Oli and Janata Samajbadi Party take their talks one step aheadBut hurdles remain as not all in Samajbadi Party are willing to support Oli government.
Prime Minister and CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli is making attempts to rope in the Janata Samajbadi Party, the fourth largest force in Parliament, so as to continue in power.
As the Nepali Congress has shown little interest in forging an alliance with the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and then bringing the Samajbadi Party into fold to form a new government, Oli is now seeing an opportunity to win over the fourth force in the House, which currently has 32 seats.
On Tuesday, Oli invited Janata Samajbadi leaders—Mahantha Thakur, Rajendra Mahato, Sarbendra Nath Shukla and Laxman Lal Karna—to Baluwatar.
According to Samajbadi Party leaders, Oli appears ready to address their demands in return for their support to the government.
The Samajbadi Party has made release of its lawmaker Resham Chaudhary from jail, withdrawing of court cases against its leaders and cadres and constitutional amendments its preconditions to supporting Oli.
“Our party’s taskforce has come up with a list of cases against our friends in different districts. The nature of the cases vary,” Mahato told the Post. “The government side is positive about withdrawing the cases against our friends.”
According to Mahato, once the government agrees to address his party’s demands, negotiations on a power-sharing deal would begin.
The UML has currently 120 seats in Parliament and until the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction, which claims to control around 38 to 40 members, decides to break the party, Oli can comfortably continue in power with the support of the Samajbadi Party.
The Maoist Centre, which won 53 seats in the 2017 elections, has lost four of its members as they have sided with Oli. The party, however, has not yet decided to withdraw its support to Oli that it gave to him in February 2018. The UML and the Maoist Centre had merged in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). But the Supreme Court scrapped the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and revived its constituents, the UML and the Maoist Centre, on March 7, about two weeks after the Constitutional Bench overturned Oli’s December 20 House dissolution move.
With Oli already close to reaching a deal with the Samajbadi Party, the Maoist Centre is now in a fix. It now barely matters whether it withdraws its support to Oli or withdraws it.
The only obstacle Oli currently faces is an infighting in the Samajbadi Party. A faction in the Samajbadi Party, including Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai, is against supporting Oli, saying the party had opposed his House dissolution move calling it unconstitutional and undemocratic.
The Janata Samajbadi Party was born out of a merger between the Yadav and Bhattarai’s Sanghiya Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal in April last year.
Samajbadi Party leaders now fear a split if the two factions continue to have disagreements on whether to join the Oli government or not.
Both Yadav and Bhattarai were not part of the team that reached Baluwatar on Tuesday to hold talks with Oli.
Insiders in the Samajbadi Party say talks are also picking up pace now if the party should join the Oli government under Yadav’s leadership.
Yadav was a minister in the Oli government until December 2019.
As far as Oli is concerned, it does not matter even if the Samajbadi Party splits, as with 120 seats with him, he will need just 16 votes to be in power.
“Thakur is leaving for Janakpur on Wednesday,” a Samajbadi Party leader told the Post. “Once he returns from Janakpur, more substantial talks with the UML are expected, and probably some kind of understanding can be reached very soon.”
There is no clarity yet on a power-sharing deal, but it could entail the post of deputy Speaker and some ministerial berths to the Samajbadi Party, apart from Oli’s commitment to addressing the party’s demands.
The development on Tuesday comes after the Nepali Congress said that time was not ripe for it to lead the government.
After the revival of the UML and the Maoist Centre, it was largely believed that the latter would withdraw its support to Oli and then forge an alliance with the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party to form a new government.
But such a coalition would have meant the elections would take place next year. The Congress party, however, was already tempted to go for elections on April 30 and May 10, as declared by Oli after dissolving the House. Many in the Nepali Congress, including its President Sher Bahadur Deuba, believe that it would be good for the party if elections happen early.
The Congress party’s reluctance to lead a government has now made it easier for Oli to cultivate the Samajbadi Party.
A Congress leader, however, said Deuba was well aware of the talks between Oli and the Samajbadi Party, hence there was no point in making any move to form a government under his leadership.
“We have heard talks between the UML and the Samajbadi Party are heading towards a positive direction,” said Bishwa Prakash Sharma, the Congress spokesperson. “If they join hands, we will sit in the opposition. We have our general convention ahead, so we will focus on that.”
In such a scenario, the biggest loser will be the Maoist Centre.
The party on Tuesday held an informal meeting of the Standing Committee. It continued to keep its plan to withdraw support to Oli on the back burner. Rather, leaders sought advice from legal experts on filing a review petition on the court’s March 7 decision of reviving the Maoist Centre and the UML.
According to Dev Gurung, a Standing Committee member of the Maoist Centre, legal experts including Shambhu Thapa, Mukti Pradhan, Ram Narayan Bidari, Dinmani Pokhrel and Chandeswor Shrestha suggested that the party should go for a review petition.
According to insiders in the Maoist Centre, the leadership, however, is not sure how helpful that would be for the party.
The party has, according to Gurung, decided to continue talks with the Nepali Congress and Janata Samajbadi parties to explore if they could still form an alliance and unseat Oli.
Political analysts say Oli now stands at a comfortable position, as the Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre and Samajbadi Party have their own interests.
“Until the Janata Samajbadi Party takes a final decision, the Maoist Centre cannot take a decision of its own. And if the Maoist Centre does not take a decision, the Nepali Congress has nothing to decide,” said Lok Raj Baral, a professor of political science at Tribhuvan University.
“Indecision in the Samajbadi Party created a major hurdle in the formation of a new government. The Maoist Centre fears if it withdraws support, Oli could dissolve the House. The Congress is waiting for the Samajbadi Party and the Maoist Centre to make a move.”