Nepal’s newly elected Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba began his fourth term as prime minister on 7 June on a positive note after a smooth transition from the previous Maoist-led government of Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda. Deuba took over as part of a deal with the Maoists under which Prachanda became prime minister in August 2016 for nine months and then stepped down in favour of Deuba.
According to Deuba, his primary responsibility is to ensure that local bodies, provincial and parliamentary elections are held before 18 January, 2018 – the deadline for holding parliamentary elections. Prachanda had claimed the successful holding of the first phase of the elections to the local bodies as a major achievement of his government. Deuba’s immediate challenge is to complete the ongoing elections. But the task has become more difficult with one of the Madhesi parties vowing to boycott the election due to be held on 28 June.
Deuba has listed as his main priorities the amending the constitution to address the demands of Madhesi and other socially marginalised groups, economic reforms and rapid development through focus on electricity, transportation and irrigation sectors. But he needs to conduct a peaceful series of elections for Nepal to transit to a democratically elected government with people’s mandate. The aggressive boycott by Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal could lead to a tense election in the Terai or Madhes region.
The first phase for the local bodies election held on 14 May had seen a voter turnout of 71 percent indicating the high public enthusiasm for the elections. The local elections are being held after two decades, seeking to revive democratic politics at the lowest level to bodies that have had their responsibilities and financial powers greatly enhanced as part of the government’s plans of decentralisation of powers. Prachanda had postponed the second phase by two weeks to 28 June; it was meant to give time to the RJP to register with the Nepal election commission for participating in the election. The first phase of elections was held in the hill regions where the Madhesi parties do not have a presence.
The RJP, a coalition of six Madhesi parties, has belied general expectation that the Madhesi parties would participate in the local elections that include two provinces in the Madhes region. The RJP had supported Deuba in his election last week. But it has not only decided to boycott the election but is planning to actively disrupt the polls, bringing back memories of the five-month-long Madhesi agitation. It has begun attacking workers of the other Madhesi groups that are campaigning for the 28 June elections.
Two other Madhesi groups, the Madhesi Janadhikar Forum Loktantrik led by Bijaya Kumar Gachachadar, and the Federal Socialist Forum led by Upendra Yadav are participating in the election. These parties are of the view that boycotting the local elections would allow marginal players to take over the panchayat bodies which would be the primary interface between the government and the public. With the other two Madhesi parties participating in the election, the RJP’s boycott call is unlikely to keep the Madhesi from voting on 28 June. But its aggressive stance could lead to disruptions and violence during the campaign.
Nepal has had a period of calm after the political instability of the long Madhesi agitation. During his nine-month tenure, Prachanda had tried to bring down the political acrimony that had been exacerbated by his predecessor KP Oli’s policies. Prachanda’s government introduced a constitutional amendment in Parliament that covered the majority of the Madhesi demands. The constitution amendment bill was opposed by the KP Oli-led Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and the Maoist-Nepali Congress combine could not muster the two-thirds majority required to get the legislation adopted.
Prachanda sought to maintain a balance in Nepal’s ties with India and China as he actively tried to repair the ties with India that had been strained during the KP Oli government. He went ahead with two proposals initiated by Oli despite the UML trying to brand him as pro-Indian. These were the signing of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and granting a 1200 MW hydel project on the Budigandaki to a Chinese company. The first China-Nepal defence exercises took place during this time.
Deuba’s term as prime minister will be a short one but he has a clear objective for his tenure. After the local bodies election is completed, the Nepali Congress-Maoist coalition will have to create the conditions for holding the provincial and parliamentary elections. That would require the constitutional amendment to be passed.
Updated Date: Jun 12, 2017 18:52 PM