Balen Shah’s popularity: Nepal seeks a new national party – The Himalayan Times – Nepal’s No.1 English Daily Newspaper

The popularity of Balen Shah, mayoral candidate of Kathmandu Metropolitan City, can be dismissed as a mere anomaly or it can be construed as a broad repudiation of the establishment. In any case, the desire and hunger of the electorate for change can be felt, and I would argue this sentiment is shared not only by the populace of the major cities but also by the residents from the nooks and crannies of the country. The major political parties, namely the Nepali Congress (NC) and communist parties, lack vision to meet the demands of the 21st century, and this makes it imperative that people such as Shah mobilise grassroots movements to form a national coalition that can provide tangible alternatives to the NC and communist parties.

Nepal remains one of the least developed countries in the world and two-thirds of its people struggle to make ends meet. This should not be the fate of the country located in-between two giant economies – India and China. Nepotism, myopia, an obsolete bureaucracy and migration of human capital have rendered the country ungovernable. The only viable solution to this plague is to establish a national party that is in-tune with the globalised and integrated world. And here are the four interrelated policy prescriptions or campaign slogans for this new party.

Establishment of a strong rule of law: The economies of the ‘Asian Tigers’, namely Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan provide just the model for establishing the rule of law. In the last 40 years, these economies have sustained a high period of economic growth that was propelled by adherence to a strong rule of law. In Nepal, syndicates have hijacked the vibrancy of the free market. From vegetable markets to public transportation to imports, oligopolies control the entire economy with support from the leading political parties. Our daughters and sisters are scared to walk outside home after dusk, and anyone challenging the status-quo is swiftly crushed.

The first priority of this new political party should be peace and security for each and every citizen to exercise their inalienable rights through the rule of law. These rights are not limited to voicing the frustrations of politicians but should include property rights from patent to trademark to the ability to participate freely in the open market. In a nutshell, the government should create an environment where each citizen can use his/ her ingenuity to realise their dreams with protection from the law.

Creation of a vibrant free market economy: Along with establishing a strong rule of law, this new party should support and encourage policies that favour a robust free market. An environment should be created where entrepreneurs feel comfortable taking risks. This means eliminating red tape at every step that makes entrepreneurship a cumbersome endeavour. Incubation centres for start-ups should be funded by public-private partnership, and the economic “transaction cost” should be reduced to a bare minimum. Syndicates should be made illegal, and violators should be punished strongly. Having a strong rule of law and a vibrant free market economy will also attract foreign direct investment.

Putting a stop to emigration of human capital: It is true that Nepal will face difficulty in reducing the outflow of skilled labour in the near future. However, a strong rule of law and vibrant economy should curtail the emigration of human capital in a decade or so. We do not see educated and competent citizens of Singapore and South Korea immigrating to Western countries in droves. It all starts by providing a sustainable living wage to retain competent workers. Immigration is a reality in a globalised and integrated world, but I am sure attractive compensation will convince some competent citizens to stay in their own country, and this can create a chain reaction where future generations can see a sustainable future in their own homeland. This requires having strong labour laws and a modern human resource department that is equally committed to the general welfare of the employees, not just the management. If owners of a business can drive around in a $400,000 Tesla, I am sure we can ask them to pay a sustainable living wage to their productive employees.

Utilising regional and global geopolitics to its advantage: Nepal is considered as the Switzerland of the East, and we can learn a lot from this tiny landlocked western European country. Switzerland with its natural beauty and strategic location has positioned itself as a tourist destination and a financial hub. It has a tiny army and does not take part in international conflict other than in peacekeeping missions: a position Nepal can emulate. It is in the interest of China and India that Nepal remains a peaceful country. No superpower wants an Afghanistan as a nextdoor neighbour. Given this geopolitical reality, future generations of Nepali leaders should be able to negotiate an outcome that is favourable to Nepal and its citizens as well as the global community.

In conclusion, Nepal remains and will remain a minor actor in global affairs. However, this should not be a reason for us to be poor for eternity. Leaders and a national political party with vision who understand our social, economic, cultural and geopolitical realities can mobilise the electorate to position Nepal in a strategic way where it can extract utmost benefit from the global economic and political environment. This starts with cleaning our own house and putting visionary global citizens in the position of power and responsibility.

Shah’s rise is a challenge to the status-quo. Win or lose, his rise proves that the Nepali electorate will listen to a voice irrespective of age, gender or political affiliation. There is a vacuum to be filled and the country desperately needs it. Is there anyone among us who can rise to this occasion?

Pathak is education management consultant at Islington College

A version of this article appears in the print on May 19, 2022, of The Himalayan Times.

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