A bizarre political development that unfolded in Koshi Province has laid bare an inherent contradiction within much-touted federal system adopted through the promulgation of new constitution in 2015. In less than a year, the Province saw six Chief Ministers (CM) coming and going. The newly elected CM Kedar Karki becomes the 6th head of the province in accordance with Article 168 (5) of the constitution. Clause 5 gives last option to appoint the CM and avoid the mid-term polls. As per it, the province chief can appoint an assembly member, who ‘presents a ground on which he or she can obtain a vote of confidence in the State Assembly, as the Chief Minister’. It does not require a would-be CM should be the Parliamentary Party leader of a party represented in the Assembly.
This Clause intends to ensure that the Assembly completes its full term for the stability and economic development of the given province. Karki won the vote of confidence, with the backing of two-thirds assembly members. Given the overwhelming mandate, he is expected to head the provincial government for remaining four years. But the way the Clause 5 was exploited, it is likely to promote indiscipline, anarchy and impunity within the political parties fighting to lead the government in the provinces. By voting for Karki, the Assembly members have endorsed his revolt against the establishment. This sort of political exercise entails a risk for other parties riven by similar fractious infighting.
Nepali Congress (NC) disgruntled stalwart Dr. Sekhar Koirala and CPN-UML backed Karki to revolt against the party establishment. NC’s eight rebel lawmakers and UML’s 39 lawmakers supported him to become the CM. Four political parties of ruling alliance in the centre also voted for him during the vote of confidence. As Karki was sure to secure majority vote in the Assembly, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda and NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba roped Koirala into inking a deal in a haste to avert the potential rupture in the ruling coalition. The agreement stated that Karki was ruling alliance's candidate.
This situation arose out of the internal conflict within the NC. Dr. Koirala had played a crucial role to pull off Karki’s victory that has sent shockwaves across the political spectrum. Dr. Koirala-orchestrated coup caught the ruling alliance involving the NC, CPN-Maoist Centre, CPN-Unified Socialist and Janata Samajbadi Party off guard. Seemingly, it was Dr. Koirala’s revenge on his nemesis - president Deuba, who has been holding sway over the party leadership since his re-election from the 14th general convention in 2021.
Dr. Koirala had challenged Deuba in the party election but the latter mopped the floor up with the former. Despite being a runner-up, Dr. Koirala was not accorded due space within the party. So he has been nursing grievances against the establishment. However, his detractors argue that Dr. Koirala often blows hot and cold, and sometimes allies with Deuba to get lucrative positions for his loyalists in the state bodies. But, by instigating a revolt against the establishment in Koshi Province, Dr. Koirala not only upset Deuba but also showed he could pose a formidable challenge to the establishment in the future. However, he has undermined the parliamentary norms and party system to execute his political adventurism.
Similarly, Dr. Koirala’s daring-do has not gone well with general secretary duo Gagan Thapa and Bishwo Prakash Sharma. Thapa and Sharma have slammed both Deuba and Dr. Koirala, stating that Deuba's decision on the selection of the PP leader in Koshi Province and revolt against it had unleashed wrong practise. In their note of dissent, they have demanded that Deuba take up the responsibility for the emergence of this situation. They have criticised Deuba for not seeking alternative candidate for the CM, which they said, could avert the rebellion. They have disowned the party's decision, arguing that it had not followed due process and system, resulting in the revolt of lawmakers.
In a similar vein, they have dismissed Koirala's accusation that the party president and general secretaries had colluded to award the CM post in Koshi Province to the Maoist Centre, which belonged to the NC. "The NC is not in a position to claim CM of any province in the current situation. If the NC wants to appoint CM in all provinces, it is necessary for the party to bag majority in the future," said Thapa and Sharma. The Koshi revolt has shaken the establishment to the core. Given the weak party discipline, its domino effects could spread to other provinces where the NC dissatisfied lawmakers have been involved in intra-party bickering to grab the leadership.
Meanwhile, there is a bumpy road ahead for Karki-led government involving the lawmakers from his rebel group and the UML. Karki's efforts to form consensus government are likely to hit a snag as the UML is against the idea of the participation of ruling coalition. It has threatened to quit the government, if the Maoist Centre and the CPN-Unified Socialist join the government. On the other hand, the Maoist Centre and Unified Socialist accused the UML of taking advantage of the weakness of the coalition and asked it abandon the government. The NC's establishment may not join the government if its allies are kept out of it. This situation has put the new CM on the horns of a dilemma, threatening the stability of his administration.
Koshi's unexpected political drama played out at a time when the people have grown frustrated with the making and breaking of governments in seven provinces following the three-tier polls held since 2017. The new political forces have also come into existence to outright reject the relevance of provinces. Now the federalist parties must be serious about delivering on their electoral promises. Failure to realise citizens' rights, as guaranteed by the national charter, will only fuel anti-systemic elements, disrupting democratic order, justice and development.
(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)