Nepal’s New Prime Minister Brings Hope and History

The country of Nepal has a new leader.  A landslide victory by the Left Alliance in Nepal has ushered in the appointment of the 38th Prime Minister of Nepal, Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli (KP Oli) on February 15, 2018.  The Left Alliance made up of Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the country’s other major Communist Party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) swept to victory in the country’s recent elections.  Controlling all centers of power from the federal level all the way down to the provincial and local levels, Oli is viewed to have the best opportunity to lead Nepal into a new era of peace, stability and economic development.

  Newly-elected Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli waves to a gathering of people after the meeting of Parliament outside the Legislature-Parliament building, in New Baneshwor, Kathmandu. Photo: Skanda Gautam/ THT

Newly-elected Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli waves to a gathering of people after the meeting of Parliament outside the Legislature-Parliament building, in New Baneshwor, Kathmandu. Photo: Skanda Gautam/ THT

Prime Minister Oli in many ways reflects the recent history of Nepal.  Growing up in rural eastern Nepal, Oli was became involved in politics after dropping out of secondary school in 1966 and joined the Communist Party of Nepal at the age of 18 in 1970.  The communist movement at that time acted in direct opposition to the Panchayat System that had been enacted by King Mahendra in 1961.  The Panchayat System of governance in effect eliminated all democratic representation instead placing almost authoritarian power in the hands of the ruling King.  Communist party members and other political dissidents promoted a redistribution of wealth and influence from traditional centers, represented by the ruling monarchy, to the common people.  For this reason, the movement became very influential among the marginalized.  After taking up leadership roles with the movement, Oli was imprisoned for 14 years beginning in 1973 after being charged with being involved with subversive politics.  It was very common for political dissidents to be imprisoned for involvement with radical communist politics, and this seems to coincide with the complex relationship of the Nepali people with the powers that govern them.  The transition from authoritarian monarchic rule to a constitutional monarchy occurred in 1990, but was followed by a violent decade-long Maoist insurgency that led to the eventual overthrow of the monarchy in 2008 and the eventual creation of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.  Since the promulgation of the constitution in 2015, Nepal has seen a true shift toward representative rule culminating in last year’s successful elections at the local, provincial and federal levels.

KP Oli finds himself in charge of a unified government that still faces many challenges.  While the pieces are in place to make positive strides in the areas outlined by Oli; namely peace, stability and economic development, there remain significant barriers to achieving these goals.

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The first challenge Oli and his government face is the dependence on foreign aid.  Nepal remains one of the world’s poorest countries with a government marred by instability, inefficiency and corruption.  The environment has made it nearly impossible for industry and investment to take root and flourish leading to the country’s ongoing status as one of the world’s poorest countries.  The lack of political stability and leadership has compounded challenges created by the April-May 2015 earthquakes that killed nearly 9,000 people and left much of the country in ruin further reinforcing the dependence on foreign aid.  Encouraging foreign aid will continue to be necessary, but it must be done with transparency and equitable distribution to reestablish trust with the foreign community.   In addition, the federal government will be tasked with leveraging these resources and distributing them to the provincial and local levels to fulfill its commitment to its constituents while encouraging an environment that promotes private investment and broad economic growth

  Nepal's new Prime Minister K.P. Oli, left, shakes hand with Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) after taking the oath of office at the Presidential building in Kathmandu, Nepal (Feb. 15, 2018). Photo: AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha

Nepal's new Prime Minister K.P. Oli, left, shakes hand with Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) after taking the oath of office at the Presidential building in Kathmandu, Nepal (Feb. 15, 2018). Photo: AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha

The second challenge facing the Prime Minister will need to manage the balance of power among the newly formed Left Alliance.  The Alliance helped sweep the combined Communist leaning parties to victory, but their ideology and policies are not perfectly aligned.  Historically, the United Marxist/Leninist party led by Prime Minister Oli has advocated for a multi-party democracy. The Maoist Center led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) has advocated for a strict one-party communist regime, seeking power through armed revolt from 1996-2006.  While the last decade has seen a move by the Maoist Center toward a more pro-Marxist/Leninist ideology regarding multi-party representation, it remains to be seen how the parties blend their ideologies into a single platform.  As it stands, power sharing seems to be the most important issue with Prachanda and the Maoist Center supporting the formation of the Oli-led government for an initial 5-year term followed by a 5-year term to be led by Prachanda.  The hope is for this agreement and the Left Alliance to provide Nepal the stability it so desperately needs.

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Finally, and possibly most daunting, will be how the new leadership balances the influence exerted by China and India.  This has always been a challenge for the tiny Himalayan nation, but now more than ever the large powers look to impose their will on the newly formed government.  Prime Minister Oli has often been linked to pro-China positions, while Prachanda has been seen as more pro-India.  Both China and India have hailed the formation of the new Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal.  Relations have been strained at times with both in recent years, and word from the new leadership in Nepal is their intention to establish positive relations with both.  As the land-locked country depends heavily on imports from both, forming a balanced approach that benefits all the people of Nepal will ultimately spell success or failure for the new leadership.

As the new government and Prime Minister Oli look ahead with hope, I encourage them not to forget the past.  My hope is and always will be with the people of Nepal.