Mixed legacyIn honouring the deal to step down, Dahal made a welcome departure from his predecessors
Vilified for his controversial positions on a number of issues, including the impeachment proposal against Chief Justice Sushila Karki, Prime Minister Dahal, however, left office yesterday on a high note. In a nationally televised address, Dahal highlighted the achievements made during his tenure, ranging from the end of the perennial problem of power cuts to the successful holding of the first phase of local polls.
But while Dahal’s tenure should be commended for a number of accomplishments, one notable feat was that he stayed true to his word. He stepped down to honour a “gentlemen’s agreement” his party the CPN (Maoist Centre) had forged with the Nepali Congress (NC) 10 months ago that he would leave office after the local
elections. That Dahal honoured this deal marks a welcome change from the controversial power transitions that have become routine in Nepali politics.
When assuming office in August last year, Dahal made four commitments: implementing the constitution; holding local elections; providing relief to quake victims; and concluding the peace process. The success of the first phase of the local elections, which saw a creditable 73 percent voter turnout, has given huge political impetus to the second phase of local elections as well as the remaining provincial and general elections. Holding these elections is crucial for constitution implementation.
However, Dahal has been unable to successfully conclude the transitional justice process, another critical factor in implementing the constitution. His track record on post-quake reconstruction also remains patchy, characterised by a slow pace of rebuilding efforts.
Still, Dahal’s tenure should be remembered for some notable achievements. Not only has load shedding been reduced to a great extent, groundwork has been laid to generate 200MW of electricity in the next one year and 1,200MW in the next three years. This will substantially lessen Nepal’s reliance on electricity imports from India
(currently at 338MW). Supply of energy is key to industrialisation, and if power supply remains stable, it will enhance industrial capacity.
When Dahal came to office, Nepal’s relations with India was at a very low point. Dahal has played a smart game in balancing ties with the two most important neighbours: India and China. During his two visits to New Delhi, he was largely able to assure the Indian establishment that key Indian interests would be protected in Nepal.
After dilly-dallying for months, Dahal’s government also signed the framework deal on China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This has allayed fears that his government would go far to address Indian concerns while leaving the Chinese in the lurch. Though these are still early days for determining how BRI will benefit Nepal, the move marks a critical shift in diversifying Nepal’s trade and transit.
On the infrastructural front, one of Dahal’s key achievements has been to put an end to the confusion over the 76km Kathmandu-Nijgadh expressway. The Kathmandu-Tarai ‘fast track’ will now be built by the Nepal Army (NA).
Credit also goes to Dahal for the likely expansion of Nepal’s economy by 6.9 percent this fiscal year, though he was amply aided by a favourable monsoon which led to a good harvest. Agriculture contributes over 33 percent of Nepal’s GDP.
PM Dahal’s tenure did have its shortfalls, however. He failed to push through the constitution amendment, one major commitment he made with the Madhes-based parties before assuming office. His tenure did not see much headway in resolving controversies surrounding the transitional justice issues either. If anything, his ruling coalition made some deplorable decisions that will only increase impunity. Other than extending the tenure of the two transitional justice commissions formed to investigate human rights abuses committed during the insurgency, Dahal’s government did little else on this front.
Dahal’s biggest achievement, which came at the end of his tenure, is clearly political: the local elections happened after 20 long years. That said, Dahal leaves behind the elections in midstream.
The burden of history now rests heavy on NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba as the incoming PM. Accompanying Deuba to office will be his chequered past: it was during his tenure as PM in 2002 that Parliament was dissolved, and it was again during his tenure, in 2005, that former king Gyanendra made a power grab and imposed an autocratic regime. The stain on Deuba’s political past is undeniable. Now it is time for him to right the wrongs and, in the words of Dahal, make sure the ‘entire country emerges victorious’.