Nepal’s new prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, commonly known as Prachanda, comes to office at a time when his country is facing serious internal and external challenges. He will have to solve these issues to maintain political stability in the country.
Prachanda was elected as the 39th PM of Nepal on August 3, replacing Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) Chairman KP Sharma Oli with backing from the Nepali Congress, Madhesh-based parties, and other fringe parties in Parliament. Prachanda secured 363 votes out of 573, meaning 210 lawmakers voted against him. His victory made him the first communist prime minister in Nepal who has been elected for a second term.
When it comes to internal challenges, Prachanda’s first priority is addressing the demands of Madhesh-based parties on rethinking the demarcation of provinces. This is a necessary step toward the implementation of Nepal’s newly adopted constitution, which caused protests in the southern part of country. Madhesis complained that the current demarcation of provinces would leave them underrepresented; they want two provinces in Nepal’s southern belt.
A look main challenges facing the tiny South Asian nation, home to the world’s tallest mountains--
A single political party has been unable to capture a majority of seats in parliamentary elections, forcing it to form a coalition with the second biggest vote getter. The main partners in the last government were the two largest communist parties, but their failed to overcome the differences between them. The Maoists are former communist rebels who came to power after giving up armed struggle, while the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) has been mainstream for decades. They are both competing for voters who believe in communist ideology. Dahal led the communist insurgency between 1996 and 2006, while his coalition partner Sher Bahadur Deuba (leader of the Nepali Congress party) once offered a $50,000 bounty for Dahal’s head when he was prime minister. The Nepali Congress is in no better position and the fault lines between the old Koirala group and that of Deuba are still present and visible. There is already a competition in getting the Home ministership with many including Situala vying for the post. There is also the demand that the proportion within the cabinet allotted to the Nepali Congress should be 60 and 40 between the two groups! The common perception in the valley is that Deuba is too close to India though it is not the real position. The younger leadership is yet to get an opportunity to prove itself.
The April 25, 2015, earthquake and aftershocks killed nearly 9,000 people and damaged 1 million buildings. Though the government and donors were quick to distribute plastic sheets, tents and food, reconstruction have been slow and nearly 4 million people are still homeless. It took nearly a year for the government to form the earthquake reconstruction authority and it managed to give the first grant installments to only a few thousand families. Foreign donors have pledged $4.1bn in aid, but only half was made available. Nepal says it needs $7.9bn over the next 5 years.
The new government led by Dahal is the ninth in the past 10 years. It is also the 24th government over the last 26 years. Most have been coalition governments as squabbling over who gets to be prime minister or gets key ministerial portfolios has often ended partnerships.
After the monarchy was abolished, political parties and Maoists attempted to draft a new constitution that would guarantee rights of citizens and those of marginalized groups. However, it took political parties seven years to complete the task. The first Constituent Assembly was elected in 2008 with a two-year deadline, but was disbanded after four years. The second assembly, elected in 2013, managed to finish the job in September 2015, but the constitution was rejected by ethnic groups in southern Nepal.
The Madhesi ethnic group in southern Nepal bordering India clashed with police and imposed a general strike in the region. They also blocked border crossings, cutting off supplies that led to severe shortages of fuel and medicines. More than 50 people were killed in the protests, which ended in February without meeting the group’s key demands- more land in the new federal state assigned to them by the new constitution. Other smaller ethnic groups also demanded their own separate states. The Madhesi groups are in a real dilemma. They are not united and they would never be. There is some temptation to join the alliance and at least give outside support. Will they get anything substantial be it the Maoists or the Nepali Congress? Highly doubtful. Any accommodation with the new dispensation without getting some visible concession will be suicidal for them and will only encourage demand for secession.
Nepal’s inflation rate this year hit 10.5%, while the economy grew barely 1.5%. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the region and imports most of its supplies and all of the oil products. Nepal’s main source of foreign currency is hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists and money sent by an estimated 4 million Nepalese working abroad. The India border blockade last year and early this year made the situation worse.
Even though Nepal has several mountain rivers that can be used to produce electricity from hydro-power plants, it continues to face huge power shortages. Consumers face up to 12 hours of daily rolling outages. It was not possible to build new plants during the communist insurgency and only a few have been built since then. Tap water for Kathmandu’s 3 million people is available only two hours a week on average.
Nepal will continue to have political instability for the next few months. Some substantial progress can be made in the restructuring and rehabilitation in the earthquake affected area if a sincere effort is made. Progress can also be achieved in transitional justice if the leaders really want it.
It will be interesting to see how Dahal is going to meet all these challenges. λ
Sources: AP, South Asia Analysis Group, Nepali Times