Hopefully, with the new mandate, PM Deuba will provide the much-desired political stability that has remained elusive for the last seven months
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress (NC) won the vote of confidence in the very first meeting of the just restored House of Representatives (HoR), a rare case in parliamentary practice that had the opposition CPN (UML) crying foul.
Of the 249 lawmakers present in the 275-member HoR, 165 lawmakers from different parties voted for him, while 83 from the UML voted against him and one stayed neutral. In total, 61 lawmakers from the NC, 48 from the CPN-Maoist Centre, 32 from the Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP), 23 from the UML and one from Rastriya Janamorcha voted for Deuba. As the last resort to government formation, the Supreme Court on Monday had ordered Deuba's appointment as the prime minister of Nepal under Article 76 (5) of the constitution after reinstating the HoR. As per the constitutional provisions, he had to seek the vote of confidence within 30 days, but he chose to do so in the very first meeting of the restored House session, as opposed to the practice of not conducting weighty business on the opening day.
The floor test has laid bare the fissures in the opposition party, the UML. Despite the whip issued to vote against Deuba, that 23 UML lawmakers went ahead and voted for him shows the crumbling discipline in the party that was at the helm of affairs until last week. Still another 10 members abstained from voting while Bhim Rawal resigned as lawmaker altogether.
Anything can happen in politics, but at the moment whether the UML leaders will ever come together to stay as a party is a moot question.
The voting in the parliament has also raised questions about the trustworthiness of both parties and lawmakers. A faction of the JSP that had even joined the Oli government was quick to switch sides at the last moment, apparently in anticipation of a dividend of the spoils that would be made available.
With the trust vote in his favour from two-thirds of the lawmakers present at the opening session of the restored parliament, Prime Minister Deuba can hope to complete the remaining 18 months of the five-year term allowed by the constitution between the general elections. Hopefully, with the new mandate, Prime Minister Deuba will provide the much-desired political stability that has remained elusive for the last seven months since former PM KP Oli first dissolved the HoR on December 20. However, Deuba's days in office are not going to be easy and will require a lot of acumen to keep the coalition, comprising four major parties, from parting ways until the next election.
The new PM will also have to curry the favour of the opposition leader, Oli, to make appointments to constitutional bodies and ambassadorial posts. Following the repeal of the Constitutional Council Ordinance on Sunday, how the new PM hopes to acquire the required quorum to hold meetings and make appointments remains to be seen. Political issues apart, Deuba faces the enormous challenge of restructuring the budget for the new fiscal year to foster economic activities, boost exports and check inflation.
And, of course, there is the pandemic, whose control lies in vaccinating the eligible population of 21 million, before the third wave raises its ugly head.
Pay the frontliners
Health workers, doctors and sanitation workers have played a significant role in bringing down the number of COVID-19 cases. The government, on its part, has increased their risk allowance by recognising their round-the-clock services to the people suffering from COVID-19. Were it not for their dedication, the pandemic would have claimed many more lives than what we have been witnessing.
However, it is frustrating to see that the health workers in Banke's Nepalgunj Medical College have not been paid their monthly salaries and other benefits, including the risk allowance, for the last three months. How can the frontliners support their families without pay for such a long time? The hospital management's excuse that it cannot pay the salaries of all the staffers on time is unacceptable. Frontline health workers and sanitation workers are low-paid staffers, who need to be paid on time. The financial loss, as claimed by the college management, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown should not be an excuse for non-payment of its staffers. The college management must abide by the government's rules that have clearly stated that the frontline workers should be paid on time with risk allowance.
A version of this article appears in the print on July 20 2021, of The Himalayan Times.