India for a stable and friendly Govt in Nepal

Anand Kumar
Nepal is all set to form a new government after the elections were held on 20 November 2022. In these elections Nepali Congress has emerged as the biggest political party and the five party coalition led by it has emerged as the biggest group. This coalition has secured 136 seats in the parliament, but they are still short of two seats from simple majority. On the other hand, the main opposition CPN-UML secured second position with 78 seats. In this situation, hectic political efforts are on to form the next government but it is still not clear who would head it and what would be its composition.
Nepal went through a long period of traumatic Maoist insurgency. This led to abolition of monarchy in the country in 2008. Subsequently, a new constitution was promulgated in 2015 which ushered in a new political order. Nepal was divided into seven provinces. The parliament of Nepal has 272 MPs. Under the new constitution Nepal has mixed electoral system. Its 60 percent of MPs are elected through first past the post system. Thus 165 MPs are directly elected by the people whereas 110 MPs who make 40 percent of the parliamentarians are elected through proportional representation. To become the prime minister of the country support of 138 MPs is required.
Along with the parliamentary elections provincial elections for all seven provinces were also held. Even in these elections no party or political alliance has got clear majority. As a result, search for alliance partners is on in all provinces. Nepal’s ruling alliance is in comfortable position in at least four provinces.
There were several prominent issues in Nepal elections. The most important was economy as the country has still not recovered from the impact of Corona pandemic. This pandemic has impacted tourism, one of the important sectors in Nepalese economy. Thus revival of tourism is very important for Nepal. Besides, the Russia -Ukraine war like elsewhere has also affected people of Nepal. The supply side constraint has led to inflation. Nepal is also plagued by corruption that worsens the misery of common people. Political instability has also been an important concern as the country has seen 13 Governments in last 16 years. Interestingly, in the latest elections geopolitics also figured prominently and strategic and economic Interest with India and China was intensely discussed.
Certain trends were discernible. They have been marked by lower voter turnout. Only 61 percent of the voters cast their votes which was quite low by Nepalese standards. Many interpreted this as voter’s disenchantment with politicians. A decline in the vote share of the Maoists party was also seen. A number of new faces were elected while several prominent politicians lost. This was seen as a sign of frustration with old parties and old leaders. Prior to these elections a young candidate, Balendra Shah had won for mayor of Kathmandu and took office on 30 May 2022. Certain new political and ideological strands were also visible. A new political party Rashtriya Swatantra Party (RSP) was formed which got good number of votes and became a national party. Pro-monarchy Rashtriya Prjatantra Party (RPP) got a new lease of life. This made many wonder whether there was a political vacuum or there was a problem with the political system itself. It was also noted that certain candidates won but their political parties could not get more seats in proportional representation. This meant that there was no endorsement of the political parties they belonged to but of the individual candidates.
Nepal’s caretaker Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ who contested elections as alliance partners have to work out a power sharing deal. They have reached a broad consensus that they will divide the tenure between them but Prachanda reportedly wants first to be the Prime Minister. Nepali Congress on the other hand says that as the largest party they have the first claim and they should first get the post of Prime Minister. Meanwhile, the main opposition party leader KP Sharma Oli has also reached out to Prachanda and has reportedly offered him to make Prime Minister. It is quite clear that in the days to come Nepali politics is going to see hectic negotiations.
It is often said that politics makes strange bedfellows. This is nowhere seen better than in the Nepali politics. In the Nepalese elections political parties allied without ideology. The political fragmentation in Nepal shows that the coalition politics is here to stay. Thus managing coalition and ambition of leaders will be a challenge for any leader who will be heading the government. Besides, lot of churning is taking place in Nepali politics including the politics of Tarai. New political forces have emerged.
India also has important stakes in the outcome of the Nepalese elections. Political development in Nepal is of great significance. India shares 1800 km long open border. Ideally India would like political stability in Nepal and a government with which it can work with. China will obviously prefer Oli and support his endeavours to form the government. Recent boost in energy trade is a bright spot in India-Nepal relationship. At the same time India should also go for infrastructural development and people centric projects. In neighbourhood India should be ready to work with whichever government is in power.
(The author is Associate Fellow Manohar Parikkar Institute for Defense Studies & Analyses (MP-IDSA)