Janata Samajbadi willing to form new government under its leadershipParty leaders say the candidate will be based on a consensus.
Days after the inter-party talks in which the Nepali Congress said it was willing to take the lead to form a coalition government with the support of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and the Janata Samajbadi Party, there is a new twist in the country’s politics.
The Janata Samajbadi Party, the fourth force and kingmaker in Parliament with 32 seats, appears to want to lead the government.
“We are in the process of making ourselves an alternative force, so we are ready to lead an alternative government too,” Sharat Singh Bhandari, a senior Janata Samajbadi leader told the Post. “When big parties like the Nepali Congress have failed to give an alternative to the Oli government, if we stake claim to government leadership, it’s but natural.”
While CPN-UML chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has been trying to rope in the Janata Samajbadi Party, the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre too are seeking its support.
Talks of forming a new government by unseating Oli have been going on since February 24, a day after the Supreme Court overturned the House dissolution decision.
Though the party has not discussed in earnest who will be the alternative candidate for the post of prime minister, Bhandari said that the party has senior leaders like chair Mahantha Thakur, former prime minister and chair of the party’s federal council Baburam Bhattarai and others who can lead the government.
“We held meetings of party office bearers on Sunday and Monday to discuss various aspects of the ongoing talks about new government formation and weighed various options,” a senior JSP leader said on condition of anonymity. “If the Nepali Congress, the natural claimant of the post of prime minister, does not want to move ahead, why shouldn’t we stake a claim!”
In this regard, Bhattarai, the former Maoist ideologue, held talks with Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba on Tuesday and discussed the prospect of new government formation by convincing Deuba to unseat Oli.
Despite repeated calls from within his own party and opposition parties, Deuba has shown disinterest in unseating Oli through a no-confidence motion.
Bhattarai’s meeting with Deuba was the part of his desire to become the prime minister, a leader close to Bhattarai said, as Thakur and another senior leader, Rajendra Mahato, are keen to support Oli and his bid to hold early elections.
“Bhattarai now wants to stop Samajbadi Party from falling into Oli’s trap,” said the leader on condition of anonymity.
However, Janata Samajbadi Party leaders are not opening their cards immediately on leading the new government as the Nepali Congress has not abandoned its claim and the party itself is currently holding talks with the government to get charges against hundreds of its cadres for the last six years dropped as well as to secure the release of one of its lawmaker, Resham Chaudhary, imprisoned for life for his role in the 2015 Tikapur riots in which nine people were killed.
Though the party’s top brass has agreed to lead the next government if the situation permits, the issue of unseating Oli remained a key bone of contention among the top leadership during the two-day meeting, a central committee member said.
“As usual, Thakurji and senior leader Rajedra Mahato were of the view of not to tease Oli furthermore as serious talks are going on with the Oli government at different levels,” said the central committee member. “But the party chair Upendra Yadav and another senior leader and former prime minister Bhattarai were steadfast against the continuation of the Oli government as it will be perilous to democracy.”
While earlier it was just Thakur who had, within the party, put his claim to lead the government, now with Bhattarai too making his claim during the party’s meeting on Sunday and Monday, matters have become complicated, according to another central committee member of the party.
“Besides Thakur, former prime minister Bhattarai has also thrown his hat in the ring to become the prime minister,” he told the post on condition of anonymity. “Earlier, Thakur had been saying that the Janata Samajbadi Party would claim to lead the new government if two other opposition parties do not come forward to shoulder the responsibility.”
Sources within the party say that Yadav and Bhattarai are ready to support Thakur, but Thakur and Mahato have been reluctant and are defusing the agenda of leading the government saying that talks with the government on releasing its leaders and cadres may be jeopardised.
Besides Deuba, Bhattarai has already held talks with Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
“The party should have one common candidate for the post of prime minister but our leaders have failed to reach such an understanding,” Arjun Thapa, a central committee member said. “They have yet to forge a consensus.”
Some senior Nepali Congress leaders including Ram Chandra Poudel are also positive about supporting anyone from the Janata Samajbadi Party if Deuba declines to become the prime minister and if that is the condition in which Oli can be removed.
“Poudel met Thakur twice recently in order to seek his support and that of his party,” a leader close to Poudel said. “Later Poudel briefed Deuba that if needed, and at the cost of removing Oli, Nepali Congress should lend support to Thakur for the post of prime minister.”
But whether it will be Thakur or Bhattarai that the party will choose as its prime ministerial candidate remains unclear.
“The final decision about who will be the prime minister candidate will be decided by the party’s central committee meeting,” Kehav Jha, another party leader, said, “Talks are ongoing but there is almost some kind of agreement inside the party that we should lead the new government if chance arises.”
But the party is in no hurry to make the decision on who should become the prime minister. Other matters need to be settled first, according to its leaders.
“Nepali Congress has decided to take a lead to form a new government and that is its decision. That does not make much difference to our party. But it has failed to create a conducive environment for it,” Jha said. “We are also holding talks with the state to release and withdraw cases against our leaders and cadres. We are waiting for the government's decision. Therefore we are waiting for the response from both sides. Once the scene is clear, we will take an appropriate decision.”