The Cost of Political Instability in Nepal

 

Last week, Nepal’s Parliament elected Pushpa Kamal Dahal as prime minister, in the country’s 25th change in leadership in 26 years. Mr. Dahal’s predecessor, K. P. Sharma Oli, resigned last month after only nine months in office.

Political instability is harming Nepal’s struggling economy, which is expected to grow only 1.5 percent this year, and threatens to stall further relief for victims of last year’s devastating earthquake.

Unfortunately, there is little hope for stable governance in the near future. Mr. Dahal, under a power-sharing agreement between his Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist-Center) and the Nepali Congress party, will serve as prime minister for nine months, after which power will pass to Sher Bahadur Deuba, chairman of the Nepali Congress party, for nine months. That transition could well add to the political turmoil involving disputes over Nepal’s new Constitution, which was approved by the Parliament last September, and jockeying between Nepal’s powerful neighbors, India andChina.

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Nepal earthquake victims in a displacement camp in Kathmandu. CreditTom Van Cakenberghe/Getty Images

Nepal’s southern plains bordering India were gripped by violent protestslast fall after the Madhesis, who have strong cultural ties to India, and other ethnic groups objected to the federal districts in the new Constitution, which they say do not adequately represent them. Many Nepalese blamed India for a subsequent trade halt — including vital fuel deliveries — across the border. India claimed the protests made cross-border trade impossible.

Mr. Oli, who was elected prime minister last October during a period of public anger toward India over the trade issue, maintained a hard line toward India, and made building relations with China a priority. On Sunday, he warned India against “unnatural meddling” in Nepal’s affairs, and said his party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), would fight any attempts to reverse agreements he had signed with China, including a transit and trade pact. So far, both India and China have expressed support for Mr. Dahal’s new government.

Mr. Dahal, a former Maoist rebel leader who was prime minister from August 2008 to May 2009, has promised to address Madhesi demands, though he hailed the passage of the Constitution in its current form last fall as “a victory of the dreams of the thousands of martyrs and disappeared fighters” of the Maoist insurgency. He will have to move quickly to organize local elections, paving the way for national and provincial elections under Mr. Deuba’s watch, and preparing the ground for constitutional changes to accommodate Madhesi demands.

Meanwhile, $4.1 billion in foreign grants and soft loans have yet to be disbursed to victims of last year’s earthquake. Some 770,000 Nepalese households will most likely have to go through another winter in temporary structures. While Nepal’s political leaders are embroiled in interminable fights, the country’s needs are going unaddressed.

courtesy The NewYork Times

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