What it takes to loseDespite being backed by a strong majority, Oli runs the risk of being a disappointing ruler
No prime minister in Nepal’s post-1990 democracy has enjoyed a mandate as massive as KP Oli’s. And his mandate did not just derive from the electoral alliance and the eventual merger between the Maoists and the CPN-UML. He gained great public popularity, especially during the 2015-16 blockade. In the minds of a large section of the electorate, he came to represent Nepali nationalism. During last year’s elections, his promises of economic development also resonated widely.
And yet it is now becoming evident that he is squandering the goodwill he had gained. Gradually, there are signs that the population is becoming restive; they want to see results, not just nationalist posturing from a hectoring prime minister. Granted, he started his premiership only in February and his five-year term has a long way to go. After all, the promises he made were massive and of a kind that can only be implemented over the long term. But in the five months since he was elected prime minister, there are few signs that the government is taking concrete steps in moving towards its lofty election goals.
The weaknesses of the Oli government, not least its intolerance towards public dissent, have been widely mocked on social media in recent weeks. There seems to be a consensus emerging about Oli: While promising grand visions for development, the government has failed to pay attention to the substantive issues at hand. So while the promise has been of grand inland waterways and shipping lines and expensive hydroelectricity projects, the infrastructural condition in the country has been abysmal.
Why doesn’t an ambitious sounding government first fix basic problems under its very nose? Progress in road construction and urban development in the capital has been desultory. Moreover, there have been hardly any innovative ideas implemented through the ministries in any area, whether health, education, tourism or any other. The government bureaucracy seems to be functioning in its own lackadaisical pace and, like its prime minister, is much resistant to divesting power to the provinces and local bodies.
Meanwhile, the priorities of the government have focused on two issues. First, it has sought to control democratic space. There have been attempts to impose restrictions on the press and prohibit protests. And secondly, the government is now seen to be much keener to protect profiteers and practice crony capitalism than to improve the livelihoods of the broader Nepalis. This is clearly seen in the government’s attitude towards Dr Govinda KC’s protest in recent days and its insistence that it will pass the Medical Education Bill even though it runs contrary to the recommendations of the Mathema Commission.
Over recent days, we have seen that Nepal is not a country where the government can expect to suppress dissent and conduct arbitrary rule without there being a backlash. Ours has been an open society for a long time, and the government cannot expect to run things by fiat. Oli and his government should wake up to the growing public disenchantment, seek the consent of the people on controversial issues and focus on issues of substantive concern to the population. Thoughtful Nepali voters have put a powerful government in office after years of misgovernance from their blustering rulers. Oli, despite their votes, cannot afford to be just another disappointment.