KATHMANDU, Jan 27: Ever since the current government announced the date for the twin elections to the House of Representatives and Province Assemblies in late August 2017, it turned into a caretaker government only mandated to oversee the elections and run the daily affairs of the state.
By definition and convention, the incumbent government should not be involved in any decisions that would have a long-term impact, as it has already lost the mandate to do so. Accordingly, when calls for the current government to resign came with the significant loss of the major ruling party, the Nepali Congress, the members in the current cabinet argued that they were responsible to hold the elections and would leave only after the elections were held and results announced.
In the meantime, the National Assembly elections got delayed thanks to a debate over the choice of the form of election—single-transferable vote or majority system. And as a result, the incumbent government continues to stay with the NA elections now scheduled for February 7. Hence, there is still some time for the current government to stay, with the announcement of the results of the NA elections to take at least a week or more after it is held on the scheduled date.
The conduct of the incumbent government however is not necessarily that of a caretaker government. It has been taking one decisions after another, which has not only generated a backlash but is also likely to have a severe financial impact in the days to come, while also making life difficult for the new government.
The latest decision to bring down the age eligibility for the social security allowance from existing 70 to 65 years has come with no valid reasons whatsoever. Even it could be validated, the current government did not have the authority to take such a decision that would have a long-term implications.
The decision also seems to have been guided by the results of the House of Representatives and Province Assemblies elections held in late November and early December 2017. It has been widely recognized that the CPN-UML that scored a significant win in the elections scored a point or two by taking ownership of having begun the social security allowance to the elderly population.
Election manifestoes of political parties were full of promises to increase the social security allowance and decreased the age bar. However, those were mere promises made by the political parties meant to woo the voters and would have been hard to be put into practice.
Nevertheless, the current government has gone a step further and brought down the age bar significantly by five years. This would mean an additional 636,431 people to be eligible for the monthly stipend, which now stands at Rs. 2,000. Around 900,000 people are currently receiving the allowance provided to citizens of 70 years and above.
Prior to this, the government also announced a monthly allowance to people suffering from killer diseases and undergoing treatment. It all comes without identification of reliable sources of funding, as they were not part of the current fiscal year budget statement.
The current government is also making political appointments at will and this is likely to affect the performance of the new government, with such appointment forced to continue by court verdicts even if they are withdrawn by the next government. Political appointments usually consists of appointing people of a political faith close to the ruling parties and hence will definitely play an adverse role when a new government made of parties with a different political faith is formed.
Gone are the days when people appointed on political ground resign after a new or different political party assumes power. Instead, they challenge the decision of the new governments to relieve them off their posts in courts and continue to serve under an opposing leadership, making life difficult for the latter.
The current ruling party may be taking populist decisions to score points and made it an agenda for the coming elections. However, it is already drawing a backlash as it would not serve the long-term interest of the nation as a whole. And it would be hard for the party and its allies to prove to the voters in future about the significance of such decisions. And there is also a danger of it setting a precedence for governments to follow, which might come back to haunt the parties that have begun this unwarranted tendency of taking populist decisions to score points among the voters.