New Nepal PM faces challenges ahead of local elections
Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepali Congress, who takes office next week, will be hard-pressed to amend the constitution before the second phase of local polls in June
The political kaleidocope of Nepal has been constantly changing since the end of the monarchy in the Himalayan nation in 2008. And nothing has changed, as the corridors of power got a jolt again on Wednesday when Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal stepped down.
The 25th individual to occupy the prime minister’s post resigned, with Nepali Congress Party chief and former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, 70, taking up the job as a caretaker until a new leader can be chosen.
The two parties agreed to switch prime ministers after nine months as part of a power-sharing agreement struck last year that saw Dahal, who still goes by his nom de guerre Prachanda, or “fierce one,” assume the post.
By keeping his word to leave office after nine months, 62-year-old Dahal stood on high moral ground as similar gentleman’s agreements had not been honored in the past.
Dahal had also been successful during his brief tenure as prime minister.
On the domestic front, he was able to achieve 7.5% economic growth, raise revenue collection by 24%, hold the first phase of local polls, initiate work to transform 13 cities into mega metropolises and partly win the trust of people of Indian origin in Nepal called Madhesis who have been protesting for their rights under the new constitution.
On the diplomatic front, he improved Nepal’s ties with India through visits and signed the one belt, one road (Obor) initiative with China.
His pro-India tilt is significant since Nepal was moving closer to China under his predecessor Khadga Prasad Oli who opposed the special relationship between Nepal and India that guaranteed free movement of people and goods between the two nations, and close ties on matters of defense and foreign affairs.
But Dahal left the job unfinished. Local elections were held in three of the country’s seven provinces 10 days ago, including the hills and Kathmandu, in the first phase of polls. The second phase of polls in the plains on June 14 will pose a serious challenge for Deuba if Madhesi protesters resort to violence.
Madhesis, who live in the plains, feel the new constitution has marginalized their community. The migrants from India are demanding more representation and re-demarcation of state boundaries in the constitution.
The recent merger of five Madhesi parties under a new name Rastriya Janata Party is expected to give them more strength and better direction.
Deuba will have to make the constitution more inclusive by amending it for local elections to be conducted smoothly. If the amendment is delayed, he will have to postpone the polls.
India, which played an active role in the formation of the coalition government of the Maoists and the Nepali Congress Party, wants Madhesis to play a constructive role in the Nepal’s politics.
Madhesi protests had a negative impact on ties between the neighbors, as Kathmandu accuses it of interfering with its internal affairs.
Anti-Indian sentiment is on the rise in Nepal, which plays to China’s advantage. For instance, Nepal moved closer to China amid Madhesi protests during Oli’s tenure last year.
India is expecting warmer ties with Nepal under Dueba, who had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi last year. In light of this meeting, Rastriya Janata Party leaders may feel pressure to participate in June’s local elections in Nepal.
Dueba will have a good start as prime minister if the elections are free and peaceful. He is expected to take office next week, but it is unlikely that he will be able to amend the constitution in time to make it more inclusive before the polls.