The multiple feelings of déjà vu were surprisingly overwhelming. It happened while I was listening to the BBC about developments in Belarus, where Alexander Lukashenko is currently late. While reporting factory workers chanting ‘Go’ in the face of the struggling president who had sought to strengthen his position by speaking out in front of what he believed to be a sympathetic audience, the BBC presenter commented on how his hold on power seemed to be tenuous. It was then that the flood of memories from history, our own and beyond, came with a rush. Memories that recalled not only how such moments fervently embodied the hopes of a nation, but also the certain disappointment that awaited Belarusians.
This is not some sort of guesswork as to how Opposition Leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya would behave if and when Lukashenko resigned. Like most reasonably well-informed people far from its immediate neighborhood, all I know about Belarus is that it has long been ruled by an “elected” strongman who has tied himself closely to Russia. With my very limited knowledge of his politics, I had never even heard of Tikhanovskaya either. The above was just a personal reflection on how often similar times of hope have been common over the past four decades or so – and how badly these usually end.
Hope for democracy and fairness
The first one I remember when I was 13: the independence of Rhodesia (and the gradual transition to Zimbabwe). The names that stuck in my mind were Ian Smith, the last Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe. Nkomo is now almost forgotten and the reason I still remember him, besides being such an imposing personality, was due to my wonder at the time before instant information on how to pronounce his last name ( it is en-Komo). However, over the next 40 years, we learned a lot about Mugabe, how he wiped out this resource-rich country before being ousted after years of discontent. Unfortunately, for a country that has suffered so much, the record of its successor has not been much better, having now spawned the human rights campaign, #ZimbabweanLivesMatter. Enough said.
In 1979, when I was 14, we were able to witness history being made. With student unrest appearing to threaten the regime itself, King Birendra hastily announced a referendum on the Panchayat system. Political activism that had gone underground after the royal coup of 1960 has become possible again. Although having virtually no understanding of politics other than what I could absorb by listening to adult conversations conducted quietly in private circles, I did begin to attend political events in Khula Manch. I was there when BP Koirala first spoke in public after his impeachment two decades earlier and still remember the shock many onlookers felt upon first hearing the squeak that his voice had become due to. throat cancer that would eventually consume him.
My way back from school got me to change buses in the Ratna Park area and I became Khula Manch from Bir hospital on my way to the mini-bus stop in front of the old headquarters. Nepalese electricity company. Speeches were held in the late afternoon and I stopped almost every day to listen. Over the months, I must have heard most worthy politicians (I can’t remember any “sounds”) speaking in words that we of the Panchayat generation had never heard before. Here we were piling up propaganda to get through the subject known simply as Panchayat, and there were all these legendary names calling the lie to what our textbook said. The multiparty system lost the following year in the plebiscite which is widely believed to have been rigged. We were a long way from knowing how those who thundered against an irresponsible regime were to prove such havoc when their time came.
But there was enough time for that, a full decade. In the meantime, things have shifted here and there in favor of the popular will, notably that of Argentina in 1982, that of the Philippines in 1986, then the major dismemberment of the Soviet empire in 1989-90. We followed the precedent with our own Popular Movement of 1990 and saw the restoration of democracy after three decades. And, almost immediately, they found themselves face to face with the inexplicable reality that politicians, whether revolutionary or otherwise, invariably belies the great hopes that propel them to power. The only notable exception in recent decades may have been Nelson Mandela’s South Africa, but here, too, the downfall began soon after he left the scene.
Only hope remains
Despite all the repeated disappointments everywhere we look, hope is eternal as people continue to strive for the ideal of a government that listens to its citizens. The absolute certainty of better times after the current crisis is over is what drives Belarusians right now. This heightened sense of optimism is something we have been (badly) fortunate enough to experience twice in a generation: in 1990 and 2006. At least the second time around, our politicians seemed contrite and in fact promised to not to repeat their past mistakes in what they said would become a New Nepal.
Even though they had really wanted to at the time, the feuds began soon after their return to power following a popular mobilization of a kind never seen in Nepal’s history. Instead of focusing on writing a constitution, we saw governments come and go in a repeat of the bad ’90s. It took almost a decade and a devastating earthquake for the new statute to be put in place. in place.
The story with the majority government elected on the strength of fantastic promises of transforming the country was no different, and the results were there for all even before the last shameful months. A naked power struggle has devoured the ruling party amid a pandemic that is not only likely to devastate the economy, but also cause enormous loss of life. Yet despite all the fire and brimstone emanating from both sides, neither has come up with a game plan on how best to tackle the coronavirus threat. The last time we heard was that resolving all these months of political wrangling that ensured the lack of any political leadership in the country would take the form of a cabinet reshuffle. Talk about a wet firecracker.
Poet Sylvia Plath wrote: “If you don’t expect anything from anyone, you are never disappointed”. This, unfortunately, cannot apply to the relationship between people and their government. Expectations are always high and politicians almost always fail to deliver them; it seems to be an unalterable truism of the human condition, no matter how many times we opt for something else. The only constant is the human desire for freedom with dignity.
Mugabe started out as prime minister before ascending to the presidency and developing a regime that has secured his re-election time and time again. The art of winning elections is what Lukashenko also perfected. This game plan has evolved over time and is used around the world. Considering half the chances, there are many among our current generation of leaders who would have liked to have been at the helm of a similar political system. This model has also not been tried here, with the introduction of all kinds of laws that would overthrow democracy by undermining the media and civil society. Fortunately, the popular will is still strong enough in Nepal to have thwarted most of these attempts.
That’s why I get shivers every time someone talks about the stability that an executive presidency would bring. The only solace we can have in Nepal is that we will have the pleasure of ousting the leaders by the ballot box if things do not improve between now and the elections. This is more than what can be said about the current situation in Belarus.
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