Economic Prosperity amidst Political Instability
Dr. Prakash K. Shrestha
Nepal is in the situation of unprecedented political instability which does not seem to end in near future. Despite being a republic, the persistent political instability has been pulling the country down in the ladder of the economic development. It is a bad fortune for Nepali people that we are poor and lack basic modern amenities even in the twenty-first century. Another odd for Nepal's economic development is that neither political stability nor political instability has been able to spur rapid economic progress in Nepal. In its history, Nepal had witnessed more than a century long Rana autocratic regime and 30 years long party-less Panchayat regime. Despite having political stability more or less during that time, Nepal’s economy could not make any significant economic progress. In fact, Nepal remained under the dark age of Rana rule, while Europe and America were in full swing of industrial revolution. Then, the Panchayat system ruled Nepal, while East Asian countries were progressing.
Although Nepal has been moving in a right direction politically in recent years, political parties have not been mature enough to govern the country and expedite the process of economic transformation. Nepal turned into a republic in 2008 by abolishing the 250-year monarchical system as a result of the 10-year long internal armed conflicts and the second people’s movement of 2006. A number of factors such as lack of foresights, narrow visions, and petty politics have made the political parties almost defunct to execute the critical role that the history of Nepal has offered to them. Growing lack of trust and cooperation among these political parties has been putting off the process of institutionalizing the nascent republican system and economic development at all. Experience so far has showed that these political parties unit only when they are in opposition, but they bicker when they are in power.
It is obvious that a political transformation takes time, and it requires solving many conflicting things together, which could be possible through the process of learning by doing. However, now all political parties want to fulfill all of their demands immediately, although some demands are mutually exclusive - difficult to fulfill simultaneously. Because of the lack of agreements among the political parties, the process of political transformation has been halted and the Constituent Assembly failed to fulfill its mandate of drafting new constitution even after spending 4 years. This situation has adversely affected developmental activities by heightening political uncertainty.
Economic development is not impossible as shown by the history of many advanced and newly emerging countries. Neoclassical economic theories even foresee a convergence among countries in economic development. According to these theories, an economy can grow by producing outputs by using labor and capital. More importantly, neoclassical economists argue that, with globalization and liberalization, capital moves from the advanced countries to labor abundant developing countries so that economies of these countries will grow. However, in a broader sense, it is not happening in spite of liberalization and globalization, especially because of lacking supporting institutions. Among others, political instability seems to be one of the factors hampering the economic progress. Many studies have found that political instability hinders the process of development through various channels such as creating policy uncertainty, increasing risks for investment, obstructing infrastructure development and increasing corruption. It is an absolute shame that despite having tremendous potentiality in water resources given by the nature, Nepali people have to live without adequate electricity and portable water.
The success of East Asian countries and advanced countries has established the vital role of developmental state. Markets cannot function in a vacuum without the provision of some public goods, and laws and order provided by the government. Although with the globalization and opening up the economy a country can bring in technology and capital from abroad, there is no any easy formula to import and instill stable governance system in many developing countries like Nepal. There are no economic theories that explain economic growth and development in a political quagmire.
Nepal does not lack resources for economic development as it was mentioned in the past. The donors can provide aid. In addition, remittance inflows have been increasing, which can be used to import capital and technology. Many domestic and non-resident Nepali are ready to invest. Moreover, Nepal can easily attract foreign direct investments because of tremendous potentiality in hydropower and tourism, and being in a strategic location between two growing nations China and India. Despite this, the ongoing political conundrum has been keeping Nepal as a hostage to start off economic prosperity.
Seeking to get power is a normal behavior for political parties. But preventing ordinary people from doing own business and economic activities by calling frequent bandh and strikes cannot be justified and tolerated. Political parties could differ in principles and could play several tricks to obtain political power, but they should have a common agenda for economic development at least, which is vital not only for them but also for future generations. Otherwise, as we hate Rana Regime and Panchayat now because they had kept us poor in the past, future generations will hate present political leaders, no matter how many times they become prime minister and minister.
For a country's development, everyone should play a role. In recent years, people except politicians have been performing their own duties. For example, farmers are doing farming, writers and journalists are busy in making people aware, and actors and actresses are acting to create fun even in the gloomy political milieu. Similarly, intellectuals and businessmen are aspiring to do their own role. However, political leaders are failing to fulfill their own duty and politicizing the every sphere of life. For example, there are trade unions even in government offices belonged to each political party for politics, which has stifled the development of professionalism.
It is not easy to make a transition to a modern democracy. Political instability is a feature of transition. However, nearly all stable democracies have emerged from successful economic transitions. Hence, let's not obstruct the economic progress but facilitate developmental activities. It will help to solve some conflicting political agendas that have been put forwarded. Economic prosperity is possible amidst political instability if political parties play their own role of giving constitution, maintaining laws and order, and peace in the country. If we look at the history, despite civil wars, America had paved the way for economic prosperity by intensively engaging in economic activities and building up infrastructure.
(Shrestha is a P.H.D in Economics. He can be reached at: [email protected])
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