Tuesday, 19 October, 2021
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OPINION

Upheavals In Provinces UML Bickering Boon For Opposition



Narayan Upadhyay

With the spat in the ruling party showing no sign of ebbing, the CPN-UML-led governments in provinces have taken a blow. Its internal bickering has led to unexpected upheavals in all provincial governments, causing harm in its image and interests. The opposition parties, in the meantime, have turned the differences in the UML into an opportunity to make their presence in the provincial governments, which appeared absolutely unthinkable a few weeks ago. It undoubtedly is a major setback to the ruling dispensation that has compelled it to offer olive branch to the party rivals lately.
Six out of seven province governments, formed after the unified Communist Nepal Party (NCP) had a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections, had once boasted a solid majority in their respective state assemblies. In Province 2, the only state where the now-defunct NCP lacked its government, the Madhesh-based Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) had formed the government of entire Madhesi representatives.
NC’s inroads
The Nepali Congress (NC) was nowhere near making inroads in any of the provincial governments. The NC that had lost the 2017 general elections to the unified force of the UML and Maoist Centre had also conceded defeats in state assembly elections. Within three and a half year of these elections, the NC got hold of a surprise gift after its provincial assembly leader, Krishna Chandra Nepali Pokharel, was catapulted to the seat of Gandaki Chief Minister, all thanks to hostility between the UML leaders and the Maoist-Centre and other rival parties. The NC has only 15 lawmakers in the 60-member Gandaki assembly but its leader Pokharel received significant backing from Maoist Centre's 12 lawmakers and two each from the Janamorcha and JSP (Yadav faction) and an independent lawmaker Deepak Manange to prove his majority of 31 legislators in the 60-member Gandaki Assembly.
Owing to the recent political polarisation post the March 7 Supreme Court ruling that saw the then NCP split into the UML and Maoist Centre, the UML-led state governments have encountered a survival dilemma. The recent upheavals that caused changes in the provincial governments are fallout of an incredible unity among opposition parties - the Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre, Upendra Yadav-led JSP faction, Janamorcha and the Nepal-Khanal faction of UML. Having taken a firm stance against the UML's establishment and the ruling party chair, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, the opposition parties have worked in unison to change the shape of provincial governments. The factional divide in the UML has come to the aid of the opposition parties in their endeavour in replacing the incumbent chief ministers and ministers in many provinces.
The replacement process of the reigning authorities, however, was initiated by none other than the UML after the party’s Karnali state parliamentary body tried its best to unseat the incumbent Chief Minister Mahendra Bahadur Shahi of the Maoist Centre, who later secured the confidence vote despite having only 12 party legislators in the 40-member state assembly. Shahi won crucial support extended by the six NC lawmakers and four legislators from the UML's Nepal-Khanal faction who had crossed the floor to vote for him. In the meantime, the same incident came as a rude shock to the UML and its chair for the Karnali trust vote was the first incident in the annals of the parliamentary polity in which the UML state lawmakers had violated the party whip and crossed the floor to vote the chief minister from a rival party.
 Likewise, the Chief Minister Trilochan Bhatta of Sudur Paschim Province, a Maoist Centre leader, recently won a vote of confidence after he was offered much-needed backing by UML rebel legislators, much to the dismay of the UML establishment. CM Bhatta received 30 out of 51 votes during the process. The 17 votes gained from the Nepal-Khanal faction and 13 from his party lawmakers were instrumental in Bhatta's victory. After extending support during the trust vote, the opposition alliance included the NC and rival UML functionaries and a few others in the governments of these two provinces.
The UML establishment-led government in Lumbini is in deep trouble as the opposition parties, including the UML's rebel legislators, have asked Chief Minister Shankar Pokharel to secure the trust vote as he has lacked the majority in the provincial parliament. However, the Chief Minister has not responded to the opposition's call, fearing he would lose the trust vote. The governments in Province 1 and Bagmati have confronted existential issue after the opposition upped their ante in the face of growing differences in the UML.
Also, after the crack appeared in the JSP, the Yadav group of the party reshuffled the state cabinet of Province 2 by ousting the ministers representing the JSP's Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato faction. After the reshuffle, they included two Nepali Congress leaders in the provincial government as ministers.

Disastrous divide
In the meantime, the UML rebel leaders as well as all major opposition parties have filed a signed petition at the Supreme Court requesting the latter to nominate the Nepali Nepali Congress President as the next prime minister by restoring the dissolved House of the Representatives. The move to select Deuba as the prime ministerial candidate came following the consecutive dissolution of the Lower House of the Parliament that also witnessed the spiralling of antagonism in the UML.
The disastrous divide has weakened the dominant presence of the UML in the provinces and has menaced to cause more harm to the party. Though the party establishment has made umpteen attempts to sort out the rivalry for the sake of party's harmony, the Nepal-Khanal faction is hesitant to respond to the call for dialogues, often terming the attempts as a tactic for misleading them. As they look at each other with heightened cynicism, they have come up with several pre-conditions before they communicate to deal with conflict. It is discernible now that the continuing tussle only favours the opponents that would try wresting more political space from the feuding UML.

(Upadhyay is Deputy Executive Editor of The Rising Nepal. nara.upadhyay@gmail.com)