Confusion remains as to how the MCC grant will move forwardLawmakers set to start discussions on $500 million American assistance from Thursday.
With two ruling coalition partners–Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and CPN (Unified Socialist)—saying that they will vote against the Millennium Challenge Corporation-Nepal Compact, which was tabled in Parliament on Sunday, confusion persists over its ratification by February 28, the deadline set by the United States as demanded by the Nepali leadership.
The MCC compact is likely to be put forth for discussions at Thursday’s meeting. It is not clear how many lawmakers are going to participate in the discussions and whether the two ruling coalition partners, which are against its ratification, will participate in the debate. The main opposition CPN-UML also has not made its position clear on the compact, hence it is not clear if its lawmakers will even participate in the discussion—and voting—whenever it is put to vote. The UML anyway has been obstructing the House proceedings for the last five months. When Communications Minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki tabled the compact in Parliament on Sunday, the UML’s obstruction continued.
Questions have already been raised about the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist for their duplicity as they are protesting against the compact despite being in the government. Usually, if any coalition partner has any objection to a certain government proposal or bill, it should quit the government.
“Today also we have affirmed our decision taken at the Standing Committee meeting of Saturday to vote against the MCC compact and create an environment to reject it from Parliament,” said Jagannath Khatiwada, spokesperson of the CPN (Unified Socialist).
Whether it will be a voice vote—where lawmakers say “yea” or “nay”—or voting by signing has not been determined yet. If the House chooses to go for a voice vote, the Speaker decides if the majority of lawmakers said “yea” or “nay”. In proper voting, lawmakers, however, will have to vote in favour or against in writing, which is later counted.
Maoist Centre and Unified Socialist leaders have said they will not accept a voice vote.
There is a provision in Parliament regulation that at least 10 percent of the total members can request for physical voting.
In the 275- strong House of Representatives, there currently are 271 lawmakers. By that extension, 28 lawmakers have to make a demand for the same.
If physical voting happens, how the lawmakers will vote will decide the fate of the MCC compact. Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s Nepali Congress has 61 members in the House.
Maoist Centre (49), Unified Socialist (24) and Rastriya Janamorcha (1) that are set to vote against the compact together have 74 votes. The Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), yet another coalition partner, has 19 members in the House, but the party is divided over the compact.
Of the two parties in the opposition, the UML has 97 votes, and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party (LSP) has 13 votes. While the UML has not made its position clear, LSP has hinted at voting in favour.
Karki, the communications minister who tabled the MCC compact on Sunday, said that the government is confident about its ratification. Though there is no clarity, the confidence stems from some calculations the Congress has made.
For a House meeting to convene, at least one-fourth of the lawmakers must be present, which is 68. So, the Congress, which has 61 members, will need just seven members’ presence in convening the House and it expects LSP lawmakers to be present or half of the JSP lawmakers.
If at least 10 of the JSP members and 13 LSP members are present in the House, 43 votes will be enough to ratify the compact. If there are only 68 members present, it will become even easier for the government, as just 35 votes will be required.
But if the Maoist Centre, the Unified Socialist and the Rastriya Janamorcha members decide to be present, the total strength of the House will go up to 158, requiring 79 votes in favour of the compact. In that case, 80 votes will be required, and all LSP and at least seven lawmakers must support the Congress in voting.
The JSP has scheduled its Executive Committee meeting for Friday.
“We will take a concrete decision on the MCC compact from our party’s meeting scheduled for Friday which will be followed by the Parliamentary Party meeting,” said Pramod Sah, chief whip of the JSP. “You know we are going through some kind of internal conflict.”
Sah said the majority of the members seem to be in favour of endorsing the MCC but an official decision would be taken from the Executive Committee and the Parliamentary Party. The party will also decide whether or not to issue a whip to its lawmakers.
Experts say parties must refrain from issuing a whip on deciding such an important issue and allow individual lawmakers to take informed decisions.
“Since MCC is a very crucial issue in terms of national interests, parties must not issue whip to their lawmakers,” said Chandra Kanta Gyawali, an expert on constitutional law. “This is not like a regular bill. It has international connections.”
Even though the Maoist Centre and Unified Socialist have taken an official decision to reject the MCC compact, some leaders of the two parties say they won’t pull out of the government.
During his meeting with Congress senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel on Monday, Maoist chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal had said that the coalition will not break due to differences over MCC.
“The prime minister has clearly told the leaders of the five-party ruling alliance that they are free to vote for or against MCC and that won’t affect the coalition government,” said Dev Prasad Gurung, chief whip of the Maoist Centre. “It looks odd as the tradition is to quit government once a ruling coalition partner differs in opinion with the prime minister but our prime minister has encouraged us to break that tradition.”
Gurung, however, said that since his party had already taken a decision to pull out of the government if MCC was tabled, they were always ready to quit anytime.
Explaining the reason behind abrupt backtracking of the Maoist Centre from its Wednesday’s decision to pull out of government if the compact was tabled without national consensus, a Central Committee member said party chair Dahal took the decision to foil the plan of the prime minister and the UML to begin the process to oust the Speaker and bring Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana back to his office at the earliest by failing the impeachment motion by the UML and Congress.
“If the Unified Socialist had not taken the decision to allow tabling of the MCC and Dahal had stood against, there was a plan to invalidate Madhav Nepal’s party,” said the Central Committee member of Maoist Centre. “Now the Maoist Centre will vote against the MCC and see how the UML acts.”