Strained legacyNew Prime Minister Deuba gets yet another opportunity to rewrite his blighted history
Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba on Tuesday became the 40th prime minister of the country, receiving a resounding majority (388 votes) in the 593-member Parliament. Other than his own party, he was supported by the third and fourth largest party in Parliament—the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP)—and all major Madhes-based parties, including the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal (RJP-N), which had until recently threatened to walk out of the local elections.
The fact that the Deuba government has been backed by the Maoists and Madhesi parties on the one hand, and the rightist RPP on the other, means it enjoys broad political support. That it has received such support despite the country’s deep political polarisation on the issue of constitutional amendment augurs well for the government.
But the high vote tally doesn’t necessarily mean that the Deuba government can push changes—particularly regarding the vexing issue of constitutional amendment—through Parliament. Even if all those who voted Deuba into office were to vote in favour of the constitution amendment bill, it would still be short of the 396 votes required to pass it. Prime Minister Deuba will face his biggest test in keeping the Madhesi/minority constituencies happy while bringing the CPN-UML on board to move the amendment process forward. He already had to wait for a few days to get into Baluwatar as the ruling parties and the main opposition party fought over the torn-ballots episode in the Bharatpur Metropolitan City. UML Chairman KP Oli—ever sarcastic, scathing and witty—did not miss the opportunity to lecture both the outgoing prime minister Dahal and the incoming one, Deuba, on the politics of morality and the Bharatpur ‘fiasco’.
But there are much larger issues at stake for Deuba. It was during his premiership in 1996 that the Maoists started the ‘People’s War’; it was in his tenure as prime minister in 2002 that the elected parliament was dissolved; and it was, shockingly, during his premiership in 2005 that the then king Gyanendra usurped power. Deuba has a history of losing grip on the bigger political picture; in his bid to make too many compromises, he has failed to grasp the gravity of the larger political stakes.
Yes, many Nepalis are understandably wary of his new tenure as the chief executive. The fact that the country elected a leader with a highly questionable track record as its new prime minister shows our political structure still hasn’t institutionalised checks and balances. It shows that we as a people and our political leaders who elected Deuba are so enmeshed in the short-term trade-offs they choose to forget the larger issues at stake. Deuba has been given yet another chance to right his chequered political legacy. We hope he has learnt his lessons from history.