What Nepal’s recent general elections verdict unfolds, whose interest does the new government serves?

As often quoted by political pundits, democracy is sometimes dramacracy Nepal’s current political environment perfectly resembles this saying. Federal and provincial assembly general elections were successfully held in Nepal on November 20 earlier this year. Following the promulgation of Nepal’s new constitution, drafted by the elected Constituent Assembly in 2015, it was the country’s second general election.

In the run-up to the elections, parties campaigned for electoral coalitions. Two main coalitions were competing in the elections: KP Oli’s led Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), which was the opposition coalition, and the Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress (NC) led five-party government coalition that included Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s Communist Party of Nepal Maoist Centre (CPN-MC). NC emerged as the single largest party, followed by CPN UML, which comes next. “As expected, the November 20 election produced a fractured result. The NC emerged as the largest party, winning 89 seats in the federal parliament. CPN-UML, CPN-MC, the National Independent Party (NIP), and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) rounded off the top five, winning 78, 32, 20, and 14 seats, respectively”.

What is new from this election result is the rise of the Rashtriya Swantantra Party (National Independent Part, NIP), led by TV personality Rabi Lamichane, the Nagarik Unmukti Party, led by Ranjita Shrestha Chaudhary, Resham Chaudhary’s wife, a political icon of the Tharu community who is now imprisoned being accused of killing nine police officers during a violent protest, and Dr. Chandra Kanta Raut aka CK Raut-led Janmat Party has sparked a newfound interest in Nepalese politics which might be a cornerstone for bringing Nepalese youth in parliament in the near future. Therefore, the general election results indicate that it was a progressively pragmatic election rather than a completely transformative one because the top three parties were those who have been in government for a long time.

The pre-poll surveys predicted the emergence of a few newcomers, but the final figures are surprising. Consider whether there is something more surprising, than it is Pushpa Kamal Dahal, alias Prachanda, taking the oath of office as prime minister for the third time while only holding 32 seats out of 275 in the legislature. In the dramatic turn of events, Prachanda walked out of the then five-party ruling coalition and became prime minister with the help of KP Oli’s CPN UML and seven other smaller parties.

Political instability and power struggle have become prominent features of the Nepalese political environment. People are also divided according to ideologies, resulting in a fractured mandate. With no single party having a mandate of majority, the coalition-led government has to go through many tests and might fall weak on issues of national interests as each coalition partner have different stakes and interests.

When the coalition led by Prachanda triumphed in the house with a commanding majority, the series of unexpected developments continued. The coalition government also received a vote of confidence from the Nepali Congress party, the single largest opposition party. “Out of the 270 members in the House of Representatives present during the voting, 268 voted in favor of Prime Minister’ Prachanda’, while two voted against him”. Due to such a dramatic voting turnaround, the Prachanda-led coalition government becomes a historical government of national consensus. Nepal became the rarest of rare countries with a multiparty democratic system with no opposition political parties; expert says after Prachanda won the vote of confidence.

In an unforeseen turn of events, the drama continues; deputy prime minister and home minister Rabi Lamichane, one of the lieutenants of Prachanda to lead the government, was sacked down following the verdict of Supreme Court verdict, which states his citizenship is illegal. Lamichane’s citizenship was revoked due to the fact that the legal requirements for reviving his Nepali citizenship after renunciating his US citizenship had not been met. “As Rabi Lamichane has not completed the process for reacquiring his Nepali citizenship after renouncing his American citizenship, he cannot be a candidate for the position of a member of the House of Representatives or be elected to that position, reads the verdict .” Following this dramatic turn of event, Rashtriya Swantantra Party left the ruling coalition government however continue the vote of confidence to the government. After these developments, mixed opinion came out to the surface; some mock that the country’s home minister is a citizen of no nation, while other says that whatever can go wrong is going wrong in Nepalese Politics.

Periodic elections and government formation are an achievement considering Nepal’s political situation. Regarding the new government, significantly less excitement is seen as the mass public believes that this government has little to offer and is skeptical that the government will be able to deliver. Though Prachanda has cleverly managed to form the government, the road away will be challenging to walk on. His main challenge will be balancing coalition partners, maintaining the internal power dynamics, and holding power. Prachanda’s ability to delicately balance the internal power dynamic will be reflected in the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Elections. Other challenges include rising inflation and price hikes, trade deficit, declining forex reserves, unemployment, massive outwards movement of Youths for higher studies, heavily rely on remittance, and an import-dominated economy.

However, much of Prachanda’s Success will depend on how Nepal calibrates its foreign policy execution. However, the relationship between Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and significant powers and close neighbors has a tumultuous background. He has the propensity to make straightforward promises that he then breaches. “Given the geostrategic importance of Nepal, Dahal’s startling rise to power is being followed with great interest in New Delhi, Washington, Beijing, Brussels, and other capitals.” According to those who are closely monitoring the new government’s foreign policy objectives, Dahal has several obstacles on his path to success, with balancing relations with both Western and neighboring countries posing the most significant difficulty.

“Nepal is one of several South Asian countries where India and China both seek influence.” For a long back, Nepal has been a traditional sphere of the dominance of both India and china. Both countries have invested heavily in Nepal across various sectors and significantly influenced Nepalese politics. With the communist government on board, Beijing seems to be in the front seat; however, it cannot be complacent because things might go out of their favor in the real-time while New Delhi is concerned with dealing KP Oli’s role as he is the kingmaker of this government.

Looking at the developments of the recent past, the United States has now entered into the traditional sphere of the dominance of China and India. Kathmandu is now strategically aligned with Washington DC geopolitically. The Nepalese parliament has ratified the MCC compact, putting Washington in the political sphere of Kathmandu. Quite a few higher U.S. officials visited Nepal which includes, Donald Lu, assistant secretary of state for south and central Asian affairs; Uzra Zeya, Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights and the most recent one, Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs of the United States. All of these visits have helped to increase the United States’ influence in the Himalayan nation.

Growing Washington’s influence will be a minor issue for New Delhi as both interests are more or less similar. However, Beijing will not entertain the Washington-New Delhi tie-up over Kathmandu. Ideologically the current government is Beijing-friendly but is skeptical that the U.S. might leverage over Tibet issue. At a time when the BRI projects are being halted, it will be essential to see how Beijing tackles the recent developments.

These powerful countries will strive for sway in Nepal. Regarding Nepal’s ties with its immediate neighbors and the United States, Dahal has been a pragmatist. He has enough experience in politics and power to comprehend the significance of the three major countries and their objectives in Nepal. The most challenging job will be how Nepal interacts with India, China, and the U.S. in the middle of the regional Indo-China conflict and the China-America conflict. Therefore, this administration will have to act to maintain a relationship with these three countries at equi-proximity, ensuring it does not serve one’s interest.

We will have to put our patience to the test to find out whether Nepal has maintained its relationships with India, China, and the United States at equi-proximity or if it has been a pawn that serves one’s interests.

Avinav Singh Khatri
Avinav Singh Khatri
AVINAV SINGH KHATRI is a research intern at Nepal Institute for International Co-operation and Engagement (NIICE) and holds a Master's degree in International Studies from Symbiosis School of International Studies, Pune. His research interests include political and peacebuilding affairs, governance, foreign policy, social justice, and humanitarian and development issues.