When Sher Bahadur Deuba returned to Baluwatar as prime minister
for the fifth time this July, there was little excitement among the public. And that was expected, given his long history of political blunders and attacks against democracy. But those who wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and a final chance to salvage his image as an "inefficient" prime minister were not wrong altogether. Deuba became the unanimous prime ministerial candidate of the opposition alliance, not because of his political acumen or any hope that he would do any good for Nepal’s ailing democratic process. But he never gets tired of making the same mistakes many times over and failing the already low expectations of the people again and again.
Former prime minister KP Sharma Oli’s relentless attack against democracy had made possible a coming together of strange bedfellows. As the leader of the second largest political party in Parliament, Deuba got an opportunity to take the reins of the country. Despite his inability to give any hope to the people, the last that was expected of him was a repeat of Oli’s political adventurism. And yet, here we are, wondering what to do with an ordinance to amend laws to ease a party split when there are more pressing issues, ranging from handling the coronavirus pandemic to reviving the economy, to deal with.
Just a little over a year ago, a Nepali Congress statement, signed by none other than Deuba himself, called Oli’s act of introducing the same ordinance an "unacceptable move, irresponsible tendency". The difference this time is that the requirement for a party split has been changed as per how much they needed to help the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction break away from the CPN-UML. As per the current provisions of the Political Parties Act 2017, any faction of a party can register a new party if it can show it has the support of 40 percent of the members of the central committee and the parliamentary party. The ordinance changed it to 20 percent, and the “and” provision has been changed to “or”.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari, did not fail to disappoint once again. And no sooner had President Bhandari given the green signal than Madhav Kumar Nepal rushed to the Election Commission to register a new party, CPN-UML (Samajbadi), with an open book as the proposed election symbol. Mahantha Thakur, the beleaguered leader of the Janata Samajbadi Party, did not want to be left behind either, as he registered Janata Samajbadi Party (Loktantrik), with a bicycle as the proposed election symbol.
When it comes to committing crimes against democracy, Oli is Deuba, and Deuba is Oli. What Oli started, Deuba has completed. Just a little over a month after Oli was defenestrated for committing a political crime against democracy—not unlike Deuba two decades ago—Deuba has committed the same crime that he had vehemently opposed just a little over a year ago. So much so that Oli and his acolytes have now found a way to decry Deuba’s move and put themselves in a morally superior position—after all, they had withdrawn the ordinance after a public outcry.
With the passing of the ordinance and the impending split of his party, Oli may have finally got a taste of his own medicine. But the ordinance itself is an affront to the political culture of the country. With a single ordinance, Deuba has shown gratitude to his newfound ally, Madhav Kumar Nepal, as well as orchestrated the weakening of the CPN-UML, the Congress Party’s primary competitor in electoral politics. But Deuba’s selfish act will go down in history as yet another beginning of the undoing of democracy.