New Government, New Challenges, New Hopes : Narayan Upadhyay

The nation has got its new government under the leadership of CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli who had to contest the election for the premier’s post against Nepali Congress chair, Sushil Koirala, to become the nation's 38th prime minister. In the contest, the support of the UCPN-Maoist, RPP-Nepal and Madhesi Janadhikar Forum-Loktantrik proved crucial for Oli in defeating Koirala, who surprised everyone by joining the fray.

Ill-advised decision

Koirala was to pass the government baton to the UML chair under a gentleman's agreement, which was done before the formation of the Koirala-led government. The Nepali Congress president had earned praise for leading a government that successfully promulgated the new constitution after addressing several disputed issues, but his sudden decision to contest the prime minister’s election shocked everyone.  

Not only did he lose the election by a wide margin (he garnered only 249 votes against Oli's 338), the Nepali Congress also lost an opportunity to become a major partner in the new government. Most importantly, the largest party in Parliament has also lost a chance to see one of its party-men chosen as either the ew president or speaker of the House.

Koirala is said to have contested the election at the behest of India, which has drawn widespread flak in Nepal for imposing a blockade in support of the agitating Madhesi parties. The loss has led to a sharp fall in the popularity of Koirala, who earlier had earned praise for guiding the nation successfully in writing the constitution.

After the painful loss of its prime ministerial candidate, the Nepali Congress has now been thrown to play the role of a ‘responsible’ opposition. Only time will tell if the present ruling dispensation - a combo of leaders with communist and far-right ideologies - will listen to the centrist Congress while taking decisions having far reaching implications. The election has alienated the UML and UCPN-Maoist from the Congress.

The loss of the Nepali Congress was clearly a gain for RPP-Nepal. Shell shocked by Koirala’s decision to contest the prime ministerial election, the incumbent Premier Oli drifted towards the RPP-Nepal that grabbed the opportunity to join the government with both hands. Another party, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum Loktantrik, led by Bijay Gachcchadar, also joined the government. These two parties' decision to share the pie of the Oli government did surprise many.

Kamal Thapa’s party is known for its anti-republic, pro-Hindu and pro-monarchy stance. Thapa won 25 seats under proportional representation in the Constituent Assembly because of this stance. He has now joined a government that embraces republicanism and secularism.

The MJF Loktantrik’s decision to join the government had come at a time when it was part of the ongoing Madhes agitation. When there was an opportunity to participate in the new government, the party was happy to grab it at the cost of the ongoing Madhes agitation.

These instances make it crystal clear that RPP-Nepal and MJF-Loktantrik are power hungry parties that will throw their very fundamental ideologies, around which their parties have been woven, to the wind. These two parties could ditch Oli or any government any time should there be another opportunity for a bigger benefit.

Oli, however, can take solace in the fact that his majoritarian government has received strong support from the UCPN-Maoist and its chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal who stuck to the 16-point agreement inked among the major parties and supported Oli to become the new prime minister. When the Indian blockade hit Nepal, Oli and Dahal emerged as two vocal critics of the blockade, earning them instant praise as nationalist leaders. This may be another reason that has brought the two communist parties together.

The UCPN-Maoist support came at a time when Dahal's party was facing pressure from several quarters not to back Oli. Mounting pressure on Dahal, his vice-president Dr. Baburam Bhattarai even severed relations with the party and quit the parliament.

The Oli-led government is clearly a combination of parties with extreme ideologies - ultra leftist, rightist and opportunist - because another major party – the Nepali Congress – has opted to sit in the opposition in the parliament after taking the suicidal step of not respecting the gentleman's agreement of handing over power to Oli.

The new government, however, has several problems to deal with. First, it must improve relations with the southern neighbour that was angry over the past government's snub of its demands to amend the new constitution to allow the Madhesis to have more rights. The improvement in relations with India must also focus on easing the unofficial Indian embargo, which has caused immense trouble to the Nepalese people.

In the aftermath of the unofficial Indian embargo, there have been voices to seek alternatives to Nepal’s dependence on India, which is a very apt step. Supply routes from China and Bangladesh have been mooted. The Oli government should opt for these alternatives, although not at the cost of angering India.

The issues concerning the Madhesi parties that have been agitating for the past two months at the customs points and the unofficial Indian blockade are other challenges for the government. Prime Minister Oli must work with all the parties, including the Nepali Congress, to address the genuine Madhesi demands. Amending the constitution appears to be the only way out to address this problem, which is impossible without the support of the alienated Congress.

The effective implementation of the new constitution, the basis of the new democratic republic, is another problem for the government as the Madhesis, Tharus and other ethnic groups have refused to own it. Another quandary to the government is that India is yet to announce its full recognition and support to the Nepali constitution, which can only be resolved through effective working of our diplomacy. Last but not the least, the new government must immediately undertake rebuilding and reconstruction works in the districts hit by the devastating earthquake six months ago. It should work immediately to revive the Nepali economy, riled by the devastating quakes as well as the unofficial Indian blockade recently.

Stability and prosperity

The Oli government has the onerous task of guiding the nation towards stability and prosperity. The new government somewhat enjoys support from all those who are now huddled into a like-minded group, angered and frustrated by India's big brotherly nature. Despite this, the Oli government will be watched and scrutinised closely when it comes tackling all the gaping challenges and guiding the nation towards a new dawn.

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