In 2002, Deuba dissolved Parliament (much like Oli did this year) declared a state of emergency and was eventually sacked by King Gyanendra who in a televised address called his prime minister “incompetent”.
The king used and disposed of Deuba like a raggedy doll, bringing him back as prime minister for his third time (2004-05) and then promptly putting him under house arrest for corruption after he staged a royal-military coup on 1 February 2005.
Despite the ignominy, Deuba kept resurrecting himself. He returned to Baluwatar after 12 years in 2017 after consolidating his grip over the Nepali Congress and cobbling a coalition with the Maoists. Being prime minister between two phases of the election, Deuba after much bargaining with Dahal handed over the Home Ministry to the Maoists.
He must have had a strong sense of déjà vu when he had to undertake identical negotiations last week with Pushpa Kamal Dahal over the Cabinet. This time, not to repeat the mistake and with an eye on the 2023 elections, Deuba kept the Home Ministry but had to relinquish Finance to the Maoists. Now that he has won the vote in the House, there will be more parties to reward and appease with ministerial posts.
There are no permanent friends and foes in politics. But it is an irony of ironies that Deuba is now at the helm with the help of ‘Prachanda’ who tried to assassinate him, and on whose head he had announced a ransom during the conflict.
The return of Sher Bahadur Deuba signifies a break from the paralysing power struggle that prevented the Oli administration from addressing the people’s everyday concerns during the pandemic. The confidence vote this week also saves the exchequer an estimated Rs100 billion for an early election that will now not be needed.
And because this is essentially an election government, Deuba will have to get his disparate coalition to perform and deliver like never before. If he can maintain discipline in the Cabinet, showcase transparency, make breakthroughs in vaccination, job creation and disaster relief, voters may take kindly to him.
The signs are not good. Even before he won the vote, Deuba got his Nepali Congress colleague Bijya Kumar Gachhedar who had been convicted of corruption released on bail, and he has vowed to release another party member, Aftab Alam, who is in jail for murder.
With this kind of track record, and given that this is a coalition with the Maoist Centre, we cannot expect meaningful progress on transitional justice for the victims of the conflict either.
If the Deuba government behaves like it has before, it will only give the UML the chance to exploit the NC’s incumbency disadvantage to return to power in 2023.