What Ails UML, Chair Oli?

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The main opposition CPN-UML, its unpredictable chair and lawmakers have launched a relentless campaign to corner Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and to mount pressure on the current coalition government. The party has recently disrupted parliamentary proceedings, demanding the PM's resignation over a statement he made at a book launch. It comes as no surprise that the UML, under the leadership of their party chair KP Sharma Oli, is seeking any pretext to exert pressure on the government and the PM and their demand for Prachand's resignation over an impromptu statement is nothing but asking for the moon.

What's ironic is that chair Oli himself dissolved the House of Representatives twice during his prime ministerial term from 2018 to 2021. While he eventually resigned following the Supreme Court's verdict against his unconstitutional move, he has not shown any remorse for his widely criticised actions. Instead, he frequently defends his unconstitutional acts. Now, Oli and his party members have gone to extreme lengths to demand the PM's resignation for no solid reason but for an off-the-cuff remark. The UML appears to be attempting to settle political scores with Prime Minister Prachanda, who quit an alliance involving the UML and joined hands with the Nepali Congress to create a new one. The PM's decision to dissolve the coalition less than a month and a half after assuming office on December 25, 2022, caught the UML off surprise, as they had expected to lead the government in due course. 

Criticism 

Many have criticised the main opposition party for disrupting House proceedings over the PM's statement, which essentially complimented a prominent figure who had wanted to make him Prime Minister on multiple times. However, the UML misread the statement, alleging that it expressed anti-nationalist and pro-Indian attitudes, and consequently demanded the PM's resignation. The ongoing interruption of House proceedings has hampered the passage of a critical bill aimed at reducing the country's prevalent loan-sharking practises. The UML has been chastised for miscalculating the repercussions of its House disruption, which has unwittingly prevented the bill's passage. 

In reaction to charges made by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister's Press Advisor that the UML disturbed the House in order to prevent the bill being approved, the UML has grown enraged.  In order to resume the House affairs, the party now wants the withdrawal of the Deputy Prime Minister's statement and the dismissal of the Prime Minister's press advisor. Now they have given up their demand for the PM’s resignation. These latest demands from the UML reflect the party's erratic behaviour and signal that they are putting undue pressure on the PM and the government. Without a question, as the opposition party, the UML has sought to destabilise the current government and is pursuing every conceivable option to do so. 

According to reports, the party has approached the Nepali Congress about breaking up the present government coalition, citing the formation of the Socialist Front by four communist groups. They have attempted to agitate the Nepali Congress by claiming that the Front was formed by PM Prachanda in order to strengthen his bargaining leverage with the Nepali Congress and the UML to maintain power. So far, the Nepali Congress has remained loyal to the alliance. 

Given the temperament of chair Oli, the Nepali Congress is now hesitant to follow through on his pledges. Many Congressmen believe Oli deceived the Congress when President Sher Bahadur Deuba attempted to form a government under his leadership after the NC emerged as the single largest party following the November 2022 general election. Initially promising to back Deuba's government, Oli later forged a coalition with the Maoist Centre, resulting in Prachand becoming Prime Minister on December 25, 2022. However, just over two months after allying with the UML, PM Prachanda broke away from the UML and joined forces with the Nepali Congress.

Oli has always been keen to topple the government led by his nemesis, Prachanda. He has been attempting to convince the Nepali Congress to break the current coalition and form a new government under Deuba's leadership. However, these attempts have not succeeded yet, prompting the UML to resort to any means necessary to create a crisis for the PM and his government. The seemingly meaningless ongoing House disruption aligns with this strategy of the UML. It is vital to emphasise that, notwithstanding the current posture of the UML and its chair, one should not presume that the UML harbours genuine enmity against the Maoist Centre. It is a party that is willing to "forget and forgive" its opponents if it perceives an opportunity to reclaim power.

 Many political observers agree that several UML leaders are still open to forming partnerships with the Maoist Centre and other competing communist factions in the cause of increasing the communist base in the country. Prior to the 2017 general election, the Maoist party led by Prachanda and the UML formed a coalition to run the country jointly. After winning with a nearly two-thirds majority, the two parties merged to become the Nepal Communist Party. However, conflicts between Oli and Prachanda surfaced during their power struggle for the prime ministership, causing to the NCP's split three years after unification.

Working relationship

There are numerous second-ranking leaders in both parties who want unification or, at the least, a working relationship between the two major communist parties. Such cooperation would allow them to maintain power for a lengthy period of time at the expense of parties such as the Nepali Congress and other non-communist parties. Some political observers and non-communist groups believe that the UML's pressure on the PM and his administration is a ruse to force Prachanda to reconsider his partnership with the UML and forsake the Nepali Congress.

Finally, the UML has created various hurdles in its quest to topple the current government. The party's disruptive methods, combined with its opportunistic partnerships and power battles, hints at its fundamental political goal aimed at regaining power. The continued turbulence and pressure on the government reflect the UML's eagerness to seize every chance, regardless of the consequences, to further its political aims.

(Upadhyay is a former deputy editor of this daily.)

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