‘Concluding the peace process will be Dahal’s biggest challenge’Deputy General Secretary of CPN (Maoist Centre) Haribol Gajurel on a range of issues including the upcoming Presidential elections and the new Dahal government’s priorities.
Tika R Pradhan
Deputy General Secretary of CPN (Maoist Centre) Haribol Gajurel had been among the fiercest in-party critics of chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal. After being denied a ticket to contest the November polls, he has now been made prime minister Dahal’s chief advisor. Gajurel talked to Post’s Tika R Pradhan on a range of issues including the upcoming Presidential elections and the new Dahal government’s priorities.
What is the Maoist Centre’s take on the upcoming presidential election?
We are in favour of forging national consensus on electing the President. History shows that when major political parties are divided, it does the country a lot of harm. Major parties were not in consensus during the promulgation of the constitution, which led to prolonged delays. We had to hold two elections for that.
But more recently, the nation stood in favour of our party chair during the vote of confidence in the parliament, creating a new environment of consensus. We will give continuity to that sentiment for proper implementation of the constitution and to elect the country's new President.
We have not specified which party should get the presidency. We are only saying that candidates for constitutional positions like President, Vice President and National Assembly chair must be selected based on national consensus.
Earlier, when we forged a power-sharing agreement after the constitution was promulgated in 2015, we had suggested Sushil Koirala as President, KP Sharma Oli as prime minister and a Maoist Centre leader as Speaker. But then Koirala shot down the plan. Lack of consensus created a lot of upheaval in Nepali politics. So, this time we want national consensus, at least on major constitutional issues. This is what we propose to all major parties.
Maoist Centre had an agreement with the UML that the latter would get the President’s seat. You now seek a consensual candidate for the same. Won’t the UML see it as a betrayal?
The political situation changed after the Congress gave its vote of confidence to Prime Minister Dahal, which created an environment for national consensus. And this is why we are stressing it. Again, we are not saying whether a presidential candidate should be from the UML or the Congress.
We had earlier forged an agreement with UML, but after the new development, we are in favour of giving national consensus a chance as it is in favour of the country and the people. So this is not a question of betraying the UML.
But will the UML accept such a proposal?
A candidate acceptable to all is what we seek and what is also good for the country. People’s trust in political parties has dwindled, which is the parties’ own doing. Having a national consensus on major constitutional posts will help us regain people’s trust.
We won’t go to the extent of offending the UML. Our party got the prime ministership because of the UML support and we cannot afford to offend them. The existing coalition remains but alongside we propose a national consensus.
But why will the UML accept your proposal?
Let’s not make assumptions. Why are we thinking the UML will reject it? The UML can propose its own candidate for President and so can the Congress or some other party. Some may propose candidates from within their own parties while others may extend support to other parties’ candidates. We just don’t want the country to bear the damage of political parties not working together.
Our constitution implementation process and peace process are both yet to be completed. We must aim for a national consensus until these two major tasks are taken to their logical conclusion.
Our goal will be to seek consensus on the presidential candidate while saving the coalition as governments at both the federal and provincial levels have already been formed. If the coalition breaks, its ripples will be felt across the country, creating more political instability.
The prime minister has been in regular touch with UML chairman Oli. What transpires in those meetings?
The two parties hold cordial discussions. The prime minister has already presented his proposal in the all-party meeting and the UML chair has also put forth his opinion. The two leaders are discussing possible President candidates but there has been no agreement on who should be the candidate and from which party. But we strongly believe that if we have a consensual candidate, it will be easier to implement the constitution and conclude the peace process. This will also ensure political stability.
Why does the Maoist Centre keep changing its coalition partners?
We do what the situation demands. As per our agreement with the Nepali Congress ahead of the 2022 general elections, there was an agreement that the Maoist Centre would get to lead the post-electoral government. But Congress was then reluctant to give us either President or prime minister. This is why our claim to government leadership this time was natural.
Before that, after the UML refused to comply with an earlier agreement with the Maoist Centre that we had forged before the 2017 elections, we were compelled to join hands with the Congress in order to safeguard the constitution.
Our main motive is to take the peace process to a logical conclusion, which could not happen during the tenures of the previous UML and Congress-led governments. As Dahal is the only living signatory to the comprehensive peace agreement, he needs to take the lead in concluding the peace process.
Dahal also thinks that he should lead the government to ensure proper implementation of the constitution, having played a pivotal role in resolving key constitutional issues.
Will the prime minister be able to conclude the peace process and implement the constitution?
Yes, it is possible and it must be done to ensure political stability. Otherwise, old problems will linger and continue to harm the body-politic.
Is Maoist Centre trying to unify with the UML?
We will try to forge an agreement with like-minded forces. But when we talk about unity with the UML, we also need to evaluate the past. When Oli became both party chair and prime minister, we could not save unity when he was in the dual role. Other factors must have been in play but he must take the responsibility for the unravelling of the earlier unity.
Although Dahal sacrificed the agreement of power-sharing to save party unity, it was not enough. The two parties must still unify but only after evaluating their past mistakes and developing a lasting environment of trust.
What are the challenges before Dahal as the new prime minister?
He has some major challenges, the most important being the conclusion of the peace process, which is directly related to national development. Then comes implementation of the constitution. The country has failed to advance on the federal republic track despite getting a new constitution. In fact, we are working as if the country were still under the 1990 constitution.
Dahal wants to give a positive message that constitution implementation is on track. As the main leader that saw the country through the decade-long people’s war, it is Dahal’s responsibility to create the basis for Nepal’s future prosperity.
How long will the Maoist Centre’s working relations with the UML last?
What happens next depends on party leaders. We had unified our party with the UML earlier and also tried to work in coalition with Congress and we had sought longevity each time, but then failed.
Now our attempt is to make this coalition with UML last. We have faced all kinds of ups and downs and progressed from enmity to working together. All the left voters of the country are excited about this coalition. But its longevity depends on how our leaders evaluate their past mistakes and move forward.
Before he was prime minister, Dahal had said he would form a high-level commission to track corruption and focus on larger development projects but there has been no development on that front.
We are leading a coalition government. We have already revealed the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) and have also started to implement it. The CMP has incorporated some anti-corruption issues and development projects. They will be implemented gradually.
Separately, what do you think accounts for Dahal’s radical transformation from a left-wing revolutionary to now embracing daura suruwal and Prithvi Jayanti?
Dahal did not discuss his dress code with the party. It was his personal call. As all other leaders of the party were wearing Daura Suruwal, he might have thought it best to support their actions, which would also help maintain national unity.
Perhaps he was also mindful of the kind of rainbow coalition he was leading. But neither Dahal nor the party has opposed the daura suruwal and by wearing it Dahal must have wanted to show that he is not against it.