Nepal Foreign Affairs (KATHMANDU, October 14) –
- Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, a relatively dynamic leader of Nepali politics, has been elected the new Prime Minster of Nepal on 12th October 2015.
- He has a huge challenge to normalized relationship with India, which has, to show displeasure towards the new constitution on Madhesh issue, imposed an unofficial economic blockade on Nepal.
- The problems are big but resolvable, for which the support of Nepali Congress, the largest party in the parliament, is required
- A possible constitutional amendment in response to the Madhesh demands will help ease ongoing problems with India and will give Madheshi parties a reason to be the part of the solution.
On Sunday, 11th October 2015, Nepal’s parliament elected Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli as the country’s 38th Prime Minister. Oli is the Chairman of the center-left Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist and Leninist (CPN-UML). Since 1990, this party has a policy to strengthen competitive democratic politics and has commitment to the universal principles of human rights.
In the 597-member parliament, Oli received 338 votes, including of the Maoists, royalists and a section of dissenting Madeshi parties, while his opponent and incumbent Sushil Koirala received 249 votes.Oli’s CPN-UML and Koirala’s Nepali Congress (NC) party were coalition partners in the last government. Koirala became prime minister in 2014, but the constitution that was adopted on 20th September required him to step down. Nepali Congress will now be playing the role of the main opposition in the parliament.
Oli has an experience of serving as deputy prime minister and as a minister in previous governments even though he has a kidney problem and has had to make trips abroad for treatment to India and Thailand. He is considered comparatively dynamic and better organized.
Who is Oli?
Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, known as KP Oli in Nepali politics, began his political journey as a member of a communist youth movement in 1966.Born in the Terhathum district of eastern Nepal on February 22, 1952, Oli was educated in the plains of Jhapa in eastern Nepal, where he became influenced by local communist leaders as a teenager.
In 1970, Oli became a member of the Nepal Communist Party and began an underground life, as the erstwhile royal regime cracked down on communists.
He was arrested on and off and spent 14 years in prisons in different parts of the country during the 1970s and 80s. Oli was released in 1987, and became a central executive committee member of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist. He won elections to parliament in 1991, 1999, and 2013.
He served as home minister in 1994 and Deputy Prime Minister and foreign affairs minister in 2007. In February 2014, his party elected him chairman.
He was instrumental in devising a pro-democratic party policy in 1990, under the leadership of charismatic Madan Kumar Bhandari, the Secretary General of the party at the time. It was since then that the party rejected the idea of communist dictatorship and one party state, adopting modern competitive democracy and human rights as its key principles, quite a new proposition for the communist parties around the world.
Oli and his wife, Mrs. Radhika Shakya, have no children. They have supported life and education of several children of the families in need and deceased leaders of their party.
Challenges: India and Madhes
Oli comes to power at a delicate time, with Madhesis and other groups in the south protesting against the new constitution in riots that have left 45 people dead. India, which has close ties to the Madhesis, is also unhappy with the constitution.
While Oli is faced to conventional challenges of giving better governance, reduce corruption, and create jobs; he has new challenges of implementing federalism, an entirely new political phenomenon in Nepal. In the same way, he has to normalize ties with neighboring India, which has imposed an undeclared economic blockade over the new constitution. The country is facing a severe fuel shortage due to the blockade by India at key border checkpoints. Fuel and cargo trucks have been stopped at the border since late last month, after the constitution was approved.
Immediately after the Sunday election, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Oli on the phone and congratulated him on winning in ‘democratic and orderly elections’. He has also invited Oli to visit India. The Indian PM said that India values ties with Nepal, and wants to strengthen it even more. Probably indicating the Indian desire of better relations with Nepal, Oli’s assumption of office was responded by India with an “increase” in the petroleum supplies to a level of 40% of the normal. It was a clever ploy to please the newly anointed political stalwart, whom Indians have recently blamed of fueling ‘nationalistic’ (read anti-India) sentiments in Nepal.
According to a statement of India’s Ministry of External Affairs after Oli’s election to Nepal’s prime Minister, Modi expected that Oli would ‘carry all sections of society along, so that there is peace and stability’, which has been a continuous line of advice from India with regards to Nepal’s federalism.
