As per the agreement between the two top leaders of the two parties(NC and Maoist Center), NC president Deuba became the 40th prime minister on June 6, 2017 securing 388 votes, eight short of two-third majority in the 593-member parliament. This is his fourth tenure as head of government of Nepal. Probably,saddled with the heavy task of holding the second phase of local polls and making necessary preparations for the remaining elections in an uneasy situation; he has not been able to expand the 8-member cabinet formed about a month ago. After the successful holding of second phase local polls, Deuba’s concentration is said to be on Province 2 where polls have been postponed until September 18, ostensibly to bring the RJPN on board the poll process. Looks like Deuba does not want anything to be left to chance especially in the backdrop of his polls-related debacles in 2002 and 2005.
Voters turned up (about 74percent) in an encouraging manner in the second phase of local elections held on June 28 in Provinces 1,5 and 7 to elect 15038 local representatives for 334 local units. Millions of voters turned up braving bad weather and ignoring intimidation by some poll-opposing groups.Deuba-led government and the Election Commission(EC) must be happy that the second phase polls were successful, which has also shown that adverse weather conditions and sporadic incidents of violence matter very little when people are determined to exercise their franchise. Cases of bomb explosions in places like Dharan, Nawalparasi and Morang and clashes at several points failed to instill fear among voters. Results received thus far clearly indicate that UML is emerging as the largest political party in the country, at least at the local level. It may be recalled that in the first phase local polls held in Provinces 3, 4 and6, UMl won the most seats (124) while NC could win only in 104 local units. Maoist Center was a distant third in the first phase and its electoral adjustment with NC for the second phase proved little beneficial but the Maoists are still a distant third and the fringe parties are trailing far behind the major parties. Leaders of the two collaborating parties had hoped that their parties would compensate the loss incurred in the first phase polls but information made available clearly indicate that the second phase has been hardly any different for the ruling parties in terms of electoral outcome. This time also UML is likely to remain ahead of NC by about 25 seats.
The only lacking part in the second phase polls was the seeming nonparticipation of RJPN in it, despite several attempts by the concerned such as postponement of polls in Province 2, extending the nomination filing deadline for the second phase of polls to June 18 and amending the Local Level Election Act, allowing parties to submit required documents prior to the final date of filing nomination fixed by the EC.The provision of the original bill required parties to submit names, posts and samples of signatures of those who wish to file nomination papers fifteen days before the last date of filing nomination. The RJPN snubbed these decisions and called for general strikes on the day of nomination filing. It looks like the agitating party would not have termed these decisions unilateral had the government agreed to their demand of deferring polls in Province 5 as well. Notwithstanding some cases where party workers (about 20) were said to have been fielded unofficially, the agitating party did not participate in the election in a formal way nor did it backtrack on its protests. Indeed, rallies were held and a general strike was called to disrupt the polls but the massive turnout of voters amply showed that it was an exercise in futility, which could harm no entity other than the agitating party and its leaders. If this kind of decisions are made time and again, it would not take too long a time even for a seasoned and elderly leader like Mahanta Thakur to be pushed into political oblivion.Thakur and others may wish to learn lessons from what has happened to Mohan Baidya Kiran,a greedless leader, whose only mistake, after splitting from Prachanda,was not to participate in the elections to the constituent assembly. The agitating leaders practicing Madhes-centric politics in Nepal will have to correct their mistakes and find ways to effectively participate in the deferred polls in Province 2 and also in provincial and the ones for the federal parliament. With the third phase of the local polls round the corner, pressure is being exerted on leaders to proceed with clarity of vision and action. Leaders in RJPN, who fielded candidates unofficially, feel that the poor performance in the second phase was on account of lack of clear stance from the beginning. It may also be noted that the EC has advised Prime Minister Deuba to hold parliamentary and provincial elections separately but before fourth week of November to meet constitutional deadline.
