PM Dahal tours on as Nepalis tackle crisesRuling, opposition leaders consider prime minister’s long absence inappropriate, as country is under economic pressure.
Completing his half-month-long visit to China and New York, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is returning home on Saturday from Chengdu.
This is probably the first time that a Nepali prime minister has been out of the country for two weeks, amid several crises including doctors’ protests and teachers’ agitation, price rises ahead of big festivals, a struggling economy and poor governance. Also, the regular House session remains adjourned until Sunday due to the government’s failure to give business to the legislature.
The prime minister left the country on September 16 to attend the 78th session of the UN General Assembly on September 21 and participated in some side events and bilateral meetings with some foreign leaders. On September 22, he left for the Chinese city of Hangzhou, where he attended the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games and held talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping. In Beijing, the prime minister met his Chinese counterpart and witnessed the signing of 12 bilateral agreements and pacts.
He toured Tibet and visited the famed lake Manasarovar, a highly revered pilgrimage site for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. This makes him the first Nepali prime minister to visit Manasarovar, while in office. Earlier this year, during his India visit from May 31 to June 3, Dahal had prayed at the renowned Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain.
While many of his critics find these pilgrimages by an avowed communist unusual, upon returning from India, Dahal had told the media that he had offered prayers at the Mahakaleshwar temple to seek blessings for his wife, Sita, who was unwell at the time. She died on July 12.
Talking to reporters in Biratnagar on Friday, CPN-UML chair and former prime minister KP Sharma Oli said it does not bode well for the country when its prime minister spends time visiting foreign countries for 15 days in a row, disrupting the parliamentary process.
“It is not a dignified thing for the executive head to take such an extended leisurely trip,” Oli told reporters.
Normally, prime ministers or heads of state conclude their visits once a joint communiqué is released.
“We should not question his visit to the United Nations,” former foreign minister Prakash Chandra Lohani said.
“His going to China after completing his visit to New York did save some money. Besides, a big chunk of the cost of the prime minister’s delegation to China, even though a jumbo one, was borne by the Chinese side,” said an official in the Nepali delegation.
Added Lohani: “It would have been better had the prime minister returned after holding political talks in Beijing. Normally, no prime minister stays after completing official engagements. Probably, the Chinese side wanted to showcase their development, which is why the prime minister overstayed in China. But don’t you also have to factor in what is happening back home?”
In China, Dahal failed to secure some of the signature deals he had talked about in Parliament and in public meetings. These included cross-border energy trade, loan waiver of the Pokhara International Airport and seeking a mega grant project under the Belt and Road Initiative.
“Definitely, the twin visits took too long. That too at a time the country has been reeling from social, economic and other crises,” said Shekhar Koirala, a senior leader of the Nepali Congress, the largest party in the ruling coalition.
He said Dahal's visit to the United Nations was okay but he left too early. “The prime minister is entrusted with expanding his country’s external relations so we cannot see his China visit in a bad light. But the way he is seen touring seemingly less important places during what are tough times for his own country does not look good,” Koirala added.
Earlier the prime minister went to India in May-end for four days and later in July to Italy for three days.
“Yes, this visit was prolonged but there were some logistical issues too,” said Bishnu Pukar Shrestha, Nepali Ambassador to China.
Shrestha said although the prime minister has been away from the country for 15 days, he was interested in visiting some Chinese cities and witnessing the country’s achievements over the past two decades.
“Hence the long trip,” Shrestha added.