Flavour Of The Week--In Nepal
Regular column that travels to different capitals of the world, this time to Kathmandu
After the alliance of leftist parties dominated by the Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML)and the Maoist Centre-- Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti had withdrawn shortly after joining the alliance -- swept the polls in Nepal, there was comment that the egos of the leaders and inherent contradictions between the constituents could hamper the formation of a stable, lasting government.
The UML which had scored the highest had immediately projected Oli as the likely new Prime Minister with his photograph splashed across the media. The leadership had announced that after the elections the parties would merge into a single communist force. The constituents of the alliance had chosen their representatives for discussions about the modalities for the merger. But despite a series of high level meetings there was nothing to indicate that issues had been resolved and a new party would be in place to form the government. Organizational details were cited as the reason for the delay in the merger. The Maoist Centre had made it clear that if Oli became the Prime Minister Maoist Centre leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal would head the party.
The first hiccup came even as the constituents were engaged in discussions. Dahal was quoted as saying that an understanding had been reached with CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli while forging the electoral alliance that they would lead the government on rotation basis, provided that the left alliance emerges victorious. Dahal said that according to the agreement, Oli would become the prime minister in the first phase, while he, Dahal, would replace him in the second phase of the left alliance government’s five-year tenure. Dahal’s contention was immediately shot down by CPN-UML leader Lal Babu Pandit who said Oli would lead the government for the full five years and there was no question of rotational leadership.
Dahal had been pushing for an early declaration of the results of the Lower House elections so that a government could be installed at an early date. President Bidya Devi Bhandari had signed off on an ordinance on December 29, 2017 that the existing government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba was authorised to fix the date of declaring the results in consultation with the Election Commission. The EC had thrown a spanner in the works by declaring that it could not announce the results of the House of Representatives elections under the Proportional Representation (PR) category before the National Assembly elections. It said that constitutional and legal hurdles prevented it from announcing the Lower House election results under the PR category despite its wish to do so at the earliest. The EC also suggested that the government hold the National Assembly elections on February 8. The Election Commission’s stand had angered Dahal who said that the Commission was creating a hurdle in the formation of a new government by not submitting the report of the House of Representatives elections to the President.
With little progress in the unification of the constituents of the left electoral alliance into a single party reports emerged of leaders of the Maoist Centre talking about a third option namely getting support from other parties to form the government with the exclusion of the UML. Nepali Congress leader Ramesh Lekhak had said that the party could support CPN (Maoist Centre) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the next prime minister. Leaders of the left alliance, the Nepali Congress and Madhes-based parties were said to be busy exploring possibilities of forming a non-UML government. Though leaders from the left alliance publicly maintained that CPN-UML Chairman KP Oli would lead the new government, informal cross-party meetings had been taking place quietly in Kathmandu suggesting that alternatives were being explored.
The Madhes-based parties were reaching out to Maoist Centre Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal and it was reported that Nepali Congress leader Deuba had deputed senior leader Krishna Prasad Sitaula to maintain contact with Dahal and convince him to lead the new government. Madhesi leaders from the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal and the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal had also met with Dahal and discussed the post-poll scenario and possible equations on government formation. Rajendra Mahato, a presidium member of the RJP-N said “The alternative to Oli is possible only if the left alliance could not form the government. We may go for another alternative or support such a government if the left alliance fails to lead the next government. That we will get to know only after the National Assembly elections.”
Meanwhile PM Sher Bahadur Deuba had been publicly insisting that he was very keen to hand over power to the new government. Within the Nepali Congress which had been badly routed in the elections, there were calls to allocate blame and for organizational changes including a greater degree of internal democracy. These suggestions were shot down by Nepali Congress’s Central Committee Member Balkrishna Khand who said that an immediate change of party leadership was not possible. He said that not only the Chairman Sher Bahadur Deuba but every party member had to be held be accountable for the Party’s recent defeat in Parliamentary and Provincial Elections.
As of now the stalemate continues.
There is a growing sense that Oli would not be satisfied with anything less than the Prime Ministership since his party had secured a far higher score than the Maoist Centre and other left parties. But equally he would be cautious about accepting the Maoist Centre’s demand that if he becomes PM, Dahal would head the united party and thereby its organizational structure. Dahal, having created the Maoist Centre, was unlikely to be satisfied with a no-power position and the overtures from the Madhes parties and the Nepali Congress might suggest that eventually, if the National Assembly results are similar to the Lower House results, Dahal might, protesting his disinterest, end up becoming Nepal’s new prime minister.
How the UML would react given Oli’s personality and how a coalition of the Maoist Centre with the Nepali Congress and the Madhes parties would work remains a matter for speculation—except to say that coalitions of convenience very soon display their non-viability.
With the Election Commission having suggested February 8 for the National Assembly elections and as yet not giving in to the pressure to release the results of the House of Representatives elections, it seems observers would just have to keep watching to see how things shape up. It looks like former PM BabuRam Bhattarai is doing the same given the paucity of comments from him.