Oli’s offer has Madhav Nepal dreaming of Sheetal NiwasUnified Socialist chief is shuttling between Dahal, Deuba and Oli, trying to drum up support for his presidency.
Former prime minister and CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Kumar Nepal suddenly finds himself thrust to the spotlight following news reports that CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli has proposed Nepal as a possible presidential candidate.
Nepal is also eager to run for the President in a vote scheduled for March 9, but the question remains whether the political parties will agree to make him their ‘consensus candidate’ for the top job.
“It’s true that Nepal discussed with Oli at length about the presidential election, but I'm not aware of such a proposal,” said Prakash Jwala, a senior CPN (Unified Socialist) leader. “It’s not that Nepal cannot be a presidential candidate. The only rider is that he should be a consensus candidate.”
Nepal has reportedly taken Oli’s proposal to heart and is trying to rally the support of the Maoist Centre and the Congress for his candidacy, according to Unified Socialist leaders. Oli had also proposed reunification between the UML and Nepal’s Unified Socialist parties, according to reports.
“Unity with the UML is impossible immediately, but the two parties can discuss it if the UML backs Nepal for President,” Jwala told the Post.
Nepal met Dahal at Singha Durbar on Monday and asked the latter to try to build consensus on his name within the Maoist Centre. The Unified Socialist leader also plans on meeting senior Congress leaders.
Speaking to reporters in Dang on Tuesday, Nepal, however, said his party is yet to discuss the prospect.
“We want our share of the pie in any power-sharing deal,” Nepal said. “We don’t want to be the ones to make sacrifices all the time.”
While he was still in the UML, a dissident group led by Nepal had decided to back Nepali Congress chief Sher Bahadur Deuba’s bid for prime minister in 2021. Deuba, with the backing of the UML’s Nepal faction and the Maoist Centre, among others, was elected prime minister in July 2021. Later, Nepal formed the CPN (Unified Socialist) by splitting the UML.
Nepal also revealed on Tuesday that both Congress President Deuba and Maoist Centre chair Dahal had agreed to support his party’s candidate for President before the federal elections last year.
Before the polls, Nepal had asked the then Congress-led ruling coalition that he should be made the executive head for a year as the coalition partners had planned on helming the post-election government by turns, according to leaders of coalition parties.
But the situation is different now.
Dahal became prime minister with the UML’s support after Deuba refused to allow the former to helm the government for the first half of the five-year term. Now the UML is in the driving seat with both the Congress and the Unified Socialist shunted to opposition benches.
Some Maoist Centre leaders, meanwhile, claimed that Dahal would only back Nepal’s bid for President if the Unified Socialist agrees to merge with the Maoist Centre.
“If the Unified Socialist joined hands with the UML, there would be no point in supporting a UML candidate [Nepal],” said an office bearer of the Maoist Centre asking not to be named. “But we can consider backing him if he agrees on a merger with our party.”
Moreover, the Congress, which wants the post of President for itself, is unlikely to support Nepal’s bid for the top post.
“We have already given our word to Ram Chandra Poudel, so I don’t think our party can support Nepal’s bid for President,” said a senior Congress leader. “Also, we won’t support a UML nominee.”
The Nepali Congress is preparing to take a decision on its own presidential candidate within a day or two. Congress President Deuba is expected to meet Nepal to discuss Oli’s proposal.
“We will soon pick our party’s official nominee for President,” said Purna Bahadur Khadka, the Congress vice-president.
Observers believe Oli’s proposal to Nepal is an attempt to sow a seed of discord between the Congress and the Unified Socialist.
Political analyst Jhalak Subedi, quoting UML leader Subas Nembang, said that a leader [Nepal] who has already served as the executive head could attempt to exercise power even in the ceremonial position like the President, so such a person should not be made the head of the state.
“If Oli really wanted Nepal to be the President, he would first talk about it with Dahal and create an environment for the Congress to support his candidacy,” said Subedi, a political analyst. “Even the Congress won’t support Nepal.”
The most possible scenario, according to Subedi, is Dahal leading the government for around four years and allowing Nepal to lead it for the last one year—while the Congress gets to appoint the President.
For this to happen, said Subedi, Congress should allow Nepal to lead the government for a year, or Nepal should be ready to settle for a few ministers in the Cabinet and possibly a provincial chief minister.
Another political analyst Hari Roka said Nepal’s possibility of becoming President rests solely on the Congress's decision—and the prospect now appears unlikely. “The UML is yet to make an official decision,” said Roka, a political economist. “It is not easy for the UML and the Unified Socialist to agree on Nepal as President.”
Many UML leaders are still very hesitant to appoint Nepal, someone they see as a ‘betrayer’, as the President. Nor are all Unified Socialist leaders thrilled at the prospect of their chairman becoming the President either, in which case he will have to resign from his party position. The party, they say, could then face an existential crisis.