Prime Minister KP Oli has completed one year in office, becoming the first PM in almost three-and-a-half years to retain the post for at least a year. This in itself is an achievement in Nepal, which has seen 25 prime ministers, excluding former king Gyanendra, in almost 29 years. Having cemented the merger of the country’s two biggest communist outfits, and commanding over a two-thirds majority in the federal parliament, the government has created a semblance of stability in a notoriously turbulent polity.
Oli had assumed office on the planks of improving people’s livelihood, sustainable development, prosperity and good governance. These were tall promises in a country where sweet-talking politicians often misled people. Yet many gave him the benefit of the doubt. But those aware of political undercurrents were sceptical as he was the first PM under the new federal set-up, and one of his primary responsibilities was to institutionalise federalism as per the spirit of the constitution.
In theory, this should have helped attract the much-needed FDI and goaded our own businesses and industries to invest in job- and capital-creation. But with the federal government blasé about its woeful capital spending, despite the prime minister’s repeated assurance of swift and adequate infrastructure spending, the economy appears wobbly: there is a severe liquidity crunch in the BFIs, the trade deficit continues to tick up steadily, and economic growth has stalled.
Yet many were hopeful about Oli steering his government smoothly because he had the support of almost two-thirds of federal lawmakers, six out of seven provincial governments, and 400 out of 753 mayors or chairpersons of local levels.
Failure to avoid the temptation of majoritarianism is unbecoming of an office, which was supposed to transform the central government into an oversight agency and devolve power to provinces and local levels to enhance service delivery and bring people at the grassroots closer to the government.
If this continues, Nepal will maintain the facade of federal democracy through periodic polls, but without proper institutions. This will ultimately hit economic growth as innovation and entrepreneurship which are required for job creation, can only flourish in the rules-based system backed by strong institutions.
On foreign policy, the government may claim success. Relations with India have been ‘normalized’ following the blockade-time low. The Oli government also seems to be in China’s good books. Further, it has tried to diversify Nepal’s foreign relations away from the two giant neighbors. As a part of this process, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali made a landmark visit to the US, even though NCP co-chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s mistimed comments on the US intervention in Venezuela severely dented the US outreach.