As Deuba gets nod to lead government, efforts on to build coalition to oust OliThe former prime minister, however, has an eye on party’s general convention in August as well as on next general elections before playing his card, leaders close to him say.
As momentum builds for the formation of a new government following the Supreme Court’s revival of the CPN-UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the Nepali Congress leadership has been urged to stake a claim to lead the next government.
Present and former office-bearers of Nepali Congress on Friday backed its party President Sher Bahadur Deuba to remove Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and take his place.
“Former and present office-bearers of the Nepali Congress have urged Deuba to seek an alternative to the Oli government and brace up for government formation,” party spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma told the Post. “Deuba held talks with top leaders of the Janata Samajbadi Party along this line and will meet with leaders from the Maoist Centre.”
With 63 members (two suspended) in the House of Representatives, Nepali Congress will need the support of both the Maoist Centre with 53 seats and Samajbadi Party with 34 seats (two suspended) to form the government.
Following the meeting held to seek the party's mandate and authority to hold talks with Samajbadi Party leaders, Deuba met with the latter later on Friday and the two sides concluded that Oli has to be removed, according to leaders of the two parties.
But two Nepali Congress leaders told the Post that Deuba is not yet ready to stake his claim and will wait some more days before taking a decision on government formation, and this was the implicit message he gave to the Janata Samajbadi leaders.
Besides Deuba, Bimalendra Nidhi and Krishana Prasad Sitaula represented the Nepali Congress at Friday’s meeting while Samajbadi Party was represented by leaders Mahantha Thakur, Upendra Yadav, Baburam Bhattarai, Rajendra Mahato and Ashok Rai.
A leader close to Deuba said that he is weighing and calculating merits and demerits of leading the government or even joining one led by some other party.
“What differences will it make for Deuba, who is looking for another term as party president, if he leads the new government?” the leader said on condition of anonymity. “And, the bigger question is whether the Nepali Congress will win the upcoming elections if it leads the next government.”
The Congress general convention, which will elect a new leadership, is slated for August and there are several leaders who have staked their claims to the party presidency.
The next general election is expected to be held in 2022.
“Secondly, the dynamics inside the ruling CPN-UML is not yet clear as the party is likely to face more turbulence,” the leader said. “There must be some understanding between Oli and Deuba in the past on various political and other issues. So without settling these issues, it would not be good for the party to take a decision to lead the next government.”
Deuba’s detractors within the Nepali Congress are of the view that there is a tacit agreement between Deuba and Oli on various issues.
On the other hand, there is also a view within the Nepali Congress that the party should not lead the next government but instead help the Maoist Centre or Janata Samajbadi Party to lead it.
“Since the general public has mandated us to sit in the opposition, Nepali Congress should not lead the government but removal of Oli should be the topmost priority,” said Arjun Narsingh KC, a central working committee member of the party. “Second, as people’s aspirations are high, we have very little time to fulfil those aspirations and therefore we should stay in the opposition. If all alternatives fail and the Nepali Congress must lead the government, then we should issue a white paper on what we will do in the next two years in government and what we can assure and commit to the people.”
But there is a general consensus within the Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre and the Janata Samajbadi Party that Oli must be removed.
During the meeting between senior Nepali Congress and Samajbadi Party leaders, it was agreed that all three parties should come together for the sake of democracy, the system and to protect the achievements made through the new constitution and political struggles, leaders from both sides said.
“We have agreed to make a common position on various issues between the opposition parties,” Janata Samajbadi Chairperson Yadav said. “Our first priority is to protect the democracy and democratic institutions as Oli has attacked and injured them.”
The Samajbadi Party also has other concerns like constitutional amendments, removal of cases against Madhesi people related to the Madhes agitation of 2015 and the release of lawmaker Resham Chaudhary, who is serving life imprisonment for his role in the 2015 Tikapur riots in which nine people were killed.
“Talks with Nepali Congress are heading towards a positive direction. In discussions with the Nepali Congress, we said that protection of the achievements like democracy, federalism and secularism should be given top most priority,” said Yadav. “We are meeting with Dahal tomorrow and will discuss our bottom-line.”
Maoist Centre Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has already proposed that the Congress lead the next government.
Despite reservations from Deuba about leading the government, even his rival faction led by Ram Chandra Poudel wants him to be the next prime minister.
Before the meeting of the party’s senior leaders organised by Deuba, Poudel called a meeting of his group at party general secretary Shashanka Koirala’s residence and discussed what position the Nepali Congress should take in the new government formation bid.
According to a Nepali Congress leader who did not want to be named, Koirala said that although the party’s position is to “wait and watch”, its major focus is to form the new government under its leadership by removing Oli.
Gagan Thapa, another party leader, said that Oli has tampered with the constitution and made several holes in it. Therefore, the Nepali Congress should lead the government for some time to repair the damage.
“We have to bid adieu to Oli because his mandate has come to an end after the Supreme Court reinstated the House. He has lost that moral ground to lead the government,” said Thapa. “Although the people had mandated us to sit in the opposition this is a time of crisis. We have to take the lead and correct the mistakes Oli made.”