Challenges facing Nepal’s new Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba

Challenges facing Nepal’s new Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba

Kathmandu, June 11: The new Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba faces many challenges, but fortunately, his   tormentors in the past, have been neutralized. Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda of CPN (Maoist Center), is today an ally; and the Monarchy, does not exist, writes P.K.Balachandran in the South Asian Monitor.

On June 7, veteran politician Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress (NC) became Nepal’s 40th. Prime Minister and its tenth in the last ten years. For Deuba himself, it was for the fourth time in office as PM.

As per the unique Nepalese constitution, Deuba was elected, not by his party or political coalition as in other parliamentary democracies, but by the whole membership of parliament. He got 388 votes in a House of  593 members, having the support of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda; the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP); and some fringe groups.

Deuba was already in the government as a member of the NC-CPN (MC) coalition and got the Prime Minister’s job as a result of a previous agreement with the CPN (MC) which stipulated that Prachanda would hand over the Premiership to him after holding the local bodies elections, the first phase of which was held on May 14.

This was a very healthy development, as earlier in the 1990s and 2000s, when Prachanda was leading the Maoist revolt, the rebel leader tried to assassinate the then Prime Minister Deuba; and Deuba, in turn, had put a price on Prachanda’s head.

The two subsequently buried the hatchet and became coalition partners fighting national and local elections together. The Deuba-Prachanda deal showed that two diametrically opposed leaders or political forces could come together for a common cause. They came together to lead the country towards democracy, federalism, inclusiveness and a non-antagonistic foreign policy which will be equidistant from India and China.

Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda the Maoist leader

CPN (UML) Factor

The Deuba-Prachanda coalition, which is still intact, is challenged by the main opposition party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist) led by K.P.Sharma “Oli”. CPN (UML) is a popular party, second only to the NP, but is explicitly pro-China and antagonistic to the Madhesis, people of Indian origin who dominate the Terai or the plains region of Nepal. The CPN (UML) strongly opposes the Madhesis’ demand for redrawing the boundaries of the provinces to increase their representation in elected bodies; for increasing the number of local bodies; and instituting proportional representation in government institutions. The CPN (UML) says that what is already given in the 2013 constitution is all that can be given to the Madhesis.

But the Madhesis’ demands are critical for completing the local bodies’ election process. The first phase was successfully completed on May 14, and the second phase is due on June 28. But the Madhesi parties have said that they will boycott the second phase if their demands are not met through appropriate constitutional amendments.

This puts Deuba in a fix because he does not have the required numbers in parliament to carry out constitutional amendments, given the CPN (UML)’s opposition to these demands. In the present parliament of 593 seats, NP has 207; CPN (MC) has 82, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RP) 37; and CPN (UML) has 181. A number of smaller parties account for the remainder.

And the CPN (UML) is a powerful countervailing force outside parliament also, as seen in the May 14 local body elections in three provinces (carrying numbers 3, 4 and 6). To give an example, in these hilly provinces, CPN (UML) got 125 Mayoral posts; while NP got 84 and CPN (MC) 46. Over all, the first phase covered 40% of the total number of seats up for grabs, and the race was neck to neck.

If the constitutional changes demanded by the Madhesis are to be brought about, the NP-CPN (MC) coalition has to make a good showing in the second phase of the local body elections. And this is possible only if the Madhesis cooperate. Madhesis are a key political element in the provinces going to the polls, namely, numbes 1, 2,5 and 7.

If the Madhesis come on board on realizing that their demands will never be met if the NP-CPN (MC) government is ousted, and the CPN (UML) takes over, the NP-CPN (MC) coalition will do much better than the CPN (UML). That, in turn, will give the coalition the necessary political strength to get the CPN (UML) to come on board on constitutional amendments.

However, till date, the Madhesis are stubborn and want the constitutional changes before June 28. Deuba and Prachanda will have to work hard to convince the Madhesis that the constitutional amendments will be done after June 28 elections, and before the next parliamentary polls in January 2018.

Time is running out for Deuba’s government. It has a constitutional obligation to hold local, provincial and parliamentary elections before January 2018. In addition, Deuba has to consolidate his political position vis-à-vis the CPN (UML) before the January 2018 elections.

But first, he has to keep his flock together. In addition to the CPN (MC) and RPP, factions within the NC are seeking more and better portfolios in the Council of Ministers. A faction of the NC led by Ram Chandra Paudel very nearly boycotted the swearing-in of Deuba on Wednesday. He complained that Deuba had not discussed ministerial portfolio distribution with the party Working Committee or even the parliamentary party.

K.P.Sharma Oli, opposition pro-Chinense CPN (UML) leader

The RPP complained that Deuba had promised to consult it before announcing a seven member cabinet on Wednesday. But he did not. As on date, there is no one from RPP among the seven. The fringe groups in the coalition are also demanding their pound of flesh.

The main constituents, NC and CPN (MC), are themselves not sure how many and what portfolios will go to them. A bi-partisan panel is currently discussing the issue.

However, as his past shows, Deuba is a survivor. Nepal was wracked by the Maoist insurgency in his first term (1995-97). He faced a heightened insurgency in his second term (2001-2002) and was sacked for “incompetence” by King Gyanendra. In his third term (2004-2005) the King staged a military coup against him.But Deuba never gave up.

Fortunately for him, there has been a sea change in the political situation in Nepal. His tormentor for years, Prachanda of CPN (MC), is today an ally; and the Monarchy does not exist. His only real adversary is CPN (UML), and the only irritant is the Madhesi issue.

(The featured picture at the top shows the new Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba)