Deuba’s one year in office marked by misrule and tactic from Oli’s playbookLocal elections can be counted as the only achievement, else failure on all fronts, observers say.
On July 12 last year, the Supreme Court issued a verdict that was quite expected, yet unusual. It overturned then KP Sharma Oli government’s decision to dissolve the House, just as it directed the President’s Office to appoint Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba as the country’s prime minister “within 24 hours.”
The very next day, President Bidya Devi Bhandari administered Deuba the oath of office and secrecy.
The ground for the order to appoint Deuba as the prime minister, however, was laid by Oli himself. Congress and other parties had vehemently opposed Oli’s move of dissolving the House twice, his way of running the country through ordinances and the rise of political corruption under his watch.
Even the leaders from his party CPN-UML, who later formed the CPN (Unified Socialist), had taken to the streets demanding Oli’s ouster.
This was the first time in Nepal’s history that a prime minister was being appointed as per a court order.
Deuba returned to power for the fifth time, a feat no one has achieved in Nepal.
On Wednesday, he will complete his one year in office, leading a coalition government of five parties.
There’s hardly anything to mention when it comes to governance in Deuba’s tenure; instead, he has followed in Oli’s footsteps in earnest, experts and observers say.
“We didn’t have much expectation from the Deuba government but we were hopeful that he won’t be a repeat of Oli,” Achyut Wagle, a professor at Kathmandu University who writes on political economy, told the Post. “Sadly, he has done exactly what Oli did.”
Oli was hugely criticised for his actions which observers said were a direct threat to the constitution, democracy and rule of law.
Deuba may not be as aggressive as Oli in flouting the constitutional spirit and democratic principles, but he has fared poorly on all the fronts, including governance, according to experts.
As the opposition party, Deuba’s Congress was fierce in criticising the Oli government for issuing ordinances one after another, saying that such moves undermined the dignity of the Parliament.
On July 18, when Deuba was seeking the vote of confidence, Congress leader Minendra Rijal said that they would show how the government should be run.
After winning the vote of confidence from the House of Representatives on July 18 last year, Deuba government prorogued the Parliament’s session.
Within a month, on August 17, the Deuba government issued an ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act so as to ease a split of parties. He had prorogued the House session on August 16.
Revising an earlier provision which required the backing of at least 40 percent of Central Committee and Parliamentary Party members to register a new party, the ordinance lowered the ceiling. After the amendment, any group having support of over 20 percent of Central Committee or Parliamentary Party members could register a new party at the Election Commission.
The ordinance was issued to ease the split of the CPN-UML.
Deuba’s party had once lashed out at the Oli government for issuing a similar ordinance in April 2020.
Again in December 2020, Congress denounced Oli’s move of issuing an ordinance to amend the Constitutional Council Act (Functions, Duties and Procedures) 2010. But on Friday, the Deuba government registered a bill at the National Assembly retaining most of the provisions in the ordinance brought by Oli.
Just like Oli turned a blind eye to his ministers’ shenanigans and even defended Gokul Baskota, then communications minister, who was embroiled in a corruption controversy, Deuba maintained silence when political chicanery of his ministers Prem Ale and Janardan Sharma were reported.
Ale resigned after his party, the CPN (Unified Socialist), recalled him, while Sharma stepped down following the formation of a parliamentary committee to investigate allegations that he had committed financial crime.
“Other than playing a constructive role in endorsing the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact, holding local elections and keeping the ruling alliance intact, this government has failed on all other fronts,” Puranjan Acharya, a political analyst with a leaning to the Congress, told the Post. “He has disappeared from leadership. It seems somebody else, not Deuba, is running the government.”
Acharya said corruption is rampant, inflation has gone up, governance is poor and the foreign policy is unstable while Deuba is openly seen siding with the Americans.
When Deuba succeeded Oli, ruling parties claimed that protecting the constitution, strengthening federalism and controlling corruption would be the government’s priorities.
Experts say the incumbent government had an opportunity to ensure good governance, consolidate federalism and give due focus to the country’s economy.
However, on the contrary, the government has failed miserably in public service delivery and seems to be working at the behest of some interest groups, according to them.
“And Deuba is least bothered about criticism,” said Wagle.
The country has adopted a cooperative model of federalism where the federal government has a role of facilitation, says Wagle. And in addition to delaying the promulgation of the laws needed to implement federalism, the present government has never taken any step for its facilitation, according to him.
The Inter-Provincial Council led by the prime minister is a platform to resolve differences between the federal and provincial governments. However, Deuba hasn’t held a single meeting of the council yet.
According to Wagle, Deuba had taken some good policy decisions like forming women and Dalit commissions in his first and second tenures as a prime minister but over the years he has grown as a self-centred politician who is least bothered about performance and only concerned about being in power.
“He wants to govern every sector by the people of his choice,” he said. “He doesn’t mind keeping the positions vacant if he doesn’t get the people he wants. His rule is simple, ‘either my people or no one.’”
Congress leaders say the present government had two major tasks to perform: first, bringing the constitution on track and holding the elections. They claim the government has performed its job effectively while also has kept the international relations balanced which was not the case earlier.
“Despite that, it’s a fact that the government hasn’t fared well in governance and service delivery,” Gagan Thapa, Congress general secretary, admitted. “Similarly, some of the moves of the Oli government which we criticised as the opposition have been repeated. This is wrong. The government must be sensitive to such issues.”
Some political experts agree that the incumbent government has brought diplomatic relations on track.
Nepal’s relations with India and the Western world have become cordial after Deuba came to power, according to them.
“I appreciate Deuba government’s effective vaccine diplomacy and efforts in bringing Nepal’s diplomatic relationship with different countries in order,” said Vijay Kant Karna, a professor of Political Science at Tribhuvan University. “However, Deuba has failed in correcting the constitutional order which was derailed by the Oli government. He has also failed on the governance and service delivery fronts.”
The problem with Deuba is that he only gives space to the people from his faction and not to the competent people which is the reason for his poor performance, according to Karna.
“He might be a clever politician but his governance has always been poor because he promotes just a small group of people,” he said.
Deuba is leading a coalition government of five parties. Any of the parties, except for the Rastriya Janamorcha, pulling out the support might result in the fall of his government.
Being a person who always wants to be in power, Deuba’s entire focus is in keeping the coalition intact at any cost, according to experts.
“Deuba’s entire focus is on keeping the coalition alive as it ensures his longevity in power. Therefore, he has little time to pay attention to governance,” said senior advocate Shree Hari Aryal, former chief of Transparency International Nepal, an anti-corruption institution.
Wagle, the professor, says elections are approaching and it’s the time when people give their verdict.
“Let’s see if people will punish or reward him,” he said.