Deuba’s six months in office: A poor show of governanceThere is not much for the government to boast about on any front, observers and analysts say.
On July 18, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, after winning the vote of confidence in Parliament with an overwhelming number of votes, said: “The government’s first priority is vaccines, second priority is vaccines, and third priority is vaccines.”
It had just been six days since he was appointed prime minister, for the fifth term.
On Thursday, Deuba will complete his six months in office.
Despite securing vaccine doses in good numbers, the Deuba administration, however, has failed to ramp up the vaccination drive.
Deuba’s six months of governance could make neither vaccines nor any other issue its priority.
There is not much for Deuba to show on any fronts, observers and analysts say.
It took him three months to give the Cabinet its full shape. He has yet to constitute a team of experts to advise him on foreign policy, economy and governance, among others. He does not have an officially declared media team.
“As a citizen of this country, I have failed to find the government,” said Dwarika Nath Dhungel, a former secretary. “There are so many issues for the government to deal with, but I wonder if the government even exists.”
Deuba’s appointment as prime minister was seen as a move that brought the almost derailed constitutional and democratic process courtesy Oli back on track. But when it came to undemocratic steps, Deuba proved to be no better than Oli.
He ran into controversy for introducing an ordinance to amend a law to split the party. A similar ordinance by Oli was vehemently criticised by his party, the Nepali Congress.
It didn’t take long for him to face a diplomatic dilemma, as at the end of July a youth from Darchula fell into the Mahakali river when a tuin, a metal cable, he was using to cross the river broke down. There were allegations that Indian security forces untangled the wire leading to the death. The Deuba government could not take up the issue with India for weeks, earning criticism from various quarters.
Ramesh Nath Pandey, a former foreign minister, said the Deuba government was formed using the last constitutional resort.
“The government had its plate full,” Pandey told the Post. “It failed to prioritise issues and work accordingly. On governance, on health, on economy as well as on foreign policy front, not much has happened.”
Deuba is backed by four parties—the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party, and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
One of the key issues that Deuba wanted to deal with after his return to power was the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a $500 million US grant. The MCC Nepal Compact is stuck in Parliament since July 2019. All his coalition partners are opposed to its parliamentary ratification. Failure to ratify could not only hamper relations with the United States but also put Nepal’s credibility at stake in the international arena.
Though Deuba maintained that it would be endorsed, there are no signs of it, largely because the House has been rendered dysfunctional by the main opposition CPN-UML, led by Oli.
Two months into office, Deuba formed a team to study border issues with China, which many said could do more harm than good.
As the government is completing its six months, the Deuba government is facing criticism for failing to speak on India’s claim on Lipulekh. Addressing an election rally on December 30, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India was widening a road via Lipulekh to Manasarovar in the Tibet Autonomous Region. The Deuba government has not made any formal statement on that. The main opposition UML on Tuesday came down heavily on the government for failing to respond to Modi’s claim.
The UML says the Deuba government in the last six months has been a “complete failure.”
“The formation of the Deuba government itself is questionable because he was not appointed prime minister by the House,” said Subas Chandra Nembang, deputy leader of the UML Parliamentary Party. “The government could not get full shape for the first 88 days, until it brought an ordinance to amend a law on party splits.”
The ordinance led to splits in the UML and the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP).
A group led by Madhav Kumar Nepal of the UML formed CPN (Unified Socialist). A faction led by Mahantha Thakur in the JSP formed Loktantrik Samajbadi Party.
“For the first time in Nepal’s history the country faced a financial deadlock,” said Nembang referring to the budget holiday last September. “For the first time in the country’s history, all three state organs, judiciary, Parliament and government are almost non-functional.”
Just as the Deuba government is completing its six months, the country is faced with a new challenge—the third coronavirus wave.
Cases lately have surged at an exponential rate, as hospitalisations have risen. Omicron, the super contagious variant of the virus, has already entered the country, and experts are warning of an explosion of infections in a matter of days.
“Forget big issues, the government has failed to pay heed to the matters concerning the common people,” said Dhungel, the former secretary. “Covid-19 cases are rising. What’s the plan to treat people if they fall sick in masses. What about the sufferings of the people going for foreign employment? What did the government do for the people in Humla who lacked food to eat?”
Congress leaders, however, disagree that the government has been a failure.
Bishwa Parkash Sharma, joint general secretary of the Nepali Congress, said six months is not a long time for a government to demonstrate too many things.
“Just like any other government in the world, the priority has been citizens’ health amid this ongoing pandemic,” Sharma told the Post. “Saving people’s lives is the first and foremost priority of the government.”
Sharma argued that the government managed to secure enough doses of vaccines in the last six months.
“Vaccination may have slowed down, but it has been continuing,” said Sharma. “I don’t think anyone cares about how many kilometres of roads have been expanded and how many megawatts of electricity have been generated when the country is in the midst of a pandemic.”