Can NC-UML Alliance Restore Stability?

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Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda's government has abruptly fell into minority after the two largest parties in the lower house of parliament— the Nepali Congress (NC) with 88 lawmakers and the CPN-UML with 79 lawmakers — inked a pact last Monday to set up a new coalition to form a national consensus government. Now that the two parties have 167 MPs in the 275-member House, it seems no one can stop them as they are determined to form the next government. As the two parties signed a 7-point agreement for the new coalition and declared to bring amendments to the constitution to “set right the nation’s parliamentary politics,” they are expected to gain support from other fringe parties such as the Rastriya Prajtantra Party (14 lawmakers), the newly formed Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal (7 lawmakers), Loktantrik Samajwadi Party (4 MPs), Upendra Yadav's JSP, and others, potentially bringing the total number of MPs on the treasury bench to more than 184, which is a two-third majority.

After falling into the minority, PM Prachanda announced that he would face a vote of confidence in parliament on July 12. However, it is certain that his government will collapse since it lacks the requisite majority of 138 lawmakers, as it has only the support of 63 MPs, including 32 from the Maoist-Centre, 21 from the Rastriya Swatantra Party, and 10 from the CPN - Unified Socialist. According to sources, the PM intended to remain in office for a few days in order to prevent UML leader KP Sharma Oli from becoming the next Prime Minister. Stung by Oli’s unexpected change of alliance, the PM reportedly contacted the Congress president, offering him the Prime Minister's position. The Congress did not accept the offer and announced it would back UML chairman Oli as the next Prime Minister in accordance with Clause 76(2) of the constitution.

Deuba unimpressed

According to observers, shortly after returning from India, where he attended Prime Minister Narendra Modi's swearing-in ceremony, Prachanda, who had left the NC four months previously to join with the UML, started calling the Congress president to form a new alliance. While the UML was aware of the Prime Minister's moves, Congress president Deuba was unimpressed, as he did not forget the party's abandonment on March 4, 2024. Deuba and Oli were anxious that if they delayed reaching an agreement, PM Prachanda would do all he could to stay in power until the next election in November 2027. The two leaders would not become pawns in the hands of a leader whose party, the Maoist Centre, ranks third in parliament with just 32 legislators.

Despite Maoist Centre leaders terming the new coalition a regressive move, the NC and UML spelled out reasons for creating the new alliance. They would collaborate closely to protect national interests, combat rampant corruption, expedite development projects, provide political stability, amend the constitution by assessing constitutional exercises completed thus far to further consolidate the federal democratic and inclusive system, consolidate the economy, and achieve all of the constitution's goals.

There are other compelling reasons. One of the key factors is the necessity to amend constitutional provisions on elections and proportional systems of representation, as well as reducing the number of MPs in federal and provincial legislatures. The current mechanisms for choosing lawmakers via direct election and proportional representation have prevented the Lower House of Parliament from having a party capable of forming a government with its own majority.

The existing electoral system consistently produces hung parliaments in the centre and provinces. As a consequence, the creation of coalitions with many parties usually prevents governments from carrying out development and people-oriented programmes comprehensively since administrations must address issues related to coalition partners’ demands and urges. According to reports, the Congress and UML leaders have proposed that the lower chamber of parliament should consist entirely of lawmakers elected through the first-past-the-post system, while the National Assembly, or upper house of parliament, should consist of parliamentarians elected using the PR system. Furthermore, the number of MPs in provinces should be reduced, and the PR system should be abolished there entirely. They have also urged that the number of local units, which now number 753, be reduced while the number of wards within these units be expanded.

However, others believe that the formation of a new coalition between the NC and UML at midnight on Monday was motivated largely by apprehensions over the government's impending action against numerous high-profile individuals accused of engaging in different scandals and frauds. Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane announced his intention to initiate action regarding 25 corruption cases, which may have alarmed some high-profile figures from both parties. The Maoist Centre and RSP leaders claimed that the leadership of two parties joined hands following charges of having connections with the Giribandhu Tea Estate land scandal and the Bhutanese refugee scandal.

Manipulative politics

Regardless of the accusations, the NC and the UML will form the next government in a few days. According to analysts, the new administration must undertake a number of obligations to help the nation achieve quick growth and boost prosperity. These parties will do well by saying farewell to manipulative politics, which has resulted in frequent changes in coalitions among parties seeking to retain power. Political stability is more important to the country's progress and economic well-being. They also require stability in provincial governments. At present, it appears possible that only two of them will form governments in six provinces, while one province will be ruled by a Madhesh-based party that backs the central government.

Finally, it appears that the chiefs of two parties will share the prime minister's chair until November 2027, keeping the Maoist Centre out of the arc. The new turn of events makes it clear that in the Westminster style of political system, the number in the Lower House of Parliament dictates the term for parties when it comes to forming government. Other things do not matter much.

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

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