The left juggernautFuture of left alliance depends heavily on Oli-Dahal chemistry; it should develop beyond that
The agreement between CPN-UML Chair KP Oli and CPN (Maoist Centre) Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal on the unification of their two parties comes as somewhat of a surprise. Though the two leaders had agreed to unite before the elections, relations were strained after the polls.
It was a difficult process. A large number of UML members were opposed to the plan of making Dahal chair of the unified party. And Dahal would not accept unification unless he was accorded the top position after the merger. Recent talks between Dahal and Oli seem to have smoothed things out, and they have now come up with a new plan. The two leaders are to share joint chairmanship of the party. In addition, it appears that there has been an agreement to take turns in the position of prime minister as well—while Oli will head the government for the first two and a half years, Dahal will be premier after that.
The agreement signed between the two leaders indicates their intention to transform their recent alliance into a real merger of the two parties. Dahal remained committed to the UML, even when he faced difficulties in negotiations and when the Nepali Congress offered to make him prime minister. Oli meanwhile seems committed to a power-sharing deal with Dahal despite reservations from certain quarters in his party. For now, the likelihood of Dahal and Oli staying together for a full five-year term is high.
Nonetheless, there are numerous challenges that remain to be resolved. In fact, the recent agreement between Dahal and Oli might not even work as expected. Almost never in Nepal’s history has a single party been led by two individuals of equal rank. There is a reason for this: generally, a single top leader is necessary to arbitrate disputes and take final decisions. However, in the case of the new party that will be formed through the UML and Maoist Centre (MC) merger, it is unclear what will happen if there are disagreements between Oli and Dahal. Problems in maintaining the command structure of the party may arise. Furthermore, the issue of leadership handover has never been easy in Nepal and it will be interesting to see how committed Dahal will remain when Oli is in Baluwatar for half the five-year term. The trend in Nepali politics so far: once a prime minister gets entrenched in power, all others combine (despite their deep political and ideological differences) to bring his government down.
At the current moment, the entire future of the left alliance hinges on the personal relationship between Oli and Dahal—a fragile basis for such a large political party. But perhaps this is to be expected. Unification between such major forces is bound to lead to significant problems in the short and medium term. Over the longer term, perhaps the MC and UML organisations will merge into each other more organically, by which point personal relations between top leaders will decline in significance. The left alliance received a resounding mandate in the elections and people are keen to see them in government as early as possible.