The man who failed as Prime Minister not just once, twice, but three times is all set to become Nepal’s Prime Minister for the fourth time. The NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba is achieving this rare political comeback with the help of Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal – a man whom he once declared a “terrorist”.
During Deuba’s first tenure as Prime Minister (1995-97), Maoist leader Prachanda took the country to war. In his second tenure (2001-02), the war having escalated, he dissolved Parliament, declared a state of emergency and was eventually sacked by King Gyanendra. In his third tenure (2004-05), the king staged a military coup and put him under house arrest.
Deuba returns to Baluwatar after 12 years, consolidating his grip over the party and cobbling a coalition with his former arch enemies. He will be elected Nepal’s 10th Prime Minister in 10 years next week. That is if the UML, angered by the fracas in Bharatpur, allows Parliament to function.
The Maoists will back Deuba, as will fringe parties. The UML will field its own candidate, who is bound to be defeated. Deuba is aiming to form a small cabinet before the second phase of local elections on 28 June, keeping the Finance Ministry for himself and giving the Home Ministry to the Maoists.
Deuba will immediately face the challenge of ensuring Madhesi participation in the second phase of local elections, holding provincial and parliament elections before January 2018, and sustaining growth rate of 7%.
Those who blame Deuba for mishandling the war and surrendering democracy to the King fear the worst. But his supporters say Deuba is older and wiser, and the best person to lead in this time of extreme polaraisation.
“He has quit smoking, drinks only occasionally and is much more sincere,” says MP Bharat Shah, who was in Deuba’s cabinet in 2001-02.
To be fair, Deuba was constantly undermined by NC president Girija Prasad Koirala and King Gyanendra used him like a pawn. Now he enjoys absolute majority in the party, and Shah says the man has never been stronger.
Political scientist Lok Raj Baral says Deuba’s past should not be a reason to dismiss him: “This is his last chance for redemption, he needs to bring the Madhesis and Janajatis on the board and implement the constitution. He won’t have a second chance.”
The last time Deuba was prime minister the country was still a monarchy. The king who dismissed him twice is not around, and his Maoist enemies are now his coalition partners. Says Baral: “He can use this to his advantage.”
Deuba III, Kunda Dixit
King G does it, Kunda Dixit