Sher Bahadur Deuba takes over as Nepal’s new prime minister: Will he be able to prove himself?

The septuagenarian Nepali Congress leader has been at the helm of the country’s executive for four previous terms. And his upcoming tenure inspires little hope.

Nishan Khatiwada

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: Nepali Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba has taken over as Nepal’s new prime minister. This will be the fifth time the 75-year-old will lead the country’s executive.

Deuba was appointed the prime minister following a court order on Monday that ruled the erstwhile prime minister KP Oli’s move to dissolve parliament “unconstitutional” and issued a mandamus order in the name of the President to appoint him as the prime minister within two days. 

Deuba will take over the executive in a deeply sensitive time of the country’s history. With the court’s order, the country has overcome what many commentators have termed a “constitutional crisis” brought about by the dissolution of the lower house. Meanwhile, the country is still struggling to come out of the woods from the second wave of the pandemic.

The opposition alliance including the Nepali Congress, a faction of Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal, CPN Maoist Center have declared Deuba as their leader who will serve as PM. (The Madhav Nepal faction of CPN UML has left the alliance following the Court’s verdict.) It should be noted that Deuba has not become a prime minister following a public mandate. Neither is Deuba a politician who inspires confidence among the people. His four stints as a PM before the upcoming tenure had little positive highlights in them.

In recent months, when Oli began to subvert the constitution and showed increasingly authoritarian tendencies, Deuba, as the president of the main opposition party, was not seen to criticize the prime minister’s antics in strong terms. Now, as Deuba is going to lead the government, questions regarding his capacity and performance have come to the forefront. Many consider him as a leader who attains power repeatedly, yet fails to leave an impression.

Deuba’s history and track record as PM inspires little hope among the public. It is fair to say that Deuba, who served four terms as a PM from 1995 to 1997, 2001 to 2002, 2004 to 2005, and 2017 to 2018, has missed chances of redemption time and again.

How Deuba will differentiate his regime from the lacklustre one of KP Oli remains to be seen.

During the Maoist insurgency, he was blamed for having failed to handle the Maoists and yielding to the King. When he became the prime minister for the fourth time on June 7, 2017, a successful election was all that was noteworthy in his repertoire.

Recalling Deuba’s success in the 2017 election, we may expect a free and fair election in the country after the completion of the tenure of the current parliament. But the people expect more than that from him this time, given the multiple crises the country has endured over the years.

According to Congress insiders, Deuba has a zeal to conduct the Parliamentary election as he considers the Court’s verdict as a chance to win the elections using the anti-Oli sentiment as their main weapon.

But how Deuba will differentiate his regime from the lacklustre one of KP Oli remains to be seen.

This may be a happy hour for the opposition alliance and their leaders. This also may be a historic opportunity for Sher Bahadur Deuba to prove himself. It might be too early to speculate just how a Deuba government would function. After all, following his appointment, Deuba will have to win the confidence of the house within 30 days. It remains to be seen how parliamentary politics will play out in the coming days. A month is a long time in Nepali politics.

Geja Sharma Wagle, a political analyst, termed this a ‘golden’ opportunity for PM Deuba as the outgoing KP Oli-led government was unsuccessful as an executive body. “PM Deuba should learn the lessons from the failures of KP Oli and work according to the true spirit of the constitution,” he said.

According to him, this government should be accountable to the people. It should balance diplomacy and improve relations with other countries. Only then can this government be different from the previous KP Oli-led government. 

He is, however, hopeful after the first cabinet meeting’s decision on pandemic control and vaccines. “It’s a good start,” he said.