Two successive Nepali prime ministers addressed the Summit for Democracy and lied to the world

Deuba and Prachanda claimed they were working to resolve transitional justice issues by taking into account the concerns of the victims. The truth is they are trying to ram down a law that is feared to benefit the war-time perpetrators instead of the victims.

Mahabir Paudyal

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Nepal being invited to participate in the second Summit for Democracy—a signature program started by the US President Joe Biden—to bring together countries practicing democracy and thereby to consolidate the democratic strength at the face of China’s rising global clout—was an event to note.

When Samantha Power said that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda—then with CPN-UML as a main coalition partner—would be invited to participate in the event, it was even thought he would visit the US to participate in the event face-to-face.

Prachanda did participate virtually and did deliver some four minutes of written speech, in his typical Maoist style Nepali accent, which is fine.

Prachanda is the second prime minister from Nepal to address the Summit for Democracy. In 2021, Sher Bahadur Deuba had addressed the Summit virtually by reading out the written statement.

Ideally, Nepali PMs speaking in the global forum is something to celebrate for Nepal and Nepalis. Such global platforms, if wisely used, can be real opportunities to project Nepal in a positive light, raise its international standing and communicate Nepal’s concerns with the rest of the world.  The audience and participants, if not all people, at least know more about the Himalayan nation.

But their words in such forums are not mere words, they are the words to be recorded and archived.

What is concerning is that both Deuba and Prachanda told flagrant lies to the world during their respective addresses, on very sensitive issues, and yet their lies went largely uncovered.

Prachanda rightly said there is 41 percent of representation of women at the local level and overall 33.1 percent representation of women in provincial assemblies and federal parliament. But he told flagrant lie about the transitional justice process. “Nepal’s home grown peace process has been a successful example. To complete the only remaining task of the process an amendment bill related to the transitional justice process has been presented to the parliament,” he told the world leaders.  “The content of the bill captures the spirit of comprehensive peace accord, ruling of the supreme court, relevant international commitments, concerns of the victims and ground realities.”

Nothing could be far from the truth. The amendment bill has been heavily criticized by the civil society, victims’ family, international rights bodies and various victims’ communities for its apparent attempts, and even intentions, to give amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes committed during the war-era (1996-2006). The victim communities have said ‘no’ to this bill and demanded revision.

Sher Bahadur Deuba, who addressed the first Summit for Democracy in December, 2021, seems to have set a precedent for Dahal in misinforming the world about transitional justice and corruption. “We are fully committed to zero tolerance against corruption,” he said while in truth there was no commitment nor any actions from the government to punish the corrupt while he was the prime minister. In fact, his tenure was marked by financial crime, misrule and serious misconducts. “Our homegrown peace process has been unique and provide successful example of peaceful political transformation.”  One would agree. But consider this: “We are committed to transitional justice. We will move ahead with the amendment bill in compliance with the Supreme Court ruling and in consultation with the victims.” This particular statement makes the mockery of injustice done to the transitional justice process by political leadership, most notably the leadership from Nepali Congress and Maoist Center—the parties which ran the government in 2021 and which run the government today as coalition partners.

“Democracy must address people’s livelihood and their desire for better life,” Deuba said. It sounded like a cruel joke then and it sounds like a cruel joke today.

When the USAID administrator Samantha Power was in Kathmandu in February, she was of the view that the second Summit for Democracy would be an opportunity for Nepali Prime Minister “to take stock of the reforms and implementation of the commitments that were made at the last summit.” 

Like his predecessor (Deuba), Prachanda used it as an opportunity to hide the home truths.

The actors in the United States may not have been convinced by what Deuba and Prachanda told them for the 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices published by the United States Department of State point out what is wrong with Nepali democracy—including on human rights, transitional justice, corruption and so on.

Nepalis cannot be convinced by what Deuba and Prachanda told the Summit for they know what the ground realities are and many of them do not know about Summit for Democracy at all.

A survey conducted in August and September 2022 to measure public perceptions of the Summit for Democracy showed that only 25 percent of the respondents are aware of it and they showed limited trust that the commitments made in 2021 could help address the challenges that Nepal faces.

Only Deuba and Prachanda may be convinced by what they said, for they have been running the show for several years without a slightest sense of realization that they need to act as per the ‘everything is right with Nepal’ story they tell the outsiders.

Is there a global forum that also warns the Nepali political actors of the consequences when they willfully mishandle democracy and turn it into kakistocracy?

Nepali people are more frustrated today than they could ever have been with the political leadership.  They are leaving the country in droves every single day because large majority of them think Nepali democracy has been for a handful of leaders by a handful of leaders and of a handful of leaders. 

Is there a global forum that also warns them of the consequences when they willfully mishandle democracy and turn it into kakistocracy?