More things change, more they remain the same

Vehicles mired in the mud on Nepal’s highways are a fitting metaphor of the nation’s politics.

Ask random pedestrians on Kathmandu’s sidewalks to name the current prime minister and prominent party leaders, and there is a high chance they will scratch their heads. It is probably worse in Kosi, where the provincial chief minister has changed five times in two years. 

It is a foregone conclusion that K P Oli will become Nepal’s Prime Minister for the fourth time on Friday after he dumped Dahal and his four-month-old coalition following a clandestine midnight power-sharing deal with Sher Bahadur of the Nepali Congress (NC). 

Oli promised to be in Baluwatar for the next one-and-half years, hand over to Deuba who will head the government for the sixth time till the next elections in 2027. 

That the NC and UML double crossed Dahal, whose Maoist Centre had taken advantage of being a ‘kingmaker’ party in Parliament to swap parties just to gain and remain in power. But Oli and Deuba seemed to think enough was enough, especially since Dahal was letting his Home Minister from the RSP to go after the top leaders in the NC and UML on corruption charges.

The two leaders also said constitutional amendments on electoral laws are necessary to “ensure political stability”. This would mean scrapping proportional representation and makes it more difficult for smaller parties to gain seats in the House. 

These amendments will be easier said than done because even the NC and UML cannot muster the two-third majority required to revise the Constitution without support from the Maoists and the Unified Socialists in the National Assembly. Both are now seething against Oli or Deuba. 

On Friday, national attention will focus on who gets which ministry in the new government. Oli and Deuba cut a deal for the NC to have 10 ministries, and the UML getting 9. They already decided that the home ministry should go to NC and finance the UML. Deuba’s wife, Arzu, is said to be eyeing the Foreign Ministry.  

Like we wrote in this space last month, Nepal’s international diplomacy is just an extension of' power sharing that rewards party loyalists. The decision of the UML-Maoist government in June to recall 11 ambassadors and propose eight new ambassadors under the UML, Maoist, and Unified Socialist quota now hangs in the balance. 

Araniko Highway bikes NT
Two-wheelers stuck in the mud in the Araniko Highway after heavy rainfall. Photo: RAJKUMAR PARAJULI

It is likely the Maoist and Unified Socialist ambassador nominees will be crossed out, and it will be interesting to see who gets critical missions to India, China, and the US. 

This was in essence a joint power grab to stop investigations into scandals that both their top leaders are implicated in: the NC in the fake Bhutanese refugee scam, and the UML in a land grab of a state-owned tea estate in Jhapa. And most Nepalis seem to be aware that this is a marriage of convenience that will not make their lives better.

Some experts have argued that a NC-UML alliance would be the best bet for relative political stability. Deuba and Oli, now have to prove that to be true. 

The NC has been demanding that RSP chair Rabi Lamichhane be investigated for his alleged involvement in misappropriating funds from co-operatives he was involved in.

The two parties in power must now ensure that ongoing probes into corruption scandals are fully looked into and the perpetrators held accountable, whichever parties they may belong to. Given the premise that this coalition was the result of the NC and UML trying to prevent probes, there is little chance of that happening. 

The Maoists and the RSP must now be an effective opposition front. Given the tit-for-tat nature of Nepali politics, it is a no-brainer that the RSP will keep going after NC and UML leaders implicated in scandals. 

The RSP will also have to clean up its own image before the next election, but that will be hard when it is imitating the political culture of the same parties it vowed to be an alternative to. 

This week, the party stripped General Secretary Mukul Dhakal of all responsibilities after he leaked a scathing report accusing Lamichhane of putting himself above party  interests. 

Nepal’s politics has been dominated by the whims of the same three ageing politicians and their parties since 2006.

While they have been engaged in political theatre and trading barbs, 80 people have died across Nepal in floods and landslides since the beginning of monsoon. 

Vehicles mired in the mud on Nepal’s highways this week are a fitting metaphor of the nation’s politics.

Shristi Karki