(August 13 – August 19, 2020)
Nepal Communist Party (NCP): Prime minister and NCP co-chair KP Sharma Oli, in an interview, asserted that he does not lead any faction within the party, as he is the one who brought NCP-Maoist Centre under the fold. He also stated that he has been quiet only to preserve the party unity and that a ‘new scenario’ within the party will emerge within five days.
The NCP struggle seems headed towards a possible agreement between Oli and Nepal-Dahal after the August 13 discussions between Oli and Dahal; the two are speculated to have reached an arrangement regarding the division of rights in the party and the government, with Dahal taking over party’s executive role and Oli consolidating his prime ministerial role. The leaders have reportedly agreed to reshuffle the cabinet as well as to form a taskforce to complete the party’s unification.
On August 14, 2020, the Oli-Dahal agreement led to the formation of a six-member taskforce to help end the party’s dispute. The taskforce includes Bishnu Poudel, Shankar Pokharel, Bhim Rawal, Janardan Sharma, Pampha Bhusal, and Surendra Pandey.
Three senior leaders—Madhav Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal, and Narayankaji Shrestha—have questioned the legitimacy of the taskforce and criticized such a mechanism formed by a private agreement between the two party chairs. To address this dissatisfaction, a secretariat meeting held, on August 17, endorsed the taskforce.
Deputy chair of NCP, Bamdev Gautam, expressed that endorsing the taskforce by party secretariat had no meaning because there had been no discussion regarding its formation and composition, which only indicated the irrelevance of the committee. Senior leader Madhav Nepal, on the other hand, proposed the formation of a second task force, led by Dr Gangalal Tuladhar, to address the prevention and control of the COVID-19 pandemic and coordination among the three tiers of the government on the same.
Experts, including foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali, believe that there will be ‘at least one round of cabinet reshuffle’ to address the disgruntled leaders and solve the party dispute.
Some NCP meetings have been held at private residences of ‘unrelated’ people, who have either been lobbied for important positions by senior leaders or hold such positions already.
The ruling party’s internal wrangling and PM Oli’s diverted focus led to the government’s failure in containing the COVID-19 outbreak in Nepal.
Nepali Congress (NC): In an interview, NC leader Ram Chandra Poudel stated that the national mood of congress workers is in the favour of a leadership change and that even if Deuba does somehow win the general convention, the party—Nepali Congress—will suffer electoral loss yet again.
NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba met NCP chairs, PM KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, to discuss constitutional council appointments. Although they have reached an agreement to fill the 40 empty positions soon, they still seem undecided on which party will send their representative to which council.
Lawmaker Gagan Thapa submitted a letter to PM Oli urging him to declare a health emergency in COVID-19 hotspot areas, including Kathmandu.
Flood victims: The Home Minister, Ram Bahadur Thapa met with the flood victims in Bajura. He left for Bajura to inspect monsoon related calamities that affect the area every year. The Home Minister’s team has also provided the affected family with relief materials. Thapa also pledged to relocate the displaced families at the earliest.
New ambassador appointments: The government recommended three officials to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for their appointment as ambassadors to various countries. The officials that have been suggested as ambassadors are, Gehendra Rajbhandari for the ambassador to the European Union and Belgium, Tapas Adhikari to Pakistan, and Ram Kaji Khadka to Germany. Once the parliamentary committee approves their names, they will be appointed as ambassadors.
Burning the National flag: Eight people have been arrested in charge of burning the national flag on August 19. The arrests were made after a music video was launched titled ‘Deshdrohi’. It has been reported that the singer, actors and the video editors are currently under arrest. They have been booked under the provision of the Criminal Code which endorses a three-year jail sentence or Rs 30,000 fine or both if one is found disrespecting or damaging the national anthem or the national flag.
International Relations & Foreign Policy
Nepal-China discusses bilateral decisions: On August 12, Chinese and Nepali foreign ministry officials met virtually to discuss their respective efforts to tackle the Coronavirus and reviewed their prior agreements. The Foreign Ministry informed that the meeting was informal, and the representatives discussed bilateral relations, practical cooperation, and COVID-19.
MCC grant remains ambiguous: Nepal has so far only received 5% of its grant since it remains noncommittal to the Compact. USA-MCC had blocked the release of funds to allegedly pester Nepal to quickly ratify the MCC in November 2019. However, no decision has been made yet due to internal party conflicts. The uncertainty over the implementation of the American programme persists.
PM Oli congratulated Indian PM Modi: On August 15, India’s 74th Independence Day, PM Oli called his Indian counterpart, after four months of soured relations, to congratulate him. Oli also expressed appreciation to Modi’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy and committed to bilateral relations. The two prime ministers further discussed COVID-19 and steps taking to tackle the pandemic. The conversation was a significant step to resolve bilateral issues as it created an environment for the same.
