Saturday, 2 December, 2023

Challenges Before PM Deuba

Challenges Before PM Deuba

Narayan Upadhyay

A party chief with a weaker presence in parliament, the Nepali Congress president emerged luckiest after an opposition alliance catapulted him to the PM's chair. With the wrangling among the leaders of the ruling party moving from bad to worse, the opportunity to become PM came knocking at the door of NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, who subsequently replaced UML chief KP Sharma Oli as the chief executive of the country.

Starting his fifth innings as the country's chief executive, Deuba must have counted his blessings because his party, with its meagre numbers, had no chance of forming or leading a government. However, the rivalry among the communist leaders, chiefly between the erstwhile PM, Oli, and his nemesis - Madhav Kumar Nepal and Maoist Supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, left the door ajar for Deuba. The Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court also ruled in his favour. The opposition alliance, cobbled up to denounce 'the unconstitutional moves' of the then PM, Oli and the President, threw its weight behind Deuba during the trust vote, which the NC leader won, ensuring his government leadership for the next one and a half years.
Having secured the chief executive's position through 'incredible' loyalty from the opposition alliance, Deuba faces multi-pronged challenges. As he requires to clean up the mess left behind by his predecessor Oli, Deuba must proceed carefully to safeguard the interests of the nation, his own party and alliance partners during his term.
While leading the government of five-party alliance, the NC chief would do better if he addresses the aspirations of the partners so that the alliance remains strong and vibrant. The sharing of ministerial portfolios must disappoint none of the alliance partners, and the programmes and policies of the government must address the ambitions of the alliance partners who joined forces to fail the ‘regressive steps’ of the Oli government. In the meantime, the government must 'take care' of all unconstitutional decisions and appointments of the Oli-led government. Many blame Oli for harming the economy, politics and international relations as well as the COVID situation by not importing vaccines in time. Oli and his ministers and supporters at the UML wasted much of the three-and-a-half years of his reign by engaging intra-party squabbling.
Deuba has insisted he would leave no stone unturned in purchasing vaccines. His government would go miles and borrow funds to acquire the jabs for free distribution to the people. We must praise his stance on vaccines, given the lacklustre performance of the Oli-led government that drew public ire for allowing 'middlemen' into procuring the jabs. The issue of kickbacks for intermediaries while purchasing the vaccines impeded imports over time, leading to a considerable rise in coronavirus infections in the country.
Taking his cue from Oli's failure, Deuba should move ahead to mobilise good offices with China and India, the two nations that can help Nepal get the needed vaccines. Since Deuba enjoys faith and trust of the West, he should take advantage of his sound connection to secure the jabs from countries like the USA, the UK and other Western nations.
 Another concern for the new PM is the revival of the sagging economy, which was left battered during Oli's tenure. The production and business sectors are in disarray following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The new government requires reviving these sectors, the backbone of our economy, through introducing financial measures for their early revival and boosting their confidence by introducing production and business-friendly plans.  
 In the meantime, the Deuba government must work to normalise its relations with its closest neighbours, China and India, as well as the USA and European countries. Oli created a situation wherein his government's relations with China had worsened. Oli failed to address China's aspirations regarding its flagship project, the Belt and Road Initiatives, in Nepal. Even after signing the BRI agreement with China in 2017, nothing concrete happened during Oli's tenure. Deuba would do well if he attempted to address the issue during his time in office.
Likewise, Oli's unexpected publication of a new map in 2020 that included Kalapani, Lipulek and Limpiyadhura as the Nepali territories sent Nepal's relations with India on a downward spiral. India was still not happy with the map, though India had tepidly supported the Oli government after Oli had a midnight jaunt with India's spy chief Samanta Goyal. India has also shown its reservations about our constitution. When Deuba embarks on his journey to normalise relations, he must consider these issues. Having said this, one should remember that the geopolitical situation in Nepal dictates that all of our governments require keeping its relationship with its neighbours on balance.   
Another issue to be addressed by the current Deuba led government is to see the controversial MCC (Millennium Challenge Corporation) compact with the USA getting approved by the parliament. The multi-billion dollar pact courted controversy after voices were raised regarding many of the stipulations that contravened Nepal's sovereignty. Talks are now making rounds that no government can endorse the MCC pact through our parliament without changing many of its provisions.

National interest
The Deuba government will have a tough time while passing this pact. Alliance partners, too, are not supportive of the concept of passing the MCC Pact in its present form. They want to alter several specifications of the pact by focusing on the issues of our domestic concerns. Regarded as a companion of the USA, Deuba will face challenges when he moves forwards to pass the compact. The nation's interests must prevail over foreign interests.
Having arrived at the helm for a short period, the Deuba government has its hands full. It is not fair to assume that the current government can address all challenges during its short tenure. Nevertheless, it can tackle many of these challenges and earn some brownie points. To accomplish these points, the new PM must take his alliance partners into confidence. The fate of Deuba's party and his own political well-being will rest on how he will tackle challenges and perform at this crucial juncture.

 (Upadhyay is Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal.