Oli meets Deuba after talks with US ambassador as MCC deadline approachesNepali Congress, CPN-UML expedite dialogue on a new deal just as coalition partners drift apart over the American grant. Efforts are on to save the ruling alliance.
Meetings are coming thick and fast in Kathmandu.
US Ambassador Randy Berry on Tuesday evening met with former prime minister and CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli who then met with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.
Developments come days ahead of scheduled discussions on the Millennium Challenge Corporation-Nepal Compact in Parliament.
The compact was tabled on Sunday amid House obstructions by the UML and a tough stance by two of Deuba’s partners—Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and CPN (Unified Socialist)—against its ratification.
Deuba can get the $500 million US grant ratified from the House easily if the UML lends support. However, it has not given a concrete word to Deuba despite several negotiations—directly or through back channels.
Sources said the US envoy on Tuesday evening discussed with Oli a possible alliance between the UML and Deuba’s Nepali Congress ahead of Thursday’s Parliament meeting, where a voting is likely on the American grant.
After meeting with the US ambassador, Oli, accompanied by his close aides Ishwar Pokhrel and Bishnu Poudel, made a dash for Baluwatar to meet Deuba.
This is the second meeting between Deuba and Oli in one week.
“The prime minister sought our support to ratify the MCC,” Poudel told the Post after the meeting. “We asked the prime minister to create a conducive environment for us to participate in Parliament.”
The UML has been obstructing the House for the last five months.
Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gyanendra Bahadur Karki, one of the key members from Deuba’s orbit making efforts for MCC ratification, said the prime minister has conveyed to Oli that the latter should extend support in the grant ratification as the government led by it registered the agreement in Parliament.
“The UML side remains stuck to its same old position. They said until the Speaker is removed or until he takes action against their 14 lawmakers, they will not allow the House to function,” said Karki.
According to sources, besides other issues that have been almost agreed upon, the Congress and the UML are still at odds over how to remove the Speaker and what to do with the impeachment motion registered against Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana.
On February 13, as many as 98 lawmakers from the Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist of the ruling alliance jointly registered the impeachment motion against Rana at the Parliament Secretariat. The UML has called it a wrong move.
Earlier on Tuesday, Maoist chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Unified Socialist chair Madhav Nepal and Janata Samajbadi Party chair Upendra Yadav held separate meetings at Singha Durbar to discuss the MCC compact. All three are against ratification of the MCC compact, for which the United States has set a deadline of February 28.
According to Nepali Congress and UML leaders, the US side has communicated to top leaders of both the parties that if they join hands to ratify the MCC compact, Washington is ready to extend the deadline until mid-March.
In earlier communications, the US has conveyed to Nepali leaders that failure to ratify the compact would mean a decision by the MCC board on March 22, which could even decide to end its partnership with Nepal.
According to sources, the US side was of the view—after it was told the compact had been tabled—that it could consider extending the deadline if the Congress and the UML came on the same page to ratify the grant agreement on the ground that it could take some time to hold deliberations on the issue.
A senior UML leader said talks have been taking place at various levels with the Nepali Congress.
“Whatever is happening at present does not bode well for the country and we are aware of it,” said Subas Nembang, deputy parliamentary party leader of the UML. “We are in touch with Nepali Congress leaders at different levels in a bid to save the country from falling into a crisis.”
The UML had been saying that it would make its position clear on the MCC compact after the government tabled it in Parliament, but it has not said anything concrete yet.
The UML is also under obligation to support it because the government led by the party had registered it in Parliament for its ratification.
“Talks with the UML have been going on, but nothing solid has come as yet,” said senior Congress leader Minendra Rijal, who has held a series of talks with Oli and other UML leaders in the past few days. “I am of the view that the Congress and the UML should come together to ratify the compact even if we have to break the current alliance.”
Breaking the current alliance that led to the fall of Oli is one of the preconditions of the UML. The UML has been seeking a credible assurance from Deuba that he would break the alliance in return for its support to the American grant.
Deuba too wants assurances from Oli that the latter doesn’t join hands with the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist if the alliance breaks down.
