Nepal political parties intensify talks on government formationNone of four major forces in Parliament commands a majority and Prime Minister Oli will have to seek a vote of confidence if the Maoist Centre withdraws support.
Four major parties in the House of Representatives have launched hectic negotiations over government formation, as Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s fate now hangs in the balance.
The CPN-UML, led by Oli, the Nepali Congress, the main opposition, the Maoist Centre and the Janata Samajbadi Party, which has emerged as the kingmaker in the new political dynamics, on Wednesday were busy holding meetings.
As of now, Oli continues to enjoy the majority, as the Maoist Centre has not withdrawn its support. Oli was elected prime minister in February 2018 with the support of the Maoist Centre, which was revived on Sunday by the court. But in May 2018, the UML and the Maoist Centre had merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which was scrapped by the court order.
Sources said before Wednesday’s House meeting, which was adjourned immediately after passing a condolence motion on deaths of 14 present and former lawmakers, Samajbadi Party leaders Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato held separate talks with UML leaders, including Bishnu Poudel, the finance minister, Subas Nembang, deputy leader of the UML Parliamentary Party, and Rajan Bhattarai, Oli’s foreign relations adviser.
With 34 members (two suspended) in Parliament, the Samajbadi Party holds the key.
If Oli can secure Janata Samajbadi Party’s support in the case of the Maoist Centre pulling out its support, he will continue to lead a majority government.
“We are in touch with all the parties but we are not in a race for a power-sharing deal because the Oli government is in majority,” Nembang told the Post. “We are in touch with Nepali Congress leaders as well.”
But the Congress, Maoist Centre and Samajbadi Party are also exploring the possibility of forming a coalition government of their own by unseating Oli.
A leader close to Oli said that the prime minister is clear about his future steps.
“If the Maoist Centre withdraws its support, he will seek a vote of confidence,” the leader who spoke on condition of anonymity told the Post. “He will cultivate the Nepali Congress and the Samajbadi Party to bring them on board. He is ready to address the grievances of these two parties.”
When it comes to grievances, the Janata Samajbadi Party has more of them than the Congress, which according to many, is willing to lead the government or go for an early election.
“Oli does not have reservations about Congress party’s wish for early polls,” another leader from Oli’s orbit told the Post. “We will need more homework to convince the Samajbadi Party.”
The Janata Samajbadi Party, born out of a merger between the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum and the Rastriya Janata Party in April last year, has made its bottom line clear. It wants its lawmaker Resham Chaudhary released, cases against some of its cadres withdrawn and constitutional amendments.
Chaudhary is in jail over the 2015 Tikapur violence.
“It’s complicated when it comes to addressing the Samajbadi Party’s demand that Chadhary be freed,” said the leader.
For Oli, cultivating the Samajbadi Party will be the best bet, as he can offer some ministerial portfolios and even the post of deputy Speaker and easily secure a majority in the House.
With leaders like Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal already back into the UML fold after Sunday’s court order to scrap the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), the party controls 120 seats in the lower house. Oli will just need 15 seats to stay afloat, as he will have to win 135 votes in the existing 270-member House.
But Nepal and Khanal, who were with Dahal until Sunday, are pressing for a broader unity among the leftist forces so as to ensure a strong communist government. Nepal and Khanal, both former prime ministers who were until a few days ago bent on unseating Oli, have now made concessions and are making a pitch for continuity of the Oli government.
On Wednesday, the Nepal group of the UML held a gathering of its leaders.
“Both Nepal and Khanal told the gathering that their priority is forming a leftist government,” said Raghuji Pant, a leader close to Nepal. “Their focus was on forming a larger left unity.”
It is not immediately clear what they are aiming for. But many say the statements could be an attempt to appease Oli who holds grudges against them as they had sided with Dahal.
“There is no alternative to forming a left government and Prime Minister Oli’s role is very important in this respect,” said Pant. “Though a new situation has emerged after the Supreme Court’s verdict, we have decided to work to strengthen the UML.”
Nepal and Khanal’s statement also indicates that they want to stop Oli from roping in the Nepali Congress and rather push for unity with the Maoist Centre.
The UML and Maoist Centre’s unity in May 2018 was out of convenience rather than conviction. Oli’s arrogance and Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s ambitions led to the split in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which had emerged as the strongest communist force in the country.
The party hence was divided into two factions—one led by Oli and the other by Dahal, who was backed by Nepal and Khanal.
The Dahal-Nepal faction was working to unseat Oli after the Supreme Court overturned the House dissolution move. But Sunday’s court order reviving the UML and the Maoist Centre upset the apple cart.
Insiders in both the UML and the Maoist Centre say possibilities are being explored if both the parties could be brought together again.
The Nepali Congress, which was until a few days ago waiting for a split in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), is now startled by the court decision to revive the UML and the Maoist Centre. Such a split in the communist force was not something the Congress was expecting.
Though Dahal has approached Deuba to seek his support in unseating Oli and forming a new government, the Congress party has not opened its cards yet.
Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba said on Wednesday that his priority is to become the party president again, not the prime minister.
In a meeting with some Adivasi and Janajati leaders, Deuba said that he is not in a race to become the prime minister.
Congress spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma said senior leaders are in touch with leaders of various parties.
“There is nothing to say at this time,” Sharma, who is close to Deuba, told the Post. “In principle, there should be a new government of the Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre and Samajbadi Party. But nothing is clear yet.”
The Samajbadi Party as of now has said it is not going to support Oli.
Analysts closely following political developments say the recent turn of events has given rise to uncertainties.
“It started with Oli who sowed the seeds of uncertainty and the Supreme Court did the rest, complicating the situation even further,” Shyam Shrestha, a political commentator, told the Post. “It is up to the political parties and their leadership to clean up this mess.”
Much depends on how the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party make their moves, according to Shrestha.
“Major parties in Parliament must not forget that the responsibility to protect the system also rests with them,” Shrestha said. “The House is a place where political parties engage in tussles and compete with each other. But the political parties must work together also to not let the system derail and take the country’s politics in the right direction.”