The challenges for the govt are to bring COVID-19 under control and assure all that the polls will be held in a fair manner

It was quite obvious that the House of Representatives (HoR) would be dissolved once again after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli failed to win the vote of confidence on May 10 and the president allowed him to form the next government as the leader of the largest party in the HoR the following day subject to proving his majority within 30 days, as per the constitutional provision. On May 10, the PM could secure only 93 votes while the opposition parties, which had teamed up against the incumbent government, also could not prove their majority in the House. Nine days later, on May 20, he wrote to President Bidhya Devi Bhandari that he would not seek the vote of confidence of the House and recommended that a new government be formed under Article 76 (5) of the constitution. President Bhandari gave lawmakers a 21-hour deadline to lay claim on forming the government with support from majority of the lawmakers as per Article 76 (2), meaning a lawmaker could lay claim for the next government with the support of two or more political parties. Both PM Oli and main opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba claimed to have secured the support of majority of the lawmakers to form the new government under Article 76 (5).

However, the President rejected both the claims, saying their claims did not meet the constitutional requirement as some of the lawmakers had signatures supporting both the leaders. The President then dissolved the HoR and announced the midterm elections on November 12 and 19 at the recommendation of the PM Friday midnight. The dissolution of the HoR for the second time – the last time it was dissolved on December 20 last year but was reinstated by the Supreme Court on February 23 – has sharply divided the Nepali society, with one section supporting the opposition parties that term it 'unconstitutional' while others siding with the PM terming it as an outcome of 'compulsion'. The opposition parties have ganged up to defeat the President's move 'politically' and 'legally'. However, unlike on December 20, the HoR dissolution this time seems to be constitutional as the PM has duly followed each and every article of the constitution. The President had no option other than to dissolve it after both the ruling and opposition parties failed to muster the support of majority of the lawmakers.

The main question here is, how will the government hold the general elections when the coronavirus pandemic has gripped the entire country, which has so far claimed the lives of more than 6,000 people, and the caseload of the infection has already crossed more than 500,000? Should this trend continue unabated, University of Washington has predicted that as many as 41,000 people will have died by September-end. The ruling and opposition parties should have stood united in the fight against the pandemic, instead of fighting for power. The main challenges for the caretaker government are to bring COVID-19 under control by vaccinating all the people within a short period of time and to assure the people and the political parties that the mid-term elections will be held on the dates in a free and fair manner. But the government seems to be unprepared for both of them.

Find new solution

Low agricultural production makes Bajura in Sudurpaschimanchal Province a food-deficit district like all adjoining districts. Hence, to make up for the shortfall, Nepal Food Corporation (NFC) sells food, namely rice, at subsidised rates to the inhabitants.

However, its depot in the district headquarters, Martadi, has run out of stock, with just 50 quintals left, which is meant for the district prison. Food has to be transported from Mahendranagar and Dhangadhi in the Tarai, which could take up to two weeks. The locals, thus, have no option other than to buy rice in the local market, but the traders, taking advantage of the situation, have jacked up the price of food.

It's been ages since NFC has been distributing food at subsidised prices in the food-deficit districts in far and mid-west Nepal. This does not seem to be the solution to the problem. Therefore, efforts must be made to improve agriculture production in the region so that it becomes self-sufficient in food. Instead of relying on rice imports from the plains, the focus should on processing locally grown crops into more delectable products. After all, the rice sold by the NFC does not benefit the entire population.

A version of this article appears in the print on May 24, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.