The two communist forces have been showing duplicity in their actions—they are opposing the MCC ratification plan of the very government they are part of.
According to one senior UML leader, several rounds of formal and informal talks have already taken place between the UML and the Congress and there are some important issues that Oli and Deuba need to sort out.
The UML is also seeking to oust Speaker Agni Sapkota against whom the party has an axe to grind for his failure to act on its August decision to expel some of its then lawmakers including Madhav Nepal who subsequently formed the CPN (Unified Socialist).
The UML apparently is also looking to lead governments in some provinces where it lost after rapid political developments which led to the formation of the current ruling alliance.
According to party insiders, Deuba also wants the UML to promise that it will not stake claim to the government because as soon as he breaks the alliance and two of his key partners quit, his dispensation will turn into a minority.
Another senior Congress leader said if Deuba and Oli can sort out some of these issues, a new political deal is not very far.
And the US ambassador’s meeting with Oli seems to have taken place to broker such a deal. The ambassador had met with Oli on February 8 as well and held rounds of telephone calls too. On February 17 also, he had met with Deuba to enquire about why the government backtracked on tabling the compact in the House despite making a public statement regarding the same.
While the MCC compact has become a politically divisive issue in Nepal, it has emerged as a major headache for Washington which believes the Nepali leadership has reneged on their signed obligations.
Signed in September 2017, the MCC compact is an assistance under which the United States will provide $500 million to Nepal for electricity transmission lines and road maintenance.
The compact now may have reached Parliament, its ratification is easier said than done unless Nepali parties are on the same page for its implementation, as opposers like the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist say the agreement is against Nepal’s sovereignty.
Even though Deuba is exploring multiple options to ratify it, he is not keen on breaking the alliance as long as that is possible.
There are also talks about finding a way to ratify the compact while keeping the alliance intact.
Some Congress, Maoist Centre and Unified Socialist leaders are working on a new proposal—“interpretative declaration”.
Congress General Secretary Gagan Kumar Thapa, who initiated the proposal, has held several rounds of discussions with his own party members and the leaders of the Unified Socialist in order to ensure the compact’s ratification.
“We have discussed the idea with Prime Minister Deuba and have forwarded the proposal to the chairs of the Moaist Centre and the Unified Socialist,” said Thapa. “We have yet to receive a response from them.”
Thapa and some ministers from the Unified Socialist prepared a draft of the “interpretative declaration” on Monday evening.
“This will be a legally binding provision. As MCC is being passed from the House, this interpretive declaration will be attached together so it will automatically become part of the MCC compact. It is a widely practised legal provision even in the US,” said Thapa. “If they do not agree to the proposal, then there is no way we can consider the demands of the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist.”
Even as the two coalition partners are not averse to the MCC’s ratification, they are demanding amendments to some of the provisions in the compact.
The general understanding is if the interpretative declaration is attached, it gives some room to carry out further discussions on the compact even after it is ratified.
According to sources, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and the guidelines made public by the United Nations International Law Commission in 2011 have the provision of “interpretative declaration”.
Sources say there are examples of this being invoked by countries like France, Colombia and Israel.
“A treaty between Colombia and Israel includes a treaty as well as an interpretative declaration,” an advocate involved in preparing the draft told the Post.
“Interpretative declaration” means a unilateral statement, however phrased or named, made by a State or an international organisation, whereby that State or that organisation purports to specify or clarify the meaning or scope of a treaty or of its certain provisions.
“It is necessary to form a clear view on the MCC and there are widespread interests, concerns and apprehensions about the grant agreement. So each party will put their concerns and apprehensions which will also be passed by the House while ratifying the compact,” said the advocate who wished to remain anonymous.
According to Thapa, both the documents related to MCC ratification and interpretative declaration will be sent to the MCC headquarters for perusal.
Narayan Kaji Shrestha, a senior Maoist leader, however, dubbed it a futile exercise.
“Such a proposal will not address the larger concerns that we have been raising and those raised by the people,” said Shrestha.