The year 2020 was a forgettable one, for the whole world. In some ways, it was worse for Nepal. Like most other countries, it was battered by the Covid-19 pandemic, with nearly 2,000 lives lost to the virus as of this writing. Many more barely survived. The year, declared a ‘Visit Nepal Year’, ended up decimating Nepali tourism. Then, near the year-end, Prime Minister KP Oli unceremoniously dissolved the federal lower house and called for mid-term elections. The poor focus on covid-prevention was made worse.
The start of a brand new year might be the perfect time to take stock of what went wrong in Nepali politics, and devise ways to mitigate the damage. The formation of big political parties is something to be celebrated in countries where political instability is the norm. So most Nepalis supported the Maoist-UML merger, including with their votes, with the belief that if nothing else a strong, single-party government would deliver much-needed stability. This in turn would pave the path for prosperity and development.
This proved to be misplaced dream. Now as they bid farewell to 2020, the least people hope for is that Nepali politics will soon get a definite direction. Both the NCP factions, each of which is now functioning as a de facto political party, have said that they are not averse to reunification, if not immediately. More than that—and whatever the Supreme Court verdict on House dissolution—the country has now well and truly entered election mode.
Even if the dissolved House is restored, it is hard to see a stable government formed from its floor. The national polity bitterly divided, more likely is a repeat of 2011 when Nepali Congress’s Ram Chandra Poudel had to withdraw his candidacy for prime minister after his bid was defeated in parliament for 16 times. This way, too, there is no alternative to getting a fresh mandate.
As it is, the country is not ready for a quick election. The timeline the prime minister has set—late April—is unrealistic. It will be a herculean task for the Election Commission to hold a nationwide election in such a short time. April elections will also deprive millions of people who have just entered voting age from casting their ballots. Thus the best 2021 gift Nepali political actors can give to their people is a clear and mutually-agreed timetable for fresh elections. But, again, it cannot be a unilateral decision.