Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba’s appointment as the new prime minister may be a cause of celebration for many after Oli’s rather forgettable term in office. But the country is not out of the woods yet. For it is far from certain that Deuba will be able to garner a majority in the Lower House within 30 days of his appointment, as he is constitutionally required to do.
If he cannot, Nepal will automatically head into elections within the next six months, and the country is not ready for them yet. Despite some respite in infection numbers, Covid-19 continues to maintain its grip on the country, and the detection of the new delta variant only adds to the uncertainty. Thankfully, vaccines are starting to come, from all over the world and, at the current rate, it may not be long before the majority of the population is vaccinated. Yet it would still be premature to believe the virus will be sufficiently under control to allow safe elections in such a short time.
Elections are also costly. The next parliamentary elections, whenever they take place, are expected to cost the exchequer around Rs 100 billion. As things stand, the priority is corona-control and most of the state’s resources have to be spent on the same. Also, without taming the virus, there will be no elections. The Election Commission—which has just postponed the November polls Oli declared—also needs time to prepare. So the country may have to wait for at least a year for the parliamentary polls.
Holding elections in November 2022, as mandated by the constitution, will be the optimal path. A year and a half will be enough for the commission to prepare and the country will meanwhile train its focus on the pandemic. This means, ideally, the new government under Deuba should take the country to the polls. But that will entail at least a section of the CPN-UML, the biggest parliamentary party, backing his premiership—an unlikely prospect. Yet there appears to be no safer way out from the current political and constitutional quagmire.