The year 2019 is bidding goodbye and we are entering New Year 2020 today. Looking back, there have been few positive happenings and several disappointing indicators for Nepal in 2019. To start with positives, the much-awaited visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping took place this year. How this visit will contribute to realizing infrastructure developments will be clear in the days to come when the agreements Nepal and China signed—particularly those related to infrastructure development projects—will be implemented but it must be said that the presidential level visit from China nearly after two decades has enhanced the ties between Nepal and China. Successful holding of South Asian Games (SAG) in December is another positive event of this year. The SAG not only brought together athletes and delegates from SAARC countries to Kathmandu, it also contributed to branding Nepal as a country to visit among the participants from South Asia. SAG brought Nepal 206 medals including 51 golds and several record-breaking performances.
On foreign affairs, Nepal’s engagement with the rest of the world—including with the US and other European countries—increased this year. As Nepal’s Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali portrays it Nepal has started to be ‘seen and heard’ across the world. It was this year that Nepali mountaineers set a new record. In May, Nepali mountaineer Kami Rita Sherpa scaled the Mount Everest for 24th time breaking his past records. Perhaps the most successful story in the domestic front has been mainstreaming of the party led by CK Raut, who had been launching campaign for separate state in Tarai.
Save for these, the year 2019 was mired in various controversies and several flawed decisions by the government. While the government could not track down the murderer and rapist of Nirmala Panta, it was seen as taking measures that could potentially curtail freedom of expression and restrict the free press. Several bills, such as Guthi Bill, NHRC Bill, Media Council Bill, Advertisement Bill and Information and Technology Bill, sparked protests and generated criticisms against the government. While huge public protests forced the government to shelve the Guthi Bill, there have not been any indications from the government to revise other controversial bills. The IT Bill, endorsed by the House Committee most recently, has sent the fear that freedom of expression could be curtailed in the days to come. While arrest of Krishna Bahadur Mahara on charge of rape attempt and Mohammad Aftab Alam in connection with the 2008 bombing sent a positive message about rule of law, the arrest of singers like Pashupati Sharma sent the message that the government has been really intolerant toward public criticism. Besides, the government’s decision to renew the lease period of Gokarna Forest Resort to Yeti Holdings and other decisions to allow this Group to use precious public lands without any transparent and competitive bidding process eroded its own credibility.
As we move forward to 2020, there are many things expected of the government. First is the resolution of Kalapani issue through bilateral and political dialogues. We hope that both India and Nepal will take the initiatives to resolve this issue through dialogues. Also, as we move forward, the government should look back to its flawed decisions—whether related to controversial bills or controversial decisions—and correct them. The year 2020 also marks the completion of second year of the government of K P Sharma Oli. In two years, all initial optimisms have turned into despair and the government is increasingly being seen as less concerned about solving pressing problems of common people but serving the interests of those close to the ruling party. The general impression is that the government has failed to govern. Some of the activities of the government are being compared with Panchayat rule. The year 2020 should be the time for the government to prove that it is indeed committed to serving the need of the people and the country. Incidentally, Visit Nepal 2020 national campaign is also beginning from today. This is an opportunity for Nepal to tap into its tourism potentials and brand the country as the ‘must-visit’ destination. The government should not spare any effort to make it successful. Besides, it should bring such programs which could be remembered with pride in 2020. On that optimistic note, we wish Happy New Year to all.