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Shadow government

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

PM 3

Not in recent memory has Nepal had a weaker government than now. The NC-Maoist coalition was forged after the UML Prime Minister K P Oli had the rug pulled from under him by Pushpa Kamal Dahal last year. Like a love triangle, Dahal ditched Oli and hitched himself to Deuba. Under their “gentlemen’s agreement” Dahal became PM first and then handed the baton to Deuba in June.

Although the NC became the biggest party in Parliament after the 2013 CA elections, its moral mandate has been eroded by recent local elections. Deuba himself is PM for the fourth time, and is seen to be weak within his party and indecisive in government, taking three weeks to cobble together a cabinet. He was ridiculed for reading out the wrong speech to flood victims in Saptari, and reviled on the Net for the way he angrily refused to answer questions from the audience on Sajha Sawal.

The Maoist-Centre is a distant third in Parliament, and its once-revolutionary roar has become a meow. The Maoists held a HQ conclave this week to analyse why they suffered such a humiliating setback in local elections, and to chart out a future strategy for the third phase of local elections and for provincial and parliamentary later this year.

The Deuba coalition has concluded it will not be able to muster the two-thirds in parliament to amend the constitution, as demanded by the Madhes-based parties, after the RPP decided not to be on board. It is therefore busy trying to cobble together a cabinet distributing ministerial portfolios to parties. This is the paradox of Nepal’s bhagbanda politics: Issues of long-term national importance in the Constitution are being decided by the petty interests of parties for short-term cabinet posts.

The NC-Maoist coalition never really wanted the amendments anyway, so last week it hurriedly declared it could not meet Madhesi demands because of the RPP and UML. The new alliance of Tarai-based parties, the RJP-N, has been weakened by a semi-mutiny in its ranks and its failure to stop local polls.

However, it will be a mistake if the ruling coalition and the main opposition use the enfeebled RJPN and FSFN to ignore the demands of the disenfranchised groups in the mountains and Tarai for better representation and respect through the new Constitution. It will be an even bigger blunder if the main parties start acting on a plan being floated to extend Parliament after its mandate terminates in January 2018.

The UML may feel triumphant after the local election results and be tempted to twist the dagger, but it now has an even greater responsibility to bring the disparate forces together. It is for this reason that a main opposition party in parliamentary systems is called a ‘shadow government’ – so it rises above differences to uphold the national interest. It can show a leadership role in pushing new amendments that address the grievances of the marginalised while at the same time safeguarding national unity.

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