Is Ruling Alliance On The Skids?

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With the CPN-Maoist Centre deciding to put up its own candidate for the post of National Assembly (NA) chair, a sense of mutual mistrust is dramatically spreading between Nepali Congress (NC) and the former, threatening the continuation of the coalition government. In its recent Standing Committee (SC) meeting, almost all members pressed the leadership to field their own candidate for the Upper House chairman election slated for March 12. The Maoist stalwarts argue that if they fail to get NA chair, their party have no representative in the Constitutional Council, a powerful organ that recommends the office-bearers of constitutional bodies. 

Currently, the Maoist Centre is the largest party in the NA but the NC claims that the Prime Minister and party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda had assured to support its lawmaker Krishna Prasad Sitaula for the top NA position last month. However, the Maoist SC members warned their boss not to be more lenient with NC. Even Prachanda seems to have changed his tune when he realised that his party would not call the shots in the affairs of the state if it had no NA chair. The 5-member Constitutional Council (CC) constitutes the Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Speaker, NA Chairman and opposition leader. The CC is a powerful instrument for the political parties to appoint their loyalists in the constitutional wings, thereby making their presence effective in the national politics. 

Agreement 

As per the agreement among the allies, Prachanda has to pass the mantle of government leadership to CPN-Unified Socialist chair Madhav Kumar Nepal after two years in office. Then NC chief Sher Bahadur Deuba will pick up the baton and hold general elections in 2027. But his mutual deal may collapse if the NC and Maoist Centre cannot forge understanding on the candidate of the NA chair. The NC assumes that the Maoist Centre has gone for fielding the candidate for NA chair due to the internal factor, and it will eventually stick to earlier commitment to throw support behind Sitaula. 

However, a series of events that occurred since the election to the NA members in last January have impelled the Maoist Centre to harbour a deep suspicion about the motive of the NC, the largest ally in the coalition. A Maoist candidate lost to UML rival in NA election in Koshi Province, which the Maoist Centre attributed to the NC’s betrayal of it. The anti-establishment faction within NC voted for the UML candidate, giving a jarring shock to the establishment. Deuba’s rival in the NC always is dead-set to pull the rug from under his feet so that the alliance falls apart and he loses the chance to lead the government.

The recently held NC Mahasamiti meeting unanimously endorsed general secretary Gagan Thapa’s report that has unequivocally stated that the party would not enter pre-poll alliance with any political parties. Though the NC central committee may rectify Thapa’s proposal, it has already sent shockwaves across the allies. This has further widened rift between the NC and Maoist Centre. During the recent Maoist Centre’s statute convention, chairman Prachanda himself aired his frustration that his party always endured loss and deception while making electoral alliance with the NC. The Maoist functionaries have lamented that the NC supporters refused to vote for the former’s candidates in the three-tier polls in 2022. On the other hand, they claimed the NC candidates won with the Maoist votes.

The current alliance came into existence in the wake of the dissolution of the House of Representatives (HoR) by former prime minister and CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli. But the five-party alliance suffered a rupture as the NC and Maoist Centre crossed swords over the leadership of new government after the last elections produced a hung parliament. In a twist of events, Prachanda became the PM with the UML’s support but the UML-Maoist Centre marriage could not survive more than two months. Prachanda again turned to Deuba to revive the pre-poll five-party coalition, citing the need to maintain power balance and elect the new president in consensus.  

UML's strategy 

Now the Maoist leaders are floating the same logic that their party must obtain the NA chair in order to secure an equation between the existing the forces. And Prachanda can hardly ignore their demand, which might cause friction among the ruling allies. As the NC and Maoist Centre are at odds over the candidacy for the NA chair, the UML is eager to seize on their discords to break the alliance. It is now setting a trap what Oli calls a Dhoksa, a fish catching bamboo basket. The UML has also stated that the post of NA chair should go to the Maoists, arguing that the concentration of all state powers into a single party (NC) will have negative repercussions for the nation. 

The other day, Deuba claimed that the alliance would remain intact but the UML is apparently pulling out all the stops to divide the alliance and set to vote for any candidate in case both the NC and Maoist Centre field their candidates. In last October, the UML had voted for NC rebel – Kedar Karki – to become Chief Minister of Koshi Province but its gambit to split the alliance came to naught. There is also chance of Prachanda and Oli coming together. However, the NC establishment is more serious about keeping the unity of alliance for its break-up will deprive Deuba of becoming the PM for the sixth time. 

The election to the NA chair is the litmus test for the alliance created to fight against the regressive step of dissolving the House and derailing the constitution. The alliance partners must nurture the coalition culture and rise above the parochial interest. If they indulge in a game of one-upmanship, the public will think that they are doing no more than paying lip service to their common goals of stability, good governance and prosperity.

(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.) 

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