. It is clearly an ideological challenge to the multiparty system. We must be able to convince the people by our efforts and actions that the issues of deprivation, social exclusion and oppression that the Maoists have raised can be solved in a democratic multiparty system.

Second, we face a political challenge in the country. The parties and political actors in our democratic system have yet to form a common front to confront the Maoists at the political level and generate a new sense of hope and optimism among the masses for a better future. The inability of the political parties to engage in a process of introspection of their achievements and failures and to forge a new unity against the competing Maoist paradigm points out the nature of political challenge that lies ahead of us. Mutual recriminations and bickering bordering on absurdity have increased cynicism among the populace and turned politics into a power game devoid of concern for the serious problem of violence. There is a need to build an ability to form a broad alliance among all political segments who believe that the new awareness among the masses about the nature of social and economic oppression can be accommodated positively.

Third, the nation also faces a transformational challenge. It is the challenge of building a structure of socio-economic transformation that is economically dynamic and geared towards reducing income inequalities, promoting equality of opportunity and eliminating social exclusion. This is rooted in the nature of development that takes place in the country. In the past we have not appreciated this perspective. Often we have been engaged in peripheral changes hoping that it will somehow address the problems of inequalities and exclusion on its own. We are beginning to realise that the peripheral changes are no substitute for changes at the core. It is this realisation that has brought poverty alleviation, reducing income inequality, and achieving social inclusion that includes women and disadvantaged groups all over the country as the main focus, as is reflected in a new package of instruments, which has four basic elements: Poverty reduction, medium term expenditure framework, immediate action plan and donor harmonisation.

All these challenges are interrelated. They have to be tackled in a parallel rather than in a sequential manner and for this purpose new methods of reaching the people in rural areas will have to be considered. For both the government and our foreign development partners including the multilateral institutions, the Maoist challenge is an obstacle in approaching the people. The best way to overcome this problem will be to increasingly rely on district and local level institutions, nongovernmental organisations and community based groups to undertake development works wherever possible. Flexible funding mechanism will have to be introduced. Conditional/unconditional grants going to the district development committees will need to be increased substantially; success in this task can be an effective response to the Maoist ideological challenge apart from forging a new link between the government and the people.

Finally, making democracy work is also a cognitive challenge for both the government and our development partners whose assistance and goodwill is of great importance at this critical juncture. Nepal is an old nation but it is a young democracy. The learning process involved in institutionalising democratic values has not been easy. History tells us that this was never easy even for the developed countries and mature democracies. On the other hand democracy is a system of governance that offers continuous opportunities for creative reconstruction and it is this resilience based on the sovereignty of the people that is its strength.

A young democracy must also try to be a democracy that is functional in reaching the people in spite of the violence and terror. It is with this perspective that the government is committed to a "road map" to peace that includes: starting the election process within a year; negotiated settlement with the Maoists under an overreaching framework of multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy; strengthening the constitutional process; the formation of an elected representative government; the protection and promotion of human rights in the nation; and pursuing pro-poor policies and investments while promoting democratic process and good governance. To achieve these objectives is not going to be easy and we cannot afford to fail.

Dr Lohani is the finance minister