The government of Prime Minister Sushil Koirala is facing criticism for its slow pace and indecisiveness in important matters.
When 74-year-old Sushil Koirala took the oath of office in February 2014, everyone in Nepal was too busy to celebrate the ‘landmark’ achievement to give any consideration to other factors – such as his age and the ability to run a difficult country like Nepal, which has highly complicated political dynamics. The people, including those who belonged to the over 130 political parties of Nepal, were happy because all the stakeholders had finally agreed on one candidate for the position of prime minister.
Their joy was not misplaced because there was bickering and wrangling soon after the general elections which were held in November 2013, six months after the Constituent Assembly was dissolved in May 2013. Even the conduct of the elections was an ordeal itself. There was much delay and uncertainty around the issue. Calls for the boycott of the elections by a number of political parties, including
the second biggest party of Nepal, the UCPN-M, did not help matters either. Violent protests before, and even on the day of the elections, resulted in many deaths. So the happiness of the Nepali nation knew no bounds when it finally chose a person to serve as prime minister, over two months after the general elections.
In their excitement of finally having resolved a leadership crisis, the political parties forgot to take into account many factors, the foremost being ‘who’ they had chosen to take charge of Nepal’s affairs.
The incumbent, Sushil Koirala, has all the qualities of a statesman. He belongs to the well-respected political family of Koiralas. He is related to three former prime ministers of Nepal -- Matrika Prasad Koirala, Girija Prasad Koirala and Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala. Prime Minister Koirala has spent almost 16 years in exile in India after the introduction of the Panchayat system by Nepal’s monarchs, which only served to enhance his stature.
His political leanings, which were social-democratic, swayed him towards the Nepali Congress. From being a member of the Central Working Committee of the party, he progressed to become the general secretary and then the vice president and eventually rose to the position of president of the Nepali Congress in 2010. His personal life is also a perfect example of simplicity and austerity. He never married and is a man of simple tastes. In a country where politicians are known for their wealth, Koirala does not own even a house or land. His total declared assets are three mobile phones. After this disclosure, the BBC declared him “one of the world’s poorest heads of state”. Earlier this year, on his return to Nepal from Myanmar where he had gone to attend the BIMSTECH Summit, Koirala deposited $650, which was given to him as allowance for his stay in Myanmar.
Since Koirala continues to display such rare traits, it is hard even for his worst critics to doubt his integrity and sincerity to work for his country. But while his intentions remain above scrutiny and criticism, it is the lack of materialization of his plans and promises into actions that have set many a tongue wagging.
When the initial euphoria over Koirala’s selection for the prime ministerial slot died, the realization hit the people that he may be too old for the job and may not be able to assert his powers like a younger candidate would have. In a recent parliamentary meeting of the Nepali Congress, a large number of members criticized Koirala “for not exercising his powers and for creating inertia in the government by not taking decisions in time.”
His indecisiveness became apparent when his cabinet failed to nominate candidates on the 26 vacant seats of the Constituent Assembly. In normal circumstances, 26 vacant seats in an assembly of 600 should not have mattered. But mattered a lot in the case of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly which has the representation of several marginalized groups and even the transgender community. If some seats fall vacant after the elections, it is the government’s responsibility to nominate members on those seats. But the government of Nepal, headed by Koirala, has failed to fulfill its prime responsibility. When the seats remained vacant even after six months of election, an irritated parliamentarian took the matter to the Supreme Court. An angry Supreme Court ordered the government to fill the vacant seats in 15 days.
It is not only the seats of the CA which demanded the government’s attention. A fairly large number of positions in the administration, security forces, judiciary and foreign service still remain vacant because of the indecision of the government.
Then there is the matter of the local government elections. Installing the local government was one of the major promises of the Nepali Congress during its election campaign. After coming to power, the party announced that it would hold elections for the local bodies by June. However, Home Minister Bom Dev Gautam declared later that the elections would take place only after the promulgation of the new constitution. In other words, people should stop hoping to see their representatives working at the grassroots level to get the local problem solved.
The situation has worsened to such an extent that the media has started ridiculing the government’s attitude. Mocking the prime minister, a news magazine wrote that perhaps Sushil Koirala takes the saying ‘better late than never’ too literally. Another newspaper declared that he believes in working “at a snail’s pace”.
Prime Minister Koirala was also criticized for his “lethargic attitude” during his visit to India to attend Narendra Modi’s oath-taking ceremony. Many analysts were of the view that his visit failed to impress. Commenting on the importance and outcome of Koirala’s visit, former foreign minister Ramesh Nath Pandey said, “Nepal failed to maintain symbolism and substance in New Delhi during the meetings with SAARC leaders and the Indian leadership. Symbolism and substance are very important in diplomacy. Symbolism helps shape a favorable atmosphere in diplomacy. Nepalese leadership failed on this front."
Besides these matters, Koirala has also been fighting health issues, some of which are quite serious. He has been undergoing treatment for tongue cancer for quite some time and visited the U.S. recently for a detailed health check-up. The age factor and the health issues have given the critics of Prime Minister Koirala yet another opportunity to target his performance.
Unfortunately, Koirala’s critics do not belong to his rival parties only. A large number of them are either from the Nepali Congress or belong to its allies. Criticism of Koirala witnessed a surge as his government completed its 100 days in power in May. Many expressed their apprehensions about the ability of the Koirala-led government to deliver on its basic responsibility: make a new constitution for the country. Writing for Spotlight Nepal, journalist Abhijit Sharma noticed that much of Koirala's hundred days in office had been “marred by extremely slow decision making, coupled with a growing mistrust.”
The mistrust may soon lead to widespread unrest in the country. Considering the threats of the allies of the NC government to quit the coalition if it keeps delaying important matters, the days ahead could be dangerous for Sushil Koirala’s government. The writer is assistant editor at SouthAsia. She focuses on issues of political and social interest.