The election of Sher Bahadur Deuba as Nepal’s 24th Prime Minister is seen as a normal transition of power when viewed from the periphery. As part of the power sharing agreement reached between his party, Nepali Congress and Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), Pushpa Kamal Dahal popularly known as Prachanada honored its terms and resigned from the Prime Minister’s post after less than ten months in office. For a country that has not known political stability ever since the ushering in of multiparty democracy 27 years ago, this peaceful handing over of power is one of the most positive signs of the nation maturing as a democracy.
Garnering 388 out of 558 votes, it is Deuba’s fourth time in office. His last two terms were cut short by the then King Gyanedra who termed him “incompetent” and removed him from power. The chance that is now being given to him is significant as his actions would determine whether his name would go down in history as a unifying factor or as the one who is responsible for the collapse of the constitutional machinery.
To Prachanda’s credit, he carried forward the constitutional process and strove hard to include the marginalized communities like Madheshis and Janjatis whose concerns were not taken into account at the time of the formulation of the constitution. He also ensured that the first phase of local body elections was held for municipalities and village development councils in a peaceful manner. Unfortunately, the constitutional amendment tabled by him failed to get the required two-third majority.
In the light of this, the tasks cut out for Deuba is far more challenging that what was for his predecessor. He not only has to ensure that the country attains the goal of an all inclusive democracy but also he will have to set in motion a process that would give political stability for the nation. These are deeply interconnected objectives where the failure of one would automatically lead to the collapse of the democratic process. The holding of the second phase of the local body elections is particularly challenging as it also includes two Terai-based provinces where Madhesis are in majority. Deuba will have to gain the trust of the community and make them part of the electoral process. If the Madhesis decide to stay away from the elections, it would mean yet another period of political turmoil and would cast shadows on next year’s parliamentary elections.
Another challenge that Deuba will have to face is on the foreign policy front. During the reign of K.P.Oli, Nepal’s tilt in favour of China has been the cause of tensions in its relations with India. Prachanda has to an extent reversed the situation by revisiting the nation’s relations with India. But the decision of Nepal to join China’s One Belt One Road initiative was not received with much enthusiasm in India. The reason for this is that China has often camouflaged its strategic interests through investments in other countries. Considering the volatile nature of the region, it is now Nepal’s responsibility to ensure that it is not used as a pawn to further China’s ambitions. Deuba will have to strike a fine balance between both the nations and put in place a foreign policy that will give Nepal a strong and distinctive identity.