If parties do not prolong the power-sharing deal, Nepal will get a new government within a month. But the next dispensation is unlikely to enjoy a full five-year term as the election is all set to produce a hung parliament.
Whosoever becomes the new prime minister faces multiple challenges, both at domestic and external fronts.
The foremost challenge will be getting the faltering economy on track. Soaring interest rates, inflation, dwindling foreign exchange reserves, and effects of import ban have battered the economy. Fear of economic recession looms large.
The first order of business for the new prime minister should be appointing a finance minister who can rescue the economy. He must get someone who is actually qualified for the job, not a party loyalist.
The next step would be to revive people’s trust in key state institutions, such as parliament, judiciary, and constitutional bodies. The basic democratic tenet of check-and-balance has been shaken by overt politicization of state organs.
The judiciary is without a full-fledged chief justice, as an impeachment motion is pending against the disgraced high office-holder, Cholendra SJB Rana. The damning exposé on Rana’s political ambition whilst leading the Supreme Court has eroded public trust in the judiciary. Rebuilding the court’s image and its legitimacy will take hard work and a long time.
The new prime minister will also have to find a way to work with a hung parliament.
Over the last five years, the parliament was not allowed to function independently. The leadership of the legislative body acted on the whims of political parties, and as a result, failed to endorse important bills.
The neutral role of the speaker came into question in many instances. Like in the past, the new parliament should not act as a rubber stamp of certain political parties. Again, it will be incumbent on the executive to ensure this. All laws should be formulated by an elected legislative body, not through ordinances.
Preventing corruption is another challenge for the new prime minister. To do so, the incoming government and its partners should allow the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority to function independently.
The commission has consistently failed to deal with large-scale corruption cases, largely due to political pressure. It will be the job of the next government to allow the anti-graft body to do its work without any hindrances.
On the external front, there are many challenges the new prime minister and his government must deal with to navigate the increasingly rough waters of geopolitics. In their election manifestos, all major political parties have pledged to adopt a balanced relationship with India, China, and the US. This is easier said than done. The new prime minister should be able to tell these major powers that there is a redline that they should not cross while dealing with Nepal.
But before taking on the aforementioned tasks, the new prime minister should keep his party in order. Since 1990, all prime ministers have faced more hostility from within the party than the opposition party. A recent example was the downfall of the KP Sharma Oli-led government due to intra-party disputes.
Managing the conflicting interests of coalition partners is key to yielding results for the next prime minister. It will take genuine effort—all the more so because the people’s belief in political parties and the system is declining.
This time there is an additional challenge too—accommodating the voices and interests of new political forces—Rastriya Swatantra Party, some independent candidates and Janamat party-led by CK Raut. Many of them want to make changes to the 2015 constitution, which could divide the House.
The new prime minister has a rocky road ahead.