As discussed earlier, the second phase of local level polls was successfully held and cannot be termed politically meaningless despite noncooperation from the agitating parties. This is something that the concerned should feel good about but without forgetting the uphill task of organizing polls in Province 2 and the remaining elections. It is difficult to predict what would be the strategy of RJPN pertaining to polls in Province 2 where situation is made to look different from other parts of the country that witnessed successful holding of local polls in two phases. RJPN may decide to work hard and sweep the election there, making up for the recent losses, or decide to create a difficult situation for the government to organize polls.Indeed,they have to either succeed in stopping the polls or make best use of it, effectively participating in polls in Province 2. If polls are not held on the deferred date in the area, situation is bound to move towards more complications as is apprehended by the critics of this decision of deferral. Deuba will have to work restlessly to make sure that the remaining part of local election is held successfully in Province 2, which is not different from other provinces of Nepal. Let us act with firm belief and confidence that it is an integral part of a sovereign nation and our decisions and acts in no way convey a message that the situation there is abnormal and requires special handling. It is encouraging to learn that RJPN leaders have started discussion on major issues and are likely to take time before taking any major decision. Despite mounting pressure to withdraw support to Deuba-led government, leaders said the party would take a decision only after weighing options carefully and not do anything in haste. They may also register the party with EC soon. It is understandable that frustrated leaders are unhappy with the government that the constitution was not amended and the number of local levels in Madhes in proportion to the population was not increased as per the understanding. They are also unhappy that army was mobilized and excessive force against their party cadres was used.Indeed, Deuba has an uphill task of appeasing the disgruntled leaders and making all the required arrangement to ensure that the elections are held at different levels as per the recommendation of EC and also pay some attention to the economy, which may not achieve the wished growth of 7.2 percent next fiscal year, if implementation part of the budget is not paid due attention to right from the beginning.
Despite expected about 7 percent growth this fiscal year, most part of which fortunately coincides with the 10-months tenure of Prachanda, the economy on the whole is not showing encouraging signs. Our purchase from outside of different items such as rice, automobiles, fossil fuel is increasing, which is amply shown by the deteriorating trade balance. In the 11 months of this fiscal year, Rs.893 billion worth of goods have been imported, which is 30.36 higher than the imports ofRs.685 billion during the same period last fiscal year. Exports have also increased by 11.94 percent to reach Rs. 68.55 billion in the 11 months but have not been able to contribute towards abridging the trade gap. Imports continue to be 13 times higher than exports and its contribution to total trade of Nepal is on a decline as is shown by its declining share from 8.2 percent in 11 months of last fiscal year to 7.1 percent in the 11 months of this fiscal year. Imports could exceed Rs.935.88 billion, the expected total budgetary expenditure this year. It may be noted that only 41 percent of the budget under capital expenditure head was spent in the 11 months of this fiscal year. In 2017(2073\74), Nepal, however, is expected by multilateral bodies such as The World Bank, to achieve the third largest growth (7.4 percent) in the world, following Ethiopia (8.3 percent) and Uzbekistan (7.6 percent).Let us hope external factors, including the rain god Lord Indra, remains favourable so that Nepal too can continue to achieve impressive growth in years to follow. It may be noted that Ethiopian economy grew by 10.3, 9.6 and 7.5 percent in the past three years, unlike our economy which more or less stagnated last fiscal year, giving weak base advantage to this fiscal year. Hope Deuba turns out to be lucky enough to have a commendable growth even against a strong base as has been the case in Ethiopia in the last couple of years. On many occasions in the past, he has shown his ability to save governments led by him even during tough period, bending and showing maximum flexibility. Without getting into a discussion of political outcome of these acts, one is tempted to urge him to show to the skeptical people by actions that he is in power this time around to work in the best interest of the nation without bothering much about prolonging his premiership. This way he can certainly handle his numerous critics who also believe that Deuba carries a historical burden of not being able to do justice to responsibilities that he was charged with at different periods of time in the past. May lord Pashupatinath save this nation?