News Digest – Democracy & Governance (October 1 – 7)

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Puppeteering

Democracy

Nepal Communist Party (NCP): NCP leaders, including Madhav Nepal, claim that Oli has gone back to making decisions unilaterally, which puts the party’s current truce at a risk. Despite a series of negotiations between PM Oli and NCP chief Dahal, no agreement has been reached about the cabinet reshuffle; while the former seeks to replace only a few ministries, the latter is adamant on a complete reshuffle.

Dahal is unhappy with the government’s “unilateral” nominations for ambassadors to the United States and the United Kingdom—Dr. Yuvaraj Khatiwada and Lok Dharshan Regmi, respectively.

Dahal invited his former Maoist comrades—Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, Mohan Baidhya, and Netra Bikram Chand Biplab—to join the communist party.

In the party’s secretariat meeting on October 6, the agenda of cabinet reshuffle took a backseat, and the leaders discussed Dr. KC’s Satyagraha instead. PM Oli requested Dr. KC to end his hunger strike and suggested that previous agreements between the doctor and the government have already been implemented. It is believed that party chairs Oli and Dahal have failed to reach an agreement on cabinet reshuffle.

The Dang vs Butwal Dispute on Provincial Capital: PM Oli and NCP chief Dahal named Province 5 as Lumbini and decided Rapti Valley—Deukhuri as the provincial capital, which invited severe criticism from within the party and the opposition. Political observers also accused the party leaders of undermining the spirit of federalism, where these decisions are delegated to the provincial government.

Furious at NCP’s unilateral decision on the name and capital of Province 5, demonstrators in Butwal attacked chief minister Shankar Pokharel’s vehicle on October 4. Six protestors of Nepali Congress were taken in custody.

Despite NC’s apparent leadership in the demonstration, NCP secretary Bishnu Poudel stands behind it, firmly opposing the government’s decision and demanding Butwal as the capital. On the other hand, chief minister Shankar Pokharel is also firm on his support for Dang, Deukhuri as the provincial capital. 

After chief minister Pokharel visited the party chairs Oli and Dahal, PM Oli made a series of phone calls to NC president Deuba to get him to stop the protests. Instead, NC’s lawmakers at the provincial assembly rose to protests and vandalism inside the assembly as soon as the proposal was tabled. Nepali Congress decided to press disciplinary charges against the lawmakers who vandalized the provincial assembly.

Nepali Congress issued a whip for its leaders to vote against Dang as the provincial capital. However, five lawmakers breached the whip and voted in the favor of the government’s proposal.

Nepali Congress (NC): Four of NC’s central committee members including lawmaker Gagan Thapa contracted the Coronavirus. Arjun Narshing KC, Kalpana Chaudhary, and Shambhulal Shrestha are the other three to have been infected. The party’s central working committee’s meeting, scheduled for October 5, has been postponed due to the leaders’ infection.

Dr. Govinda KC’s Fast-Unto-Death: NC’s spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma announced the party’s formal solidarity with Dr. Govinda K.C., who has been on an indefinite hunger strike demanding equal access of medical services and quality medical education for all Nepalis.

The Janata Samajwadi Party leader Dr. Baburam Bhattarai urged the government to save Dr. KC by holding talks with him and addressing his demands. NCP leader Madhav Nepal, too, expressed his concern for Dr. KC’s deteriorating health and stated that the government should save his life. Civil society members expressed their concern for Dr. KC’s health and urged the government to save his life by addressing his demands.

Governance

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly hampered the government’s plan to collect personal data of some 10 million Nepali people from 38 districts—for the purpose of issuing National Identification Cards.

Home minister Ram Bahadur Thapa came under severe controversy and criticism for his troubling remarks on rape cases in Nepal; he claimed that Nepal is not in a worrying position compared to 200 other countries when it comes to rape. Later, he apologized and promised to be cautious while making any comments on sensitive issues such as rape.

According to a dialogue between District Administration Office Sindhupalchowk and Tibet Autonomous Region, the long-shut Tatopani border is set to open, but only for import of goods to Nepal.

The Zurich Airport of Switzerland, which was selected by Nepal Investment Board for the construction of Nijgadh International Airport, did not submit any detailed project proposal despite two deadline extensions.

PM Oli stressed the importance of ideas and innovation, along with political will, to conserve biodiversity.

PM Oli appointed the secretary of foreign ministry Shankar Das Bairagi as the Chief Secretary. He did so by vacating the post of chief secretary from Lok Darshan Regmi by offering him the Ambassadorship of the UK, 22 days ahead of his supposed retirement. Dr. Yuvaraj Khatiwada was appointed the Ambassador of the United States of America. These moves have been widely criticized for promoting favoritism.

Prime minister’s three top advisors—Bishnu Rimal, Dr. Rajan Bhattarai, and Surya Thapa—as well as 63 security personnel in Baluwatar were reported COVID-19 positive. Despite their infection, Baluwatar remains silent on PM’s status.

The chief antigraft body of the country, Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), has come under criticism for failing to effectively fulfill its constitutional responsibility. As it prepares to exonerate Gokul Baskota, experts claim that the commission has been largely ineffective in investigating and taking action against VIPs involved in corruption and irregularity.

Out of 33 defendants present in the court over their involvement in the Baluwatar/Lalita Niwas corruption scandal, 24 were released on minimal bail amount, while nine were released on a condition of being present at the court whenever called.

Experts in different fields continue to outpour their disappointment in the government’s performance related to the pandemic. They have pointed out that PM Oli pretends to listen to their suggestions but barely ever implements what the expertise recommends.

Even the deputy PM-led COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre has come under questions and criticism for being largely ineffective. The committee has been limited to making recommendations to the cabinet, which is again dominated by PM Oli’s personal whims and authority.

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