With the date for presidential election arriving soon, the two candidates — Ram Chandra Paudel, 78, and Subas Nembang, 70, — and the political parties belonging to them have intensified canvassing. The March 9 presidential poll is going to elect the nation’s fourth President. It is needless to say that Paudel and Nembang are deserving candidates. Both of them are experienced politicians who had played significant roles in the nation’s democratic movements. They are soft-spoken and intermediary in nature. They are also former Speakers of the House of Representatives before the establishment of federal republican setup. Nembang also worked as the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly for two terms.
Paudel, 78, is the senior leader of the Nepali Congress while Nembang is the vice-chair of the CPN-UML. Despite his continuous representation in parliament for over three decades, Paudel has not yet to take up the leadership of his party as well as the government. He has personally met with top leaders of all the political parties, soliciting them to vote for him. He has also written to all the electorates in this connection. He has also promised to contribute in safeguarding the constitution and institutionalising the hard-won federal republican setup. The eight-party alliance, led by the NC, has already organised gatherings in all the seven provinces to muster support for Paudel’s candidacy.
No formal decision
The UML has also made every effort possible when it comes to campaigning for Nembang. The party has called on all the political parties, except for NC, to vote in favour of its candidate. However, as of March 5, no parties have extended their support to Nembang in presidential poll openly. Though the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) are closer to UML than the current ruling alliance, the former have yet to take any formal decision regarding their position in the poll. RSP had already quit the government after it failed to get the Home Ministry portfolio. However, the new political force has not withdrawn its support to the incumbent government headed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda. But UML and RPP have pulled out their support given to the government immediately after quitting power recently. These two parties took the decision on this after the Maoist Centre was reluctant to support UML’s candidate for presidency.
The presidential election holds a lot of political significance as the national politics has taken a dramatic turn just one day before the filing of candidacy. The country has witnessed a new political polarisation when Maoist Centre decided to support NC in the election of the Head of State. These two parties also revived their alliance and made it stronger by bringing Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), CPN-Unified Socialist, Loktantrik Samajbadi Party (LSP), Nagarik Unmukti Party, Janmat Party and Rastriya Janamorcha to their fold. Even the newly-formed Aam Janata Party led by Prabhu Sah has lately decided to vote for Paudel. Given this scenario, Paudel is most likely to be elected as the new president.
Four political parties — NC, CPN-Maoist Centre, CPN-Unified Socialist and Rastriya Janamorcha Nepal — had formed an electoral alliance for the November 2022 elections to the federal and provincial legislatures. JSP that had also been with that alliance had left it to join hands with the CPN-UML just before the elections. Since no political party was able to secure a clear majority to form a government, NC, Maoist Centre and other small parties were holding parleys in this regard. But an unexpected situation came when Maoist Centre chair Prachanda reached a power-sharing deal with UML as NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba wanted to lead the government again. But the UML-Maoist Centre alliance ended in just two months.
Despite being the third largest party in the Lower House of Federal Parliament, Maoist Centre had a crucial role to play in restoring their previous coalition. Prime Minister and Maoist Centre chair Prachanda was in favour of getting the new president elected on the basis of national consensus. But UML was adamant on its stance that its candidate should be voted to the top post. In fact, Prachanda started suspecting that UML chair KP Sharma Oli may deceive him again when the latter defended his earlier unconstitutional move to dissolve the House of Representatives twice within six months. The support extended by NC to Prachanda during the vote of confidence may have created a sense of fear in UML’s rank and file. Addressing the House following the vote of confidence, Oli had accused NC of trying to set up a trap for regaining power. But he said that NC would not be able to gain anything.
UML seems to have been attempting to break the eight-party alliance by fair means or foul. The party has now playing a new card of a sole NC government. UML tries to instigate NC to take over the government’s leadership in order to strip Maoist Centre of power. But the parties associated with the alliance have pledged to operate the parliament for its full five-year term. They have also committed to running the government for full term. However, they have reached an understanding to run the government on a rotation basis. As per the deal, Prachanda will lead it for the first two and a half years, CPN-Unified Socialist chair Madhav Kumar Nepal for one year and Deuba for one and a half years. Top NC leaders, including its general secretary Gagan Kumar Thapa, do not seem to be moved by UML’s offer.
Thapa says: “The NC will not walk away from the agreement struck by the alliance for the next five years. There is a need to continue the coalition with trust.” Prime Minister Prachanda is planning to receive a vote of confidence following the presidential poll. He, however, will have a tough time ahead to manage more ministerial aspirants from different parties.
(Dahal is a Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)