KATHMANDU, June 14: “I will solve all the outstanding Madhes issues once I am in power,” Deuba told us at his Budhanilkantha residence weeks before he became prime minister again. He sounded in a hurry to assume power.
Sher Bahadur Deuba’s fourth stint as Nepal’s prime minister looks increasingly concerning, to say the least. He carries the heavy stigma of “handing over” democracy to the palace, giving Gyanendra ultimate power a second time. Many believed he will be different this time round. But Deuba has again and again refused to learn, as it was his own style that has elevated him to the premiership multiple times.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal paved the way to Baluwatar for Deuba, on the assumption that he would hold the second phase local elections on time and then the provincial elections. But the way things stand today, Deuba seems more interested in postponing the elections, thereby prolonging his premiership. If that happens, it will be a perfect storm for the new constitution, leading toward the collapse of the infant system that we are trying so hard to build.
Public institutions and the institutional framework need to have solid foundations for democracy to thrive. And it takes time for these foundations to settle. When you start attacking the very foundations, you are courting chaos. You will be left with a weakened system that is ready to collapse any time.
We surely are living in heady times. Various political parties and different groups are contesting for their space and a voice in our federal Nepal. At the heart of the dispute is the new document that we as a country went through so much to put into writing. The new constitution has its flaws. No constitution in the world is perfect. The Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) has made its stance clear: amend the constitution and then go for the polls. It is now time for the ruling coalition and the opposition parties to make their stance clear also. If they can guarantee to the RJPN that the constitution will be amended post-elections, then they should say so. If not, they should make that message equally clear and then go for the polls.
Elections have consequences. People in provinces 1,2, 5 and 7 are excited at the prospect of local polls after a gap of two decades. We saw different levels of energy in the people in Nepalgunj, Butwal and Dhangadi. There is talk of smart cities, of roads, highways and dry ports. Many candidates and aspirants have expended a lot on the ground, financially, emotionally and physically. Deuba should not fall into the trap of a handful of discredited political operators that have been holding the country hostage for over two years now.
Any pretext to postpone the second phase local elections is going to be suicidal for the country. January 18, 2018 is not far away. That is the day when the term of the current parliament expires, and we ought to have all levels of elections completed by then. If these second phase local polls are postponed, we won't be able to meet the January 18 deadline, and the country will be cascading down the road to political turmoil and possibly a constitutional crisis. The people, who yearn for local representatives, will feel wounded, their hopes of a better life postponed indefinitely.
Deuba doesn't have the luxury of casually postponing elections. He must not even mull that path. We have a prime minister who is waiting for the stars to align correctly before he moves into the PM's official residence at Baluwatar. He says publicly that he does not read books and he cannot write. His close associates say no amount of public criticism and what is written about him changes his heart. We can only hope it will be different this time.