Fate of opposition alliance at stake as CPN-UML factions step up unity talksAs talks to bring Oli and Nepal together are termed positive, the future of the alliance, formed to make Nepali Congress President Deuba prime minister, is uncertain, leaders say.
On Tuesday afternoon, chairman of the Nepal Communist Party (Maoist Centre) went to Koteshwor to meet senior CPN-UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal at his residence. The visit came as the UML has begun discussions to chart out the roadmap for party unity.
On Monday the UML had revived its two-month old task force to resolve the dispute inside the party as Nepal has been siding with the opposition alliance against the high-handedness of Prime Minister and UML chair KP Sharma Oli.
“Concerned over the revival of the UML task force, Dahal went to meet Nepal to inquire about the progress made on the task force,” a member of the Dahal’s secretariat told the Post. “Nepal briefed him on the possible scenarios in the UML amid the ongoing talks of the task force.”
The UML task force, with five members each from Oli and Nepal factions, held two meetings on Monday and Tuesday and, according to its members, talks are heading towards a positive direction.
And if Oli and Nepal patch up their differences, the opposition alliance will break down.
Nepal did not participate in the alliance’s meeting at the residence of Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba on Monday, raising suspicion and doubt in the opposition bloc, leaders said.
“We know there is immense pressure on Nepal to patch up differences with Oli. There are some leaders in the Nepal camp who favour party unity. Besides, Nepal might also face difficulties in building a new party if he severs ties with Oli,” said Shekhar Koirala, a Nepali Congress leader.
“But after all it is politics. If there is a patch up between Oli and Nepal, then the opposition alliance will break down and Deuba’s chances of becoming prime minister will be over.”
Nepal and 25 members of the dissolved House of Representatives close to him had sided with Deuba when the latter staked his claim to form a government under Article 76 (5) of the constitution. Oli too had made a bid claiming the support of his UML and the Rastriya Janata Party.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari, however, invalidated both claims calling them ‘insufficient’ following which, on Oli’s recommendation, she dissolved the lower house and announced midterm elections for November 12 and 19. The dissolution was subsequently challenged in court and among the signatories of the writ petition were Nepal and 22 former UML lawmakers.
“As of now Madhav Nepal is sticking to his words but we have to think about possible future scenarios if he patches up with Oli and withdraws the signature put in support of Debua,” Koirala said.
The opposition alliance is made up of Nepali Congress, Maoist Centre, the Nepal-led faction of the UML, the Upendra Yadav-led faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party, which on Tuesday parted ways with the Mahantha Thakur-led faction, and Rastriya Janamorcha Nepal.
The top leaders of the opposition alliance have, since they came together, held a series of consultations with editors of various media outlets, journalists, civil society members and people from various walks of life including academicians and intellectuals to express their commitment to removing Oli from the post of prime minister for the sake of democracy, to defend the parliamentary system and to save the country from more regression.
The top leaders had also vowed jointly that they would continue the alliance for a long time until democracy and parliamentary democracy are fully secure and the rule of law and constitutionalism prevail.
“We have constituted a front of five political parties for the protection of national interest, the constitution of Nepal, democracy, and Parliament,” said Debua during an interaction with the editors of several media outlets on June 26. “We are also committed to saving the lives of people from the pandemic and natural calamities. Welfare of the people, strengthening the federal democratic republic and inclusive democracy and ensuring social justice and the rule of law are our common goals.”
But at the same interaction, Nepal had shown a sign of rapprochement with Oli.
“If Oli mends his ways and corrects his mistakes, we must also give him some space… you see Deubaji,” said Nepal during the interaction with editors striking a conciliatory note.
The signs of rapprochement between Oli and Nepal have, therefore, cast doubts over the alliance’s future.
A senior Maoist Centre leader said that they are closely following the developments inside the ruling party and the information coming out from the UML is not very positive as far as they are concerned.
“We have started specific talks from today but there is no concrete progress or decision at the task force-level,” said Surendra Padney, a member of the task force from the Nepal faction. “We will enter into the core business from tomorrow.”
The task force is discussing a package deal including party unity, management of the leaders of the Nepal-faction in various party committees, honourable presence of Nepal-faction inside Oli’s Cabinet, resolving the issue related to withdrawal of signatures of lawmakers extended in support of Deuba, according to two UML leaders familiar with the developments inside the ruling party.
“Hopefully, there will be some positive development within a day or two,” another member of the task force said, requesting anonymity. “We are discussing all outstanding issues as a package.”
The urgency is to reach a conclusion before the Supreme Court delivers its verdict on the House dissolution possibly on July 12.
If there will be positive development at the task force-level, then there is a plan of addressing a joint press conference by Oli and Nepal where they will make public the three-point deal, which is being discussed among top UML leadership, according to UML leaders.
But the way UML task force is meeting frequently, putting pressure on Nepal to reach a deal with Oli, there is uneasiness going on inside the opposition camp.
“We know, if Madhav Nepal returns to the UML, it will be a disadvantage for some leaders like Ishwar Pokhrel, Shankar Pokhrel and Subas Nembang of the Oli faction who are seen as Oli’s potential successors inside the party,” the Maoist Centre leader said. “Our belief is that even though the Nepal faction might unite the party, it will not withdraw the signatures put in favour of Deuba.”
The potential dynamics within the party in case of rapprochement between the two sides, however, is not clear according to a UML leader close to Nepal.
“If the party unites after resolving differences, then a new situation will emerge,” said Pandey. “For now our focus is on talks within the task force.”
The Nepal faction had been demanding that the party structures and organisations should be revived to the status of pre-May 16, 2018 days.
The UML and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) had merged on May 18, 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). But on March 7, the Supreme Court invalidated the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and revived the UML and the Maoist Centre.
But since then Oli has been taking decisions within the party unilaterally including the inclusion of 23 leaders from the Maoist Centre who defected to Oli’s UML in the party’s Central Committee. He has also stripped the positions of leaders close to Oli like Bhim Rawal and Ghanashyam Bhusal, who were vice chairman and deputy general secretary respectively.
In a bid to placate the Nepal faction, Oli on Saturday had announced that he was ready to turn the clock back, and revive the Central Committee which existed before May 16, 2018. But the Nepal faction had initially called it too little too late.
Later Oli also agreed to revive the task force as demanded by Nepal.
During their meeting on Tuesday, Dahal suggested to Nepal that Oli may betray him again, so he should be careful while dealing with Oli, according to the leaders close to Dahal.
“Oli is trying to influence the verdict of the Supreme Court. Therefore, until the last hour he will be ready to sacrifice any post or position for Nepal and will make all efforts to accommodate the Nepal faction,” Narayan Kaji Shrestha, spokesperson of the Maoist Centre, told the Post.
But if Nepal bites the bait, then the opposition alliance is finished and its constituent parties will focus on internal issues, he added.
“If the UML factions get together, then the opposition alliance will be dissolved, Nepali Congress will focus on its general convention, we will start party building and Upendra Yadavji will try to join hands with Mahantha Thakur faction again,” said Shrestha.