Nepal-India discusses the funded projects: On August 17, a high-level meeting co-chaired by Indian Ambassador to Nepal Vinay Mohan Kwatra and Foreign Secretary Shanker Das Bairagi addressed the implementation of India-funded projects in Nepal. The two also committed to holding the ninth meeting of the mechanism in the future. This was the first meeting between the two countries after relations turned bitten in May.
Nepal’s COVID-19 tally crosses 28,257 while national death toll reaches 114: 29 people died in the week of August 13 to August 19 because of COVID-19. The casualties were reported in Mahottari, Dharan, Lalitpur, Biratnagar, Bara, Morang, Siraha, Lumbini, Parsa, Kathmandu, Rautahat, Nawalparasi, Tahanun, Pokhara, Dhulikhel, and Nepalgunj. The total national death toll stands at 114 as of August 19.
According to reports, so far, 542,866 PCR tests have been performed in the country. 17,580 individuals have made successful recoveries after being diagnosed with COVID-19. According to the Health Ministry, Manang, Mustang, Dolpa, and Humla don’t have any active cases.
Kathmandu valley to go under lockdown amidst a rising number of cases: The chief districts officers of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur have imposed restrictions on the movement of people and vehicles unless for buying essential items, beginning at midnight on August 19. This decision comes amidst the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the valley. The measure will be enforced until midnight on August 26.
Nepali people are reluctant to get tested due to stigma attached to COVID-19: Health experts worldwide are advocating for mass testing and contact tracing as a primary measure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it appears that people in Nepal are reluctant to get tested. Experts say that this is happening due to the stigma attached to being infected and the fear of being alienated by friends and family. Subsequently, this has also become a significant issue in the fight against the pandemic.
Public health experts say authorities still do not have a plan to contain virus: Kathmandu has become one the most affected zones with one the highest number of people infected by the virus. On August 17, the number of recorded cases in the metropolitan reached 1,068 with six deaths. Public health experts have stressed the importance of a robust plan with fall back options for an increasingly overburdened and weak health system. However, authorities do not appear to have any plans.
Gender, Social Inclusion, Human Rights, and Migration
Government urged to safeguard migrant worker’s rights: The National Human Rights Commission has insisted the government to protect the rights of the migrant workers who have been affected by the current global pandemic. The commission in its report has outlined nine steps that could be incorporated in safeguarding the rights of the migrant workers. The report suggested the government to ensure the right to life, health, information, and repatriation, access to justice, and the rights of women, amongst others.
Migrant workers in COVID-19 crisis: The government planned to start the fifth phase of repatriation of migrant workers on August 17. Forty-three flights were to be conducted for the rescue of stranded Nepalis from different destinations countries. The schedule for the flight to be operated was made public. The government plan to evacuate only 500 labourers was highly criticised. However, CCMC terminated the repatriation schedule indefinitely on August 17 itself, stating that the quarantine facilities for the evacuated migrant workers are yet to be arranged.
A Dalit man killed: An unknown group killed a Dalit man by slitting his throat in Garuda Municipality, Rautahat on August 15. The body was recovered from a drain the following morning. As per the police, the body was lying around 300 meters away from the place of incident. The police have initiated the probe to find the perpetrators promptly.
Depleting institutional childbirth in lockdown: The nationwide lockdown has severely hit the institutional childbirth and standard of care provided in the post-natal stage. Institutional childbirth decreased by more than half in the duration of lockdown in Nepal, as stated by the report. The lockdown has increased the number of stillbirths and infant mortality rate. The study suggests to take immediate action and prioritise maternity health.
Provincial and Local Governments
Restrictions imposed: 40 District Administration Offices (DOPs) have imposed partial or complete prohibition in different areas after a spike in the Coronavirus cases. Similarly, in some parts of the local levels, the government imposed a prohibitive order.
Three districts in Karnali Province—Surkhet, Jumla, and Mugu—imposed a prohibitive order. Some local governments shut down non-essential services as well. Furthermore, the provincial government tightened its entry points after an increase in the number of cases and subsequently made PCR tests mandatory to enter.
On August 16, the Birgunj local administration mobilized security forces starting from August 16 to August 29 as locals were moving around for non-essential works despite prohibitory orders. Due to intensifying cases in Parsa and the lack of testing kits, Birgunj-based Narayani Hospital sent more than 1,100 swab samples to Kathmandu. Reportedly the hospital had demanded kits last week, but it has not reached them so far.
Sudurpaschim Pradesh is going to establish laboratories for PCR testing after an increasing number of swab samples were collected. The available laboratories are insufficient to conduct the tests.
Natural disaster’s impact in the last two months: Reportedly at least 231 people lost their lives due to natural disasters—floods, landslides, and thunder across the country during July and August. Likewise, 77 persons went missing and 274 were injured. Around 66 districts have been severely affected, and the remaining districts are also at a high risk.
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