The people must take leadership in a democracy… and elected leaders should listen to them,” Prime Minister Oli said in a speech at Oxford University last week.
But back home, protests over the controversial Guthi Bill had snowballed precisely because his government had ignored the will of the people in trying to ram that and other legislation through Parliament.
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Combined with the Media Council Bill, which would have dampened freedom of expression, the National Human Rights Commission Bill, which could undermine the constitutional body’s independence, an attempt to interfere with academic appointments, and other decisions, Oli showed an inclination to centralise power and go it alone.
The charitable explanation for these missteps is that the Oli administration is receiving bad advice that is landing the Prime Minister in trouble. However, there is also the strong possibility that the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is not really committed to upholding democratic values.
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Although he tried in Davos earlier this year, and during last week’s visit to the UK, France and Switzerland, to play down his government’s ‘communist’ image by speaking about his adherence to an open society, Oli’s actions at home speak louder than words.
While the Guthi Bill was supposedly intended to regulate the opaqueness in the management of some trusts, there it was a blatant attempt to grab valuable urban real estate.
That bill stirred a hornet’s nest, especially among the Valley’s Newa community. And despite the government shelving it, tens of thousands of people poured into Mandala Square on Wednesday in an unprecedented show of force. They wanted the Guthi Bill to be scrapped and ministers who have made disparaging remarks to be sacked.
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Conspicuous by his silence in all this is NCP co-chair and impatient prime minister-in-waiting Pushpa Kamal Dahal. He seems to be letting Oli stew in his own juice. The government tried earlier to squeeze the press with the Media Council Bill, but that too backfired badly. Indeed, Oli has centralised so much power in himself that when things go wrong, like now, he has to take the flak.
It is not just the new laws that have badly exposed the government’s intent. Nearly two years into its tenure, the ruling party made up of former UML and Maoists has little to show for itself. Laws concerning local governments are in limbo, creating uncertainty over jurisdiction and decision-making.
Says advocate Radheshyam Adhikari: “We see the government go from one blunder to the next, and it begs the question of whether the Prime Minister is in charge.”
It is hard to see what Oli can do now except take recourse in a cabinet reshuffle. A cabinet face change is a time-honoured, time-buying tactic of Nepal’s rulers, and that could be his next move.