‘The President’s return to active politics is unthinkable’UML’s deputy general secretary and former foreign minister Pradeep Gyawali on the current state of national politics.
National politics has taken a curious turn following the decision of the Nepali Congress, the biggest parliamentary party, to give a vote of confidence to the government of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, leaving the legislature virtually opposition-less. This also threatens to undermine the trust between Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Centre) party and KP Sharma Oli’s CPN-UML, the biggest party in the ruling coalition. Pradeep Gyawali, UML’s deputy general secretary and former foreign minister, spoke to the Post’s Purushottam Poudel about the current state of national politics. Excerpts:
Before the November elections, both the UML and the Maoist Centre leaders were insistent that there was no possibility of their coming together anytime soon. But that was a clear lie, wasn’t it?
We need to see this from three different perspectives. One, People’s attitudes and expressions change with a change in context. Two, in a country like ours, certain statements are made from a strategic perspective and sometimes, it is also a theoretical belief of the relevant parties or leaders. Three, whatever the reason, lying damages leadership’s image.
Following their ignominious 2021 break-up, the acrimony between CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre) was clear to everybody. How did these two parties again come together this time?
Two different contexts should be considered here. The mandate of the November 20 polls was so fragmented that no single party could form a government on its own. The government could only have been formed through cooperation among the parties, whether or not they were together in the election. The election mandate unlocked a world of opportunities for every party.
Second, there was resentment in the previous alliance. The CPN (Maoist Centre) and the CPN (Unified Socialist) had publicly blamed Nepali Congress for the lack of vote transfer. The Congress then declined to uphold the earlier pact to support Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the country’s future leader. The Maoist Centre was exploring new possibilities in these circumstances. The UML had also approached the Congress, the largest party in the parliament, to form the government. However, it did not take our offer seriously. So a situation was created whereby we had to cooperate with the Maoist Centre to form the government.
Why is there such disquiet in the UML about the Congress’ vote of confidence for PM Dahal?
I don't think Congress has given a vote of confidence to prime minister Dahal with good intention. Dahal joined the UML after the Congress refused to give him the post of prime minister on the final day set by President Bidya Devi Bhandari to form the government. The Congress, which was reluctant to make Dahal prime minister when it was in a position to do so, could not have suddenly decided to give him the confidence vote just for the sake of political stability. It seems that Congress wants to create doubts between the UML and the Maoist Centre.
We, the ruling parties, are pleased when the scope of trust in the government is expanded. However, notwithstanding the legal possibilities, there will now be no potent opposition in the parliament. We are worried about what such a weak opposition will entail.
Prime Minister Dahal has called for an all-party meeting on Tuesday where he is expected to build consensus, including with the Congress, for the election of Speaker and President. Will the UML see this as a betrayal?
We are unaware of the motives of the prime minister’s call for the all-party meeting. Whatever course of action he chooses, he must build confidence in the ruling alliance. The vote of confidence he got may be questioned if he tries to incorporate other parties without building trust among ruling parties. We think the all-party meeting is a formality. He should avoid things that undermine trust among the ruling parties.
Do you think the Congress had been influenced by certain quarters to give Dahal its trust vote?
There was an interest among external forces to keep the UML out of the government during the term of the last parliament. Those power centres were interested in the continuation of the old alliance. However, they were not successful. The political parties of Nepal made a wise decision. We are equally aware of the possibility of attempts to weaken the national capacity of Nepal in the coming days.
What role did China play in the latest UML-Maoist rapprochement?
Foreigners were not a part of the previous UML-Maoist unity and collaboration. Even before the most recent elections, the two parties should have formed an alliance had the northern neighbour's advice been decisive. But that was not the case. When two left-wing parties in Nepal unite, it is natural for a country with a left-leaning state philosophy to be happy about it. But I reiterate that no foreign power was involved in the formation of the erstwhile Nepal Communist Party, its later disintegration or the formation of the present alliance between two communist parties. There should be no room for external forces to play here.
Are you suggesting that we have created some room for them?
Yes. Two neighbours of Nepal, India and China, as well as the United States and the European Union, have tremendous interest in our internal affairs. India sees itself as having a stake in Nepali politics as a result of its historical role in our political changes and the peace process. Some of India’s friends view it as their investment and they aspire to get a return on the investment, which is wrong. Internationally, democratic nations are obliged to support any other nation’s democratic movement.
Having said that, there is some fault on our part too. If we give space to others to play in our matters, they will. To stop them from meddling, we have to be strong.
There are rumours that the current President and Vice-president might get continuity, despite the constitution clearly saying that they cannot serve for more than two terms. What do you say?
During their first stint, the present President and Vice-President served out only two of their five-year terms each. Moreover, both were chosen by the House of Representatives. But now there is a new provision whereby they will be chosen by the Electoral College that comprises both the Houses of the federal parliament as well as all the seven provincial assemblies. Therefore, there is a debate about whether they should get another chance. However, there will this time be new candidates for these posts.
President Bhandari has hinted that she may enter active politics after she completes her presidential term. Do you see that as a possibility?
The President stated in a recent interview that she has not made up her mind on her future plans. Nevertheless, this does not imply that she will enter party politics. In a country like ours, it is unthinkable for someone who has served at the highest constitutional office to return to active politics. Although the law doesn't prevent it, I don't believe the president is interested.
During the NCP days, the majority of the secretariat’s nine members produced a 19-page indictment against one of the then two party chairs, Oli. Won’t that old resentment again hurt UML-Maoist Centre relations?
At that time, the friends who published the 19-page indictment must have secretly felt that they had made a mistake. Back then, some people wanted to establish a narrative that dissolving the parliament was a regression and Oli was the leader of a regressive force. The same narrative, stating that there is still a risk of dissolution of parliament, came up during the November elections. They were unable to back these up, though. The allegations made against our party chair were rejected by the electorate, despite the fact that the UML was under siege during the elections. Meanwhile, there is no possibility of immediate unification between the UML and the Maoist Centre, the climate for the same has not been created. This time, we want to move forward as two different parties. We want to build an environment of trust.
But there is already a level of mistrust, right? Speaking in the parliament, while the UML chair defended his decision to twice dissolve the house, prime minister Dahal said the issue was not relevant for the state of the current coalition.
The Congress brought up this issue. The dissolution of the parliament was an attempt to attack the constitution, according to Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, who spoke on the first day of parliament. He claimed that the Congress-led alliance was responsible for saving the constitution. In other words, after Deuba presented the restoration of the previous parliament as a symbol of the defence of the constitution, UML chair Oli put forward his belief that the house dissolution was not regression. I agree that any prime minister should have the option to go for midterm elections if the parliament does not operate in accordance with his or her agenda. Our party chair tried to remind the Congress of history after the Congress tried to rehash the resolved matter.
Separately, before the inauguration of the Pokhara International Airport, which was built with the help of China, the Chinese Embassy here said that the project was a part of its Belt Road Initiative (BRI). Is the Pokhara Airport under the BRI?
I don't know why the acting ambassador of China said that. The embassy should have been aware of all these matters. Nepal formally agreed to the BRI framework in 2017. As the Trans Himalayan Connectivity is a part of BRI, we determined the nine priority sectors for Nepal in 2019. We have yet to decide on its funding and investment modalities. Actually, no project has been completed in Nepal under the BRI. The construction of the Pokhara airport started long before we signed the BRI.