Inducting fresh faces into the Council of Ministers has rocked the ruling alliance boat recently. Some alliance partners initially eschewed the idea of replacing incumbent ministers with new ones, citing that the annual budget presented by the government is yet to be ratified in parliament. Incumbent ministers must furnish replies to queries about their respective ministries before the ruling alliance can replace them.
However, the hesitation to change the ministers evaporated after the CPN-Unified Socialist pushed hard with its demand for the induction of new members representing the party in the cabinet. Some incumbent ministers of the party disliked the proposal though. The party even threatened to leave the alliance if its demand was not accepted. Unified Socialist chair Madhav Kumar Nepal reportedly made the proposal as per the promises he made to his party men.
Since leader Nepal's party came into existence under difficult circumstances, following the bold steps of several rebel UML parliamentarians, Nepal appears obliged to send many of them to the cabinet on a rotation. According to Unified Socialist leader Jhalanath Khanal, the party's supreme decision-making body made a unanimous decision to induct news leaders into the Council of Ministers by calling back incumbent ministers appointed on the party's quota.
After the Unified-Socialist brought forth the idea of inducting new faces, calls for replacing the incumbent ministers in other parties have also gone up. The issue, however, sent the Janata Samajwadi Party (JSP) to the brink. At present, two key leaders, Upendra Yadav and Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai, have engaged in a showdown over including new party members in the cabinet. If the two leaders continue to spar over ministerial appointments, the JSP will eventually split.
The Maoist Centre and its chair have faced a dilemma after ministerial hopefuls requested the chair to make fresh appointments before the nation goes to the federal and provincial polls. Some leaders of the Nepali Congress have also expressed a willingness to become new ministers. Now, a common understanding among alliance partners has emerged for reshuffling the cabinet once parliament endorses the annual budget. The cabinet reshuffle is likely to bring peace to the parties belonging to the ruling alliance. The same move will keep the alliance safe, at least until the federal and provincial elections, which will be held in six months.
Following favourable local poll results, the coalition partners have found themselves in the driving seat of national politics. Buoyed partners are likely to contest the two upcoming elections forging an electoral alliance. If everything goes as planned, they will, without doubt, defeat the main opposition party, the UML, and other smaller parties in these elections and will spearhead the government and remain in power for the next five years. It will help them consolidate their position in national politics by introducing programmes and policies to expedite developments and people's welfare programmes. To achieve this goal, the coalition partners should move with common understanding through cooperation, consensus and unity.
Keeping the alliance vibrant, however, is easier said than done. Despite rebuking the two communist parties from the ruling alliance, UML chairperson KP Sharma Oli has employed various means to split the alliance. Oli's confidants sent fillers to the two communist parties they would get the prime ministerial chair if they left the alliance and joined the UML. Many maintained that the offer was nothing but a ploy to break the alliance just before the two elections. Besides making tall talk, Oli frequently springs surprises to gain the upper hand.
Given the ongoing performance of the government, the five parties of the alliance must not fall prey to any bait and must aim to take their alliance beyond the general elections. If they break the alliance and contest the elections on their own, chances are they would finish at second, third and fourth positions in these elections owing to their weaker vote base.
For many political analysts, the Maoist Centre calls the shots while forming a new government. The Nepali Congress and the UML cannot win enough parliamentary seats to form their own government, which will compel them to seek support from the Maoists. But to gain such a decisive position, the Maoists must remain aware that they must finish in the second or third position in the parliamentary elections.
Other reasons shed light on why the alliance should remain unharmed for years to come. If this happens, then the coalition partners are sure to gain a strong foothold in the nation's politics. One may be reminded that soon after the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist broke away from the erstwhile Nepal Communist Party and then the UML about a year ago, they stared at a tough time. But the formation of a five-party alliance under Congress leadership saved their blushes. They have enjoyed the fruit of forming a partnership since. When Oli tried to decimate them, the parties got respite after they formed the alliance, which is now expected to continue even after the federal and provincial elections.
Alliance partners must remind themselves that by remaining in government, they are likely to emerge more powerful in the nation's politics. Sharing cabinet portfolios should not, therefore, be an issue harming the coalition. Rather than threatening the alliance, the partners must remain united through thick and thin to gain power for years to come. In recent weeks, the ruling coalition parties grappled with inner-party problems that threatened the alliance. However, to steer the alliance clear of such an unfavourable situation, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba attempted to bring the Loktantrik Samajwadi Party into the government, apparently to buttress the alliance.
Before wrapping up, let us also think about the existing level of bitterness between leaders Nepal and Oli. It discourages the Unified Socialist chair joining hands with his long-time nemesis, Oli. Ditto is true about the Maoist Centre chair, who often engages in verbal sparring with the UML chief. This existing bad blood makes the two key coalition leaders unable to break the ruling coalition to join forces with the UML.
(The author is managing editor of this daily.)