Delay in talks hobbles the Congress, Maoist Center, Janata Samajbadi Party’s attempts to forge an allianceWhat looked like an easy game has turned out to be cumbersome exercise with multiple factors coming into play by the day.
Prime Minister and CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli appears to be set to remain in power, at least for now, as parties in the opposition, the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party, have failed to come up with clear strategies, just as the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) has yet to take a decision on withdrawing the support it had lent to Oli back in February 2018.
Talks were ongoing that the three parties would come up with a concrete plan by Monday ahead of Tuesday’s meeting of the House of Representatives. Tuesday’s House meeting, however, is likely to end without entering into any agenda, as it will end after passing a condolence motion on the death of Dinesh Chandra Yadav, a member of the Constituent Assembly.
The UML has 120 members in the lower house, including those from the Madhav Kumar Nepal group in the party, and with the support of the Maoist Centre, which won 53 seats, Oli was elected prime minister in 2018. The two parties merged in May that year to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). But the Supreme Court on March 7 scrapped the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and revived the UML and the Maoist Centre, changing the entire equation in the House.
Unless the Maoist Centre withdraws its support, Oli does not need to seek even a vote of confidence.
Though Congress, Maoist and Samajbadi leaders have been holding talks over the past week to forge a possible alliance to oust Oli and form a coalition government, they have yet to arrive at a conclusion.
In order to discuss the future political course, the Samajbadi Party has called a meeting of its 51-member office-bearers on Thursday, while the Nepali Congress and Maoist Centre are holding meetings on Tuesday.
“We have suggested to party President Sher Bahadur Deuba that he try to forge consensus with the Maoist Centre and Samajbadi Party on all contested issues, including addressing Samajbadi leaders’ demands and tabling a no-confidence motion against Oli,” said Bishwa Prakash Sharma, spokesperson for the Congress party.
The Samajbadi Party, which has been approached by Oli as well for support, wants its lawmaker Resham Chaudhary freed from jail, cases against its members and cadres withdrawn and a commitment that its long-standing demand of constitutional amendments is addressed.
The Maoist Centre, which has been driven into a corner with no clear roadmap for it in sight, appears ready to offer the post of the prime minister to Deuba, as it will ensure Oli’s ouster.
The Maoist Centre which was expected to come up with a decision on Monday decided to halt its ongoing Central Committee meeting after two days of discussions.
Though it looked an easy game for the Congress, Maoist Centre and Samajbadi Party, multiple leaders the Post talked to said things are more complicated than they appear, as the old saying goes “there's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip.”
Oli’s ouster is possible only after a no-confidence motion is filed, but the Maoist Centre, which is still confused whether to withdraw its support, has not taken any decision, which has left the Congress party a bit perplexed.
Congress leaders say there are concerns not only about addressing the Samajbadi Party’s demands, but also on other issues revolving around the common minimum programme and stimulating the economy that has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“So it’s going to take some time,” said Sharma.
What also has alarmed the Congress is, according to another leader, the Samajbadi Party’s continued consultations with Oli and the ongoing developments within the UML.
On Monday, in a sudden move, Oli invited his rival in the party Madhav Kumar Nepal for a meeting at Dhumbarahi.
The meeting, though, ended with both factions refusing to budge from their stances. Oli demanded that the Nepal group cancel its March 17-18 national gathering and Nepal asked Oli to withdraw March 12 decisions of amending the party statute and inducting 23 Maoist members into the Central Committee. Neither side agreed to each other’s demands.
Though the likelihood of the Nepal group remaining within the UML under Oli appears low, many say nothing can be said definitively in politics.
The UML will continue to remain the largest force in the House if Oli and Nepal factions stay together, thereby making it easier for Oli to remain in power, as he could do so with just half of the 34 parliamentarians (two suspended) of the Janata Samajbadi Party.
The Samajbadi Party itself is a divided house.
“It’s true that our party is divided along two distinct lines,” said Mohammad Ishtiyaq Rayi, a party leader. “And there is a lot of confusion. That’s why we are holding a meeting of our office-bearers on Thursday.”
At least two senior Samajbadi Party leaders told the Post that Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato appear to be ready to join hands with Oli but Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai are opposed to the idea.
Yadav and Bhattarai are for a coalition government with the Maoist Centre and Congress, led by Deuba.
“The majority of our lawmakers and party leaders are of the view that we should not support Oli. We stood against Oli’s regressive move. We called Oli’s move of dissolving the House unconstitutional and undemocratic. So how can we join the Oli government?” said Rayi.
Amid all this, President Bidya Devi Bhandari has called an all-party meeting of the parties represented in the Parliament for Tuesday.
Tika Dhakal, a senior communication expert at the Office of the President, told the Post that parties in the Parliament as well as former prime ministers have been invited to discuss the contemporary political situation.
The meeting by the President, however, comes at a time when pressure is building on Oli, even though he looks confident as of now. President Bhandari’s role in the past has invited criticism for playing a proactive role whenever Oli was facing a political crisis.
Dhakal, however, said Tuesday’s meeting is aimed at holding an interaction with the political actors of the country.
“It has been quite a while the President has not interacted with political leaders, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Dhakal. “During the meeting with party leaders and former prime ministers, the President will also call for consensus among them.”