Deuba in a fix as Maoists vacillate, UML refuses to commit on MCC pactAs Dahal keeps on moving the goalposts, Congress is increasingly under pressure. Oli refuses to budge.
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) has continued to demonstrate its duplicity and its vacillation has held hostage Nepali politics which is currently centred on an American grant called the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)-Nepal Compact.
The party, which is opposed to the MCC compact’s parliamentary ratification, does not want to quit the ruling coalition, just while it wants the grant agreement to fail in Parliament.
Until a few weeks ago, the party said it would quit the coalition if the government tabled the MCC compact in Parliament. On February 16, its Parliamentary Party even decided to pull out of the government if the MCC proposal was tabled.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who is under pressure to ratify the compact without breaking the alliance, hence delayed the tabling. Deuba also explored options if he could forge an alliance with the main opposition CPN-UML to ensure the required numbers to ratify the compact.
Maoist chair Dahal, meanwhile, continued to persuade Deuba not to table the compact. The Maoist leader then reached an understanding that his party would protest but would allow the government to table the compact. Subsequently, the government on February 20 tabled it in Parliament.
The Maoist Centre then said it would vote against the compact. Deuba kept his channels open with the UML and held two rounds of meetings with the opposition leaders, including Chairman KP Sharma Oli on Thursday, as he requested postponement of the House meeting. Dahal himself reached out to Oli on Thursday afternoon between the two meetings of the Nepali Congress and the UML.
On Friday, the Maoist Centre said it would make a last-ditch effort to save the coalition. Some leaders said a way out could be remaining absent in Parliament when the compact is put to a vote, which will mean ratification of the compact while keeping the coalition intact. Others said the party still continues to maintain the same position that it won’t allow its ratification.
“We have not decided yet on abstaining from voting but we are exploring what could be the most appropriate option,” said Haribol Gajurel, a senior Maoist leader close to party chair Dahal, following the party’s “extended meeting” of its central office in Khumaltar. “We are hopeful that leaders would come up with some kind of alternative to save the coalition.”
Dahal is in a fix largely because of his double-dealings. Personally he does not seem to be opposed to the American grant, which is evident also from a letter he co-wrote with Deuba to the MCC headquarters on September 29 last year seeking four-five months for the compact’s ratification. The MCC headquarters, accordingly, set the February 28 deadline. Now Dahal is unable to persuade his party members, who have already toughened their stance against the American grant.
Leaders including Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Leelamani Pokhrel are dead against the compact’s ratification and have been perpetuating the notion that the grant threatens national sovereignty.
After failing to get concrete assurances from the UML, which has a host of preconditions for supporting the compact’s ratification, Deuba once again requested postponement of the House meeting on Friday. The next meeting has been scheduled for 1pm Sunday.
What the Maoist Centre exactly wants is not clear yet, except that it does not want to break the alliance, which by extension is staying in power—by hook or by crook.
Insiders in Deuba’s Nepali Congress say the prime minister’s major concern is if the coalition breaks, it may prompt Dahal to join hands with Oli in the garb of a “larger leftist alliance.”
Oli so far has ruled out such a possibility. He, however, has pressed Deuba for breaking the alliance if the UML support is needed to ratify the MCC compact. The UML has also demanded unseating the Speaker and a power-sharing deal at least in four provinces.
A senior Maoist leader said abstaining from voting is the last option the party is mulling.
“We will make maximum efforts to explore options to save the coalition, as the alliance was formed with an intention to continue through the elections,” the leader told the Post requesting anonymity.
The current alliance of the Congress, Maoist Centre, Unified Socialist, Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha was formed after they united against Oli last year. The alliance then managed to oust Oli from office.
It was not a natural alliance though from the first day, as ideologically the Congress is poles apart from the rest of them. For the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist, the one advantage to remaining in the coalition is it gives them security by virtue of being in power.
Then came the MCC issue, which has now driven a wedge between the coalition partners.
The Maoist leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the Maoist Centre and Unified Socialist are also discussing ways to support the MCC compact’s ratification by unilaterally amending some provisions as per the existing Treaty Act, for which the leaders are consulting legal experts to figure out whether that is possible.
“Today’s Maoist Centre meeting has decided that utmost efforts will be made to save the coalition from breaking apart,” said the leader.
Leaders like Shrestha and Pokhrel, however, have opposed the idea of allowing MCC compact’s ratification by abstaining from voting.
Shrestha, who is also a former foreign minister, earlier this week even joined a street protest held by the party’s sister wings.
“The conclusion and decision of our party’s national convention and all other consequent discussions are clear—not to accept and ratify the MCC without amending some of the provisions which are against national sovereignty, independence and interests,” Shrestha wrote on Twitter on Friday after the party meeting. “We still stick to our party decisions.”
A late night meeting between Deuba and Oli on Friday failed to reach any deal.
The UML, according to sources, stuck to their stance that either Speaker Agni Sapkota should be removed or action against its 14 lawmakers be implemented.
"The UML reiterated its demands,” said Purna Bahadur Khadka, Congress vice-president, who was present at the meeting. “So we couldn’t reach any concrete deal today.”