A new eight-party political coalition has made it possible to reach an agreement on veteran Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel as the presidential candidate. Evidently, disagreements over a consensus candidate for president proved to be the last straw that finally broke the back of the ruling seven-party alliance and allowed for the formation of a new coalition, in which the Nepali Congress, the largest party in parliament, and the Maoist Center, the third-largest party, have emerged key allies in the new coalition and government.
Thanks to the combined vote weight of the eight-party alliance's allies, Poudel will easily win over CPN (UML)-backed candidate Subas Chandra Nembang in the presidential poll to be held on March 9.
The new political development made the UML, the second-largest party in parliament, a key loser. The party has now lost its hold on power at the central and provincial governments as a result of the new shift in political coalition, which Prachanda and other leaders referred to as a move towards "course correction." After Prime Minister Prachanda opined that the time came for the UML to sit on the opposition bench, the UML decided to quit the government. With the departure of the UML and RPP, the new alliance partners are expected to join the government.
PM Prachanda, analysts say, had to leave the UML-led coalition in order to remain in government leadership as well as protect himself from what many see as the overbearing nature of KP Oli, who became the "powerful coordinator" of the high-level body to look after government affairs, formed after the formation of the government with the help of the now-defunct seven-party coalition.
Differences over the presidential candidate gave the Prime Minister an opportunity to sever his ties with Oli. Prachanda became concerned that Oli, who began tightening the screws on his government, would dominate him throughout his tenure. Besides being the coordinator of the high-level body and chair of the largest party in the seven-party ruling alliance, Oli had gained considerable support from Rabi Lamichhane and RPP Chair Rajendra Lingden, which gave him enough clout in the ruling alliance. As such, he could have rendered Prime Minister Prachanda powerless. Before dumping Oli, the Prime Minister might have felt that if he remained in the Oli-led alliance, he would have to depend on Oli to discharge his prime ministerial duties.
Even after breaking his previous partnership with the Nepali Congress over the issue of the prime minister’s post, Prachanda soon sensed that his government could be in trouble because of UML chair KP Oli and his closeness with the other alliance partners such as the RPP and Rastriya Swatantra Party. The UML leadership had not allowed the PM to nominate a presidential candidate who would have national support. While Oli was hell-bent on nominating an UML candidate for president, Prachanda and other parties did not like Oli’s idea. Allowing UML to have one of its candidates become president would be a suicidal act for Prachanda and his other partners. Hence, Prachanda had to dump Oli for the Nepali Congress, which once again made the Congress a key partner in the new alliance and in the government.
The Congressmen seem content they made up lost ground. By supporting PM Prachanda during the January 10 floor test for a confidence vote, the Congress—particularly its president and his closest allies—quickly acknowledged their errors and got back on track to playing a significant role in the eight-party coalition. The PM's faith in his former ally grew as a result of the support during the House vote. However, there are many in the country who see that some foreign power centres have played their part in cobbling up the new alliance. The formation of a new coalition has resolved the question of nominating a senior member of Congress as the consensus candidate for ceremonial head of state.
The current developments in Nepali politics, which have seen the establishment of two ruling alliances in less than two and a half months, appear to be nothing more than a manifestation of political instability. According to the new coalition agreement, three leaders—Prachanda, Sher Bahadur Deuba, and Madhav Kumar Nepal — would become prime ministers on a rotating basis, indicating an unstable political climate in the country. Despite the fact that the key political parties campaigned on the promise of delivering stability to government and politics during the November general election, they have played their parts in creating such an instable political atmosphere. Political uncertainty always harms our economy and development efforts.
Also, the existing coalition culture has resulted in governments frequently changing, even within the five-year tenure of a parliament. These changes, according to a few experts, are mainly due to constitutional provisions that prevent any one party from obtaining a majority of parliamentary seats. The system of first-past-the-post and proportional representation as well as a requirement to meet electoral vote thresholds have given rise to a situation in which parties become unable to obtain the number of seats needed to become powerful forces in parliament. Given the present political climate, such systems are likely to continue unless our parties address such provisions.
(Upadhyay is managing editor of this daily)