A road not takenPM Oli and Maoist Chairman Dahal must look at both symbolism and substance as they expand Cabinet
The new leader occupying Baluwatar is a vastly different politician from the one he replaced, Sher Bahadur Deuba. For one, he comes into office with the backing of a strong majority—nearly two-thirds in the federal parliament. KP Sharma Oli is moving in quickly. In the last few days, his government has nominated three upper house members (sacking three nominated by the outgoing government); a new attorney general took office yesterday. And there have been marathon talks between the two ruling parties, CPN-UML and Maoist Centre, to expand the Cabinet.
Things are expected to move fast. Indeed, it’s been over two months since the elections took place and we have lost a lot of time. Any sensible government would look to restore the voters’ faith in it.
PM Oli has, time and again, declared that his government’s major focus would be to deliver good governance. The Cabinet appointments he is to make will no doubt communicate a number of messages to the Nepali public. The early political symbolism and substance through the first federal government in Kathmandu will go a long way in defining his approach to governance and indeed larger politics: What kind of Prime Minister will he be?
PM Oli is preparing to appoint 15 to 18 ministers to his Cabinet. This is definitely a welcome departure from Deuba’s 64-minister strong, yet undeniably feckless, jumbo Cabinet. And it abides by the constitutional provision limiting the size of Council of Minister to 25, including the prime minister. But abiding by the constitutional provision is only the beginning.
Now we hope that the new Cabinet will be able to translate Oli’s vaunted agenda of good governance. Merit most certainly should be one substantive factor in his choice. Certain ministries require a fair degree of understanding on technical issues, such as the Ministries of Finance, Irrigation and Energy (which are to be consolidated into one single Ministry now). Other ministries such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), and very crucially, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA), will require a high degree of integrity and experience. The MoFA will be particularly integral, considering Nepal’s need to pursue a stable foreign policy to encourage foreign investments, and to diversify trade and transit with both. And considering the fact that the left alliance government is expected to be in office long-term, the choice of individual ministers will matter.
On political symbolism, people with clean images and integrity will give the new government a high level of public acceptance. Some of the recent Cabinet appointments have been politicians of dubious character and with very controversial records. With a strong parliamentary majority behind them, Oli and Dahal now need not, and should not, pander to various constituencies to prop up the government.
And given that the idea of federalism in Nepal arose due to demands for the inclusion of marginalised groups, the new government must also make special efforts to nominate women and members of other marginalised groups to the Cabinet. The traditional political dominance must end if the existing power structure is truly to be changed.