On Thursday Nepal will have held both provincial and federal parliament elections across the country—marking an end to tumultuous one decade of political transition. With successful conduction of local polls, local governments—one of three tiers of government under federal set up—have already started functioning. With this the new constitution has gone into effect. Post-election constitution will go into full-fledged implementation. Needless to say, it will require a lot of hard work, sacrifice and commitment from the elected leaders to address people’s huge expectations of basic rights of equality, social justice and inclusive development. Most important of them will be addressing people’s aspiration for rapid economic progress. For this the country should now be laser-focused on leapfrogging our economy to the next level. There has been remarkable progress in a number of social indicators. Huge reduction in child and maternal mortality rates, and the reduction in the number of people living under extreme poverty are going to be important stepping stone into the next phase of big push in our developmental efforts.
It was also heartening to see almost all the major parties focusing on economic agenda in all the elections this year, a sea change from previous campaigns. While some of their lofty promises will be hard to fulfill, the recognition on the side of the political parties to go to the people with economic agenda means that the next government will have to go big on industries, infrastructure and energy—basics for creating sound environment for businesses. The next government will hopefully come to power with people’s mandate to overhaul our economy, set up both short-term and long-term economic goals and cut red tapes when it comes to exciting foreign investments. We talk big about encouraging multi-national companies to invest in Nepal but there remains a significant administrative and other hurdles to even register a foreign company. This has to change at the earliest. According to the World Bank’s 2016 ease of doing business ranking, Nepal stands 105 out of 170 countries covered, well behind India and Bhutan in South Asia.
Then there are the big development projects that need to be jumpstarted with the help of both India and China. The recent flip-flops on the much awaited Budhi Gandaki hydro project does not send encouraging signals to our neighbors and others who are thinking of investing in Nepal. Our development should never be against one or the other neighbor. Both are indispensible to our overall progress. We are hearing major alliances painting the other side as anti-India or China. Our hope is that once the heat of the campaign cools off, everyone will come to their senses and show a united front in pursuing evenhanded approach to dealing with our neighbors. Economic diplomacy should take precedence over trivial issues when it comes to dealing with our two giant neighbors. We ought to focus on innovative ways to tap into the vast market on both sides of our border. We can only hope that the new government after the election will show the much needed discipline, maturity and honesty to start our long road to prosperity.