It was no small feat when Bidya Devi Bhandari was elected president of Nepal in 2015. She is the first female head of Nepali state and as such had been regarded as an example for the rest of the world. There is little people can expect from a ceremonial president but at least it was thought that she would put herself above petty interests, would demonstrate highest level of judgment and would weigh pros and possible fallouts of every action before committing them. It is troubling to see that she has failed to do so. She left for a four-day trip to the United Arab Emirates with jumbo delegation comprising 26 members. This at a time when the whole country is geared up towards the federal and provincial elections on November 26 and December 7. The visit is ill-timed and wrong. But this is not the first such visit. She left the country before the first phase of local elections in May this year for Sri Lanka. She decided not to cast her vote in the local election, placing herself to the likes of former monarchs who never voted. Presidents elsewhere go out to vote and inspire people to partake in the civic duty. Our president missed it, perhaps deliberately.
President Bhandari’s trip to UAE is worrying for multiple reasons. First, the Middle East is embroiled in a big crisis. Qatar’s neighboring countries have imposed a crippling blockade, with UAE leading the pack. Reports say Qatar also invited the president for a visit which was canceled for obvious reasons, so as to not appear siding with parties of conflict in the region. Second, more than 125,000 Nepalis work in UAE and around 200,000 in Qatar. We, as a country, will have to walk a fine line so as not to infuriate the countries in the region which accounts for the majority of our remittances. Third, Nepal has no ambassador now in UAE and back home we have no minister of foreign affairs, ever since Krishna Mahadur Mahara, including other Maoist ministers, was rendered minister without portfolio last month. And most importantly, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had advised her not to make this trip at such sensitive times. We wonder why the government allowed the trip in this geopolitically sensitive place.
The country will elect a new president soon after these elections. Bhandari has around two months left in office. The lame duck presidency should refrain from misusing state resources on visits that will have negative impact on our relations with countries around the world. The stakes are high for us in the Middle East. Our economy depends on our hard working brothers and sisters in the region. We have to think hard so as to ensure that frivolous visits by our leaders do not have negative impact on our people working in the region. She would do well to cut-short the UAE trip and return home. We can only hope that her final foreign trip as president will do little harm to our relations with the countries in the Middle East that are in the midst of huge political turmoil.