Print Edition - 2018-12-31  |  2018 The Year of Promises

Disappointing Oli

  • People are fast losing faith in the strongest government the country has in decades.
- Binod Ghimire
This government cannot be held accountable for the mess it inherited from earlier governments. Changes will take time

Dec 31, 2018-

2018 started on a high note. Putting an end to decades-long political instability, the people voted in a strong government. The left alliance, which went on to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), secured close to a two-thirds majority on the plank of prosperity, promised by the two parties—then CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre). It was also the endorsement of the ‘nationalist’ image then prime minister and UML chairman KP Sharma Oli had built by taking a strong stance against the Indian blockade of 2015.

The historical trade and transit agreement he signed with China in his first stint as prime minister earned him the trust of millions of people who suffered tremendously from the blockade. This popularity converted into votes in all—local, provincial and federal—elections. When Oli seized the executive leadership for the second time early this year, even his opponents believed he wasn’t going to be just another premier.

As the year comes to its end, discontent and distrust have taken over the hopes and trust many harboured at the beginning of 2018. Not just the general public, but party members are also attacking the Oli government for failing to meet even minimum public expectations. Political analysts say the incumbent administration is losing public support due to its failure to effectively deliver on its promises. Besides, Oli’s flippant comments on every single issue have further eroded its image.

Putting a ban on demonstrations at Maitighar in Kathmandu was one of the government’s first steps that antagonised the public. To many, using force to ferry Dr Govinda KC, who has long been fighting for reforms in the medical education sector, from Jumla to Kathmandu despite criticism from different quarters was a blunder.

Home Ministry officials forcibly taking a doctor from the National Trauma Centre and presurring him to prepare a medical report suitable for former Maoist combatants earned the administration infamy. These alleged instructions gave the opposition an opportunity to criticise the communist regime for its perceived authoritarian tendencies.

Those expecting better service delivery, curbs in corruption and expedited development works were disappointed to hear Oli say, “This government cannot be held accountable for the mess it inherited from earlier governments. Changes will take time.”

Leftist analyst Shyam Shrestha said the incumbent government, despite having a huge mandate, has largely failed to take pro-people decisions. “People don’t expect massive changes overnight. But they must be assured that the government is doing something for them,” he said.

Small initiatives like improving roads that have been abandoned for years, ending the dominance of middlemen in agricultural trade and improving service delivery could have sent across a positive message, Shrestha observed.

While people don’t feel the government’s presence in most sectors, it tried selling far-fetched dreams like owning a merchant ship, construction of railways, and gas pipelines to every household. Shrestha says it is necessary to have an ambitious long-term plan but there has to be a solid foundation. Not just on the development front, the government has floundered also in ensuring good governance and maintaining law and order.

The failure to book the culprits of Nirmala Pant, a teenager murdered after being raped in Mahendranagar, five months after the incident is one of the greatest failures of the government to provide justice for crimes. Reports filed with the authorities show that incidents of rape and sexual assault are growing in the lack of efficient measures to curb them. Corruption shows no signs of ebbing despite reiterated claims by the prime minister that he won’t tolerate any acts of irregularities.

Hari Roka, who closely watches the left parties, says the NCP and its leadership took their overwhelming electoral majority as a licence to make arbitrary moves. Pouring millions of rupees into publicity for the social security scheme with enormous posters of Oli and his ministers, and wasting state resources on the conference of the controversial South Korea-based Universal Peace Federation are some of the instances Roka presents to indicate the direction the government is moving in.

“This definitely does not characterise a pro-people government,” Roka told the Post. Despite a veteran economist leading the Finance Ministry, there has been no desired progress in the economic sector. The trade deficit is growing, the balance of payment situation isn’t satisfactory while the spending on infrastructure continues to be dismal.

Both analysts have a common observation that the government isn’t doing enough to cement the federal set-up. They are upset to see the NCP’s commitment to taking ‘Singha Durbar to the people’s doorstep’ as mere sloganeering. Shrestha and Roka say the centralised mindset in governance hasn’t changed a bit, posing a huge threat to federalism.

Even senior party leaders are openly questioning the government’s performance. Oli faced huge criticism from his comrades in the recent Standing Committee meeting. Leaders including Bam Dev Gautam, who often stood for Oli, demanded changes in his style of running the government and the party together with Dahal. He was asked to lead either the government or the party, as putting legs in two boats was dangerous.

“Most of the leaders who addressed the meeting sought improvements in the functioning of the government and the party,” said Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member. “Everyone feels that this government is capable of making changes. It needs to realise its strengths and work to keep its electoral promises.” As the image of the party changes with the government’s performance, NCP leaders fear they will lose public support if the poor performance persists.

The top party leadership does not buy the argument that the government has failed to deliver. The signing of the protocol on trade and transit with China, a preliminary survey of the railway lines from China and India, and feasibility study on inland waterways on Koshi and Narayani rivers from India’s Ganga, they claim, are the historic achievements of the Oli government. These could go down in history as great works.

“Federalism is an entirely new concept for us. The government, despite a number of constraints, has excelled on different fronts,” party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal said in the House meeting on December 26. “The government is well aware of high public expectations and is investing every effort to achieve them.”

Shrestha and Roka believe that the initiative to end transport syndicates, the deal with China, and efforts to enhance connectivity with neighbours are welcome steps, even if it is too early to judge how the country can benefit.

“Not all is lost. There are still good four years for any committed government to bring about changes,” Shrestha says. “It’s up to Oli whether he wants to create history or retire as his predecessors did.”

Published: 31-12-2018 09:21

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