Gagan Thapa has tricky path to PM postHis party’s strength in the House as well as fate of ruling coalition will be decisive factors.
Even as unexpected results from the federal and provincial elections continue to pour in from every part of the country, future power-sharing models are already being discussed in Kathmandu. The emergence of the Rastriya Swatantra Party, a new political outfit formed only around six months ago by popular television host Rabi Lamichhane, and victories of new parties in the Tarai is set to drastically alter the composition of the federal legislature.
Complete election results are expected by the next week yet it is already becoming clear that no single party will get a clear majority. As parties begin discussing the possible shape and size of a new coalition government, at the heart of the talks will be the bargaining for prime minister’s post.
Nepali Congress General Secretary Gagan Thapa, who has been re-elected to parliament from Kathmandu-4, had long before the elections projected himself as future prime minister, and he renewed his claim on Tuesday during his victory speech.
“From today, I will start preparing for the Nepali Congress parliamentary party election [winning which will be the first step to becoming prime minister],” Thapa said while addressing a victory rally. “I respect the sentiments of the people and my voters.”
Thapa won election from Kathmandu-4 for the third time and this will be his fourth stint as parliamentarian.
Thapa’s claim for the top executive post will definitely make incumbent prime minister and party president Sher Bahadur Deuba uncomfortable. As per the Nepali Congress charter, only the elected leader of the parliamentary party gets to contest for prime minister. Other Congress leaders like Ram Chandra Poudel and Prakash Man Singh could also be prime minister aspirants.
“But Thapa, who comes from the Shekhar Koirala-led rival camp in the party, has to first win the camp’s support,” a Nepali Congress leader said, adding, “It is too early to predict who will be the party’s prime ministerial candidate.”
“First of all, whether the current ruling alliance will remain intact is still uncertain. Second, will the Congress get to lead the government again?” said another NC central working committee leader. “Thapa will be a strong PM candidate in the event of the continuation of the current coalition. But until the final election results are out, all such projections will be premature.”
Thapa said he has already started discussions inside the party to shore up support for his prime ministerial bid. He has the backing of Bishwa Prakash Sharma, another general secretary, and youth leaders like Pradip Poudel. Poudel has already secured a parliamentary berth and Sharma too is headed for a win. Sharma in his Facebook post on Tuesday evening proposed Thapa as parliamentary party leader and prime minister.
But some political observers say despite popular support and considerable backing, Thapa still faces daunting odds to be prime minister.
“Thapa contested the elections promising his voters that he will become prime minister, so he cannot give up the fight for the top post,” said Puranjan Acharya, a political analyst. “But yes, it won’t be easy.”
Nepali Congress that is contesting 91 first-past-the-post (FPTP) seats out of the total 165, is struggling to wrest the status of single largest party from the CPN-UML.
Nepal Congress, the leader of the ruling coalition, is yet to publicly speak on the complaints of coalition partners on the lack of transfer of Congress votes to their candidates.
“Although we have yet to analyze election results as the full picture is far from complete, frustration with mainstream parties including the Nepali Congress is apparent, especially among young voters,” said Prakash Sharan Mahat, the party spokesperson.
Mahat said young voters want to see rapid national development. As that has not happened, they have expressed their anger through the ballot box.
Some political observers believe Thapa’s joining the race for prime minister alongside such party veterans as Deuba, Poudel and Singh is a good sign.
“Assuming that Thapa has done his homework before declaring himself fit for the top executive post, he should launch a nationwide campaign to shore up support,” said Srikrishna Aniruddha Gautam, a political commentator.
Thapa has two main obstacles to overcome, according to Gautam: one, a strong challenge from within his own party and second, keeping the ruling coalition intact.
Gautam believes Congress would have done better had it heeded the suggestions of the rival camp including Thapa and contested elections alone. In that event, Thapa’s prospects of becoming prime minister would have been stronger.
But now as the election results trickle in, the ruling coalition, which had earlier expected to win a majority, appears to be panicking.
The fear was reflected in the party spokesman’s reaction. “Those who were frustrated with us voted for the Rastriya Swatantra Party in the constituencies where there were no Congress candidates,” said a frustrated Mahat, adding, “Our proportional representation votes were also diverted to the new party.”