Pushpa Kamal Dahal as PM
Pushpa Kamal Dahal could become the prime minister of a new coalition government as early as Wednesday. The parliament initiated the process for formation of a majority government on Monday when the deadline given by the president for a national consensus government expired. With so many political parties vying to join the new government, possibly even the constituent parties of Madheshi Morcha, it will be difficult for Dahal to share portfolios. But we would still like to call on the leader of CPN (Maoist Center) not to unnecessarily expand the size of the executive. Ideally, the size of the new cabinet should not exceed 25, the cap set by the new constitution. One of the reasons the KP Oli government was criticized right from the start was because the first government after the promulgation of new constitution set a terrible precedent: in a blatant violation of the new constitution, Oli elected a 40-member jumbo cabinet, with as many as six MPs serving as deputy prime ministers. Dahal has great opportunity to show that he abides by the constitution he helped draft by forming a lean cabinet comprised of ministers with demonstrated ability to deliver.
Such a lean cabinet will also show that the new government means business and that it has not been formed to elevate certain parties and leaders to power. We do not expect much from a government that will, in all likelihood, be in office for only nine months. But precisely because Dahal has nothing to lose in such a short time as prime minister, he will also have the leeway to pursue the agendas that directly affect the people. Prime Minister Oli had earned widespread praise for his courageous stand against India during the blockade. But his government was also deservedly criticized for institutionalizing corruption, for boosting inflation through an expansionary budget and for its tolerance of cartels and syndicates in nearly all important sectors. Even though he has been characterized in certain quarters as an unabashed opportunist for plotting the downfall of the Oli government, Dahal could again earn public support if he as prime minister shows the guts to take on vested interests. For instance, he could swiftly enact the reforms in medical education that have recently been agreed with Dr Govinda KC. (Early signs are not encouraging.) The markets for daily commodities could be better monitored to check adulteration and black-marketing.
But the biggest test of Dahal’s statesmanship will undoubtedly be over whether he can resolve the contentious constitutional issues to the satisfaction of the protesting Madheshi and Janajati forces and then take the country into local elections, as per the new agreement with Nepali Congress. Dahal says various options on redrawing federal boundaries are now being discussed, including with Madheshi parties. He appears confident of a breakthrough in the near future. We would like to wish him luck. With the constitution providing for three sets of elections in the next 20 months, the new government will have to work on a war-footing to lay the ground for them. But if there is a broader political understanding everything else will fall in place. So the focus of the new government has to be reviving the spirit of cooperation among at least the four major forces—Congress, UML, Maoists and Madheshi parties—that have brought the country this far in its post-monarchy journey.