Nepal’s new Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, who took charge on June 6, has a tough job on hand. He got a taste of the difficult times ahead even before taking over, as the second phase of the local-level elections were postponed to June 23.
The postponement was necessary in view of the fact that this round of polls were meant for the Madhes region that has opposed Nepal government’s plans for elections, calling it a ‘drama’. Locals and Madhesi party leaders have been holding strikes and protests for days in this regard.
A curious situation
Mr. Deuba’s first task, therefore, is to conduct polls in Madhes provinces without violence. However, widespread incidents of arson and protests in the plains, partly due to a lack of consensus among the political parties, have struck a blow to the hopes.
A significant number of leaders of the Madhesi morcha , led by the newly formed Rashtriya Janata Party-Nepal, say in private that elections should not be held without first completing the process of bringing amendments to the Constitution. Yet, they have expressed support in public. It is in this curious situation — where participating parties can go back on their promises — that Mr. Deuba has to run his government.
Despite being a seasoned political leader with three past stints at the top post, Mr. Deuba is bound to find the current spell a new experience. In his three previous stints, Mr. Deuba — a product of the politics of durbar-democracy confluence — dealt with a different Nepal. Present-day Nepal, on the other hand, is facing disruptive politics due to an upsurge in democratic sentiments from all sections of the society.
The old vs. the new
On the one hand, the Madhesis and the Janajatis are demanding an amendment to the Constitution passed in September 2015. On the other hand, there is the old order, in which Mr. Deuba was trained, trying to preserve its influence.
Mr. Deuba is therefore going to face a tough year ahead, beginning with the June 23 elections. This will be followed by another round of local elections and general elections. He will also have to balance Nepal’s expanding role in the region and beyond.
His first challenge, next week’s elections, will not just test him but also send a message on the resilience of the Himalayan nation’s democracy.