Many questions swirl around the new Sher Bahadur Deuba government, particularly after Deuba’s better-than-expected performance in the parliament, where he got the support of 165 lawmakers. He has a tough task balancing national and international actors even as he leads what is essentially an electoral government. ApEx’s Pratik Ghimire talked to veteran political analyst Vijay Kant Karna for some insights.
In your opinion, how long will Deuba’s coalition partners continue to support him?
The majority of MPs who stood against the House dissolution and announcement of midterm elections are now backing the government. So their hands are morally and politically tied to continue supporting it until the end of its term in late 2022. I don’t think we need elections right now because our constitution provides that our parliament will complete its full term. So, the Deuba government will and must continue until its natural expiry date.
How did the Thakur faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party come around to supporting Deuba’s premiership ?
The Thakur faction follows the majority. It would not have supported any government, whether led by Oli or Deuba, had other parties refrained from doing so. Its MP Resham Chaudhary is still in jail, the Supreme Court has scrapped the citizenship ordinance, and the issues of Madhes haven’t been addressed. The faction was compelled to vote for the government to stand a chance of getting their demands met. Deuba too asked Thakur for a favor.
How would you remember PM Oli’s over three-year tenure?
There are few bases to evaluate the government—political and constitutional—and election manifesto. The Oli government was a failure on all counts. He tried to weaken the essence of the republic: democracy, federalism, inclusion, proportionality, and secularism. The around 80 bills he introduced created mistrust between the central and provincial governments. This includes bills related to the Public Service Commission, bureaucracy adjustment, and more. The national intelligence department, which comes under the Home Ministry, was placed under his office. The Revenue Investigation and Money Laundering Department, which was to be governed by the Ministry of Finance, was also dragged under his office.
Moreover, Oli converted constitutional bodies and diplomatic posts into his party’s recruitment centers where he appointed his henchmen. The media and guthi bills, restrictions on protests in open places, and phone-tapping are also examples of his authoritarian tendencies.
What difference can we expect now that Deuba is at the helm?
I don’t have many expectations from the current government. But Deuba could take a few things back on track. I guess he won’t do things that will hamper the constitutional base of Nepal and further. He could also withdraw controversial bills.
Oli murdered our diplomatic relations and foreign policies with India, China, the US, the UK, and other European nations. None of the countries replied to the diplomatic note asking for vaccines. A few years back, in South Asia, we used to be the favorite of foreign powers. But today, Bhutan and Bangladesh are receiving vaccines as grants, but we aren’t. I hope the Deuba Cabinet will look into these things.
Unlike Oli, Deuba won’t run his office on individual whims. He has experience running a coalition government. Gandaki province has a Congress government, Province no. 2 has Congress alliance, and Lumbini could see a new Cabinet, so I think he will link well with provinces. For now, we should not expect more from him.
How do you expect the Deuba-India relationship to progress?
Nepali Congress and India have historical relations. And now too, I think these two friends will have normal diplomatic ties—but I can’t say it will reach new heights. Deuba shouldn’t take an ultra-nationalist stand and unnecessarily ditch the southern neighbor. India, in recent days, has established itself as one of the world’s most powerful nations, and it has fostered cordial relations with Western countries. The current government could use India’s diplomacy for national benefit.