India appears to have come to terms with Oli’s rather strong position, notwithstanding the Nepali Congress moving out of the coalition, his ability create space to reach out to dissenting constituencies. If he moves forward to amend the constitution and take the plains into confidence, India appears ready to reconcile. The task is relatively easy since the outgoing government, supported by UML, has already registered certain amendments in the parliament.
The coalition that Mr Oli leads is going to be a politically difficult one. He has brought the Maoists and royalists together, supported by the largest Madeshi party in the parliament. Although the cabinet is not going to be too large, there will be at least 27 ministers. The leader of the Royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal Mr Kamal Thapa has been appointed a Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Foreign Minister while the Maoist party leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara is likely to get another DPM and Home Ministry. In the same way Madeshi leader Bijaya Gachchhadar is given another DPM and Public Works ministry. A small cabinet was sworn in on the day of his assuming office on 13th October.
Election of the president
With the Nepali Congress party moving to become the main opposition, UML looks to have secured the position of the president as well. Oli’s confidante and vice president of the party Mrs. Bidya Devi Bhandari is expected to become the president. She is the widow of the party’s charismatic and venerable leader Madan Bhandari, who died in a road accident in 1993. The Maoists appear to have secured Vice-Presidency and Speaker of the House; candidates are yet to be known. These elections will have to take place in the next three weeks. However, given Prime Minister Oli’s astute ability to strategize, he may still strike by giving Presidency to Nepali Congress. This would at the same time shame and win him the Grand Old party which, by sending in Sushil Koirala again as the Prime Minister hopeful, did not keep its promise to support Oli in the prime ministerial election on 11th October.
Why did Koirala stand?
KP Oli was long expected to become the prime minister. In fact, he was called the de facto prime minister of the previous government as he led the pro-constitution agenda despite the fact that Sushil Koirala was prime minister. On 11th October, while giving candidacy for premiership, KP Oli and his party had shown a clear majority, demonstrating support across political parties. With the largest Madhesi party also backing him strongly, he was the candidate to beat. But to everyone’s surprise, Sushil Koirala, the incumbent, decided to stand against Oli without clearly showing the necessary numbers.
In July this year, when the four major parties (NC, UML, UCPN-M, Madhesi Forum-Democratic) signed a 16-point agreement, all except NC said that there was a gentlemen’s agreement among the signatories according to which KP Oli was to lead the next government, while Koirala was to become the President of the country. Wihin the ranks of Nepali Congress, influential leaders like Partiy General Secretary Krishna Sitaula and Deputy General Secretary Purna Bahadur Khadka tried to convince Koirala to honour the agreement. However, Koirala decided to stand. Justifying his candidacy, Koirala told the parliament on 12th October that he decided to stand as UML did not co-operate his government in ratifying the bill on Post-Earthquake Reconstruction and constitutional amendments. But this has only partial truths. The amendments were registered by the Koirala-led government while the reconstruction authority law was being rewritten in the Parliament’s Legislation Committee as the Maoists were extremely unhappy about it.
Political analysts have said without ambiguity that India actually wanted to break the alliance of the three parties by assuring Koirala the support of the agitating Madehsi parties, although their votes were clearly insufficient for majority. Without Koirala at the helm of Nepali Congress, stake of his family in the party would be in jeopardy in the party convention scheduled after six months. On the other hand, his candidacy helped bring the Madheis parties to the parliament, a show of their support to the constitution. A strong opposition like NC is good in competitive democracy but at the same time, disunity among major parties could make way for political instability, particularly in a situation like in the parliament where no single party has clear majority.
What happens to Madhes?
The issue of Madhes is directly related with India. The new Prime Minister’s ability to positively deal with India will determine his success in the government.
In what could be said the light at the end of the tunnel, an eight-point agreement, signed just before the formation of the government, between Prime minister Oli, Maoist leader Prachanda and Madhesi leader Bijay Gacchadar has three substantial content with regards to constitutional amendments. The agreement has willingness to assure proportional representation, to resolve the federal boundaries, and fix electoral constituencies on the basis of population as the primary factor. With these amendment passed, New Delhi will have a reason to smile as the regional Super Power, while the Madhesi parties will have a reason to come back to the parliament and be part of the solution.