Nepali Congress mulls over at least four options amid rising political uncertaintyLeaders say a deal with Oli cannot be ruled out provided that he agrees to play along, either to let the party lead the government or create a situation for an early election.
As the House of Representative is set to convene its meeting on Sunday, the Nepali Congress has been a busy party. Insiders say the Congress is keeping a close eye on how things unfold in the Nepal Communist Party, which has been split into two politically, just as it is also working on four possible options.
According to multiple Congress leaders the Post spoke to, the Congress will first see the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday on a case on Nepal Communist Party name, which was filed by Rishiram Kattel in May 2018. Kattel has claimed that since the Nepal Communist Party name was registered in his name in 2013, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), with NCP within brackets, given to KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal in May 2018 was illegal.
“This is an interesting case, and if the Supreme Court delivers a verdict in favour of Kattel, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) under Oli and Dahal will see an automatic split,” said Bishow Prakash Sharma, Congress spokesperson. “Politics will be straightforward after that.”
Sharma’s belief emanates from the general assumption that if the Nepal Communist Party is given to Kattel, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) that was given to Oli and Dahal would go back to its pre-merger state when Oli had the CPN-UML and Dahal had CPN (Maoist Centre).
The second possibility the Congress party is looking at is a decision by the Election Commission on the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) legitimacy dispute. The Dahal-Nepal faction has staked claim to the party, the sun election symbol and the party flag, saying a majority of 441 Central Committee members are with it.
“If the Election Commission settles that dispute, it will be easy for us to make a move,” said a senior Congress leader. “But the Election Commission does not seem to be in a hurry to settle that dispute.”
The Congress party’s third and fourth options will begin if the Supreme Court quashes Kattel’s case or Election Commission remains decisive, according to leaders. In that case, there will be real exercise, they say.
The Nepali Congress has already made it public that a united Nepal Communist Party (NCP) does not benefit it.
“We want to see a split, politically and legally, in the Nepal Communist Party,” a leader close to Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba told the Post on condition of anonymity.
Once the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) splits legally into two led by Oli and Dahal and Nepal, the Congress party will have an upper hand and the luxury to support whichever faction it wants to by assessing its possible political gains.
As of now, both Oli as well as Dahal-Nepal factions have reached out to Deuba, seeking the Congress party’s support.
“The actual fight will begin in the House, but we are in a state of confusion as we are following all possible developments in both the factions of the NCP,” Gagan Thapa, a central leader of the Nepali Congress, told the Post.
When the House meeting starts, the Dahal-Nepal faction is most likely to file a no-confidence motion against Oli.
“Since we are in the opposition, we have to support any no-confidence motion against the prime minister,” said Thapa. “But we have not received any credible offer. We have yet to discuss inside the party. We are just watching the internal dynamics inside the NCP.”
A general understanding among Nepali Congress leaders is there is no point in supporting a no-confidence motion filed by the Dahal-Nepal faction unless it proposes its leader, Deuba, as the prime minister.
The Dahal-Nepal faction’s no-confidence motion will fail without the support of the Nepali Congress, as it holds 63 seats (two suspended) in Parliament. The Dahal-Nepal faction claims to have around 90 lawmakers on its side.
With no substantial offer from the Dahal-Nepal faction, some Congress leaders are also in talks with Oli as well as President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
The Nepali Congress, according to some leaders, won’t mind siding with Oli if he agrees to amend the law on splitting the party.
In that case, Oli could break the NCP. This provides Nepali Congress two easy options–either lead the government immediately with the support of Oli or take turns to lead the government for two years until elections take place in 2022.
As per the Political Party Act-2017, 40 percent of Central Committee members and 40 percent of Parliamentary Party members are required to break away from a party and register a new one.
Oli currently lacks the numbers. Back in April he had introduced an ordinance by changing the law, making it easier for splitting the party and registering a new one. He, however, had to withdraw it after severe backlash.
“If Oli dares to bring the bill seeking to amend the Political Party Act, we will support it,” said Minendra Rijal, also a Congress central member. “Our role comes when the NCP splits into two,” said Rijal. “If Oli brings the law to ease the party split, we will support it, but we will not support the ordinance.”
Insiders say of late some Congress leaders held a meeting with President Bhandari as well and discussed the way forward, keeping Oli’s stay in power, possible power equations and other contemporary political issues at the centre.
Even though the Congress party had objected to Oli’s House dissolution move, it had taken a comparatively softer approach. The Congress appeared to be pretty happy at Oli’s decision to declare elections, hence Deuba constantly said that the party should wait for the Supreme Court verdict.
The fourth option that the Congress is keeping in mind is if early elections can be made somehow possible.
And that’s not too far-fetched.
Oli, according to Congress insiders, has also indicated that he could prorogue the House session after a few days. He could then introduce an ordinance on the Political Party Act-2017 and split his party. In that case, with just around 83 lawmakers on his side, he will have to seek a vote of confidence. If a concrete understanding can be reached with Oli, the Congress will not support Oli, thereby creating a situation where he has to dissolve the House and declare elections to be held within six months.
“There is no hurry for us to lead the government,” said a Congress leader.
But whether Deuba alone can reach deals on such crucial matters is a question. A significant section of leaders in the Nepali Congress is trying to stop Deuba from siding with Oli because of the latter’s unconstitutional moves as well as some regressive steps against the system.
However, the Congress party is not keen to join hands with the Dahal-Nepal faction either.
Congress leaders say it would be a very tough decision when it comes to choosing between Oli and Dahal.
The Congress party has not forgotten yet, according to leaders, how Dahal had betrayed them just ahead of the 2017 general elections. In 2016, Dahal had pulled the rug from under Oli and sided with Deuba to become prime minister. The Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre forged an alliance for local elections, but as the parliamentary elections neared, Dahal swiftly switched sides and in October 2017 announced an electoral alliance with Oli’s UML.
The Nepali Congress still believes Dahal’s betrayal led to its election loss.
However, as many say, politics is a game of immense possibilities, the Congress has not yet ruled out a distant possibility of a coalition government with the Dahal-Nepal faction and the Janata Samajbadi Party, which has 34 seats (two suspended) in Parliament.
But Congress leaders see more political gains in case of early elections rather than leading a government for one year.
“The Oli government was formed under Article 76 (1) and until the NCP splits, there is nothing we can do,” said Rijal. “So let’s wait and see how things unfold in the NCP and the House. The process to form a government under Article 76 (2) can begin only after the NCP splits. Let the House meeting begin.”