Alliance politics set to make a comeback as two parties splitStability, a common refrain of Nepali politicians, goes up in the smoke as they squabble over power, partisan interests.
Tika R Pradhan
Ever since the Nepali Congress-Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) alliance came to power, their one objective was to break the CPN-UML. And with an ordinance issued by the Sher Bahadur Deuba government, the largest party in Parliament on Wednesday saw a split. The Madhav Nepal faction has applied for a new party at the Election Commission, proposing its name the CPN (Unified Socialist). The ordinance, however, caused yet another split. The Mahantha Thakur faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party has also applied for a new party—Loktantrik Samajbadi Party.
Once the two new parties are registered by the Election Commission, Parliament will have six political forces—CPN-UML, Nepali Congress, the Maoist Centre, Janata Samajbadi Party, CPN (Unified Socialist) and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party (LSP). Three other parties—Rastriya Janamorcha, Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party and Rastriya Prajatantra Party—have their representation with one lawmaker each as independents because they are not recognised as national parties.
The Election Commission has invited leaders of both applicants on Wednesday at 11am to examine if they have completed all legal procedures.
“After examining the documents, they will be submitted to the board of commissioners,” said Raj Kumar Shrestha, spokesperson for the Election Commission. “If everything is per existing laws, the applicants will get their new parties registered.”
The splits in the largest and fourth largest parties will for now help Deuba prolong his stay in power, but it will take some time to know how the overall political process will be impacted, say observers. However, it has become apparent that alliance politics has made a comeback despite excessive focus on stability, according to them.
Despite securing 165 votes when Deuba went for a floor test on July 18, he was not confident of a majority in the House for the passage of any bills. As many as 14 lawmakers of the Nepal faction as well as eight from the KP Oli faction and all 32 lawmakers of the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) had voted for Deuba.
There was no certainty if the Nepal faction would vote for any bill presented by Deuba defying the party whip. Nor was Deuba confident about around 10-13 lawmakers from the Thakur faction.
A bill’s failure in the House would have created moral pressure on Deuba not to continue as prime minister. With the split in the UML, it has now become apparent that the Nepal-led party will support the Deuba government. Deuba has not been able to expand his Cabinet even a month after assuming office, as it was waiting for the Nepal group.
If the Election Commission timeline is anything to go by, Cabinet expansion is most likely immediately after Wednesday (August 25).
“The Cabinet will be expanded as soon as Madhav Nepal’s party is registered,” said Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Thursday while addressing a function in Kathmandu.
The Thakur faction, however, has not yet decided on joining the government.
Analysts say while joining the government is a short-term goal, parties will ultimately aim for elections and things won’t be easy for both Nepal and Thakur when the country goes to polls next year. And before that, local elections will be held, in around seven months.
The JSP, led by Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai, is already eying an electoral alliance with the Maoist Centre, and if the alliance works well for them during local elections, they can continue it during general elections as well.
“Nepal is left with no option than to seek an alliance with other forces and the most likely partners will be the Maoist Centre and JSP,” said Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst who has followed Nepal’s leftist politics closely.
A lot will depend also on how the Nepali Congress behaves. Though the Congress is leading the government with the support of the Maoist Centre and Yadav-Bhattarai’s Janata Samajbadi, it may not find it easy to share constituencies with them during the polls. And a split in the UML makes it easier for the Congress, as it had faced an unprecedented drubbing in the 2017 elections largely because the communist forces had formed an electoral alliance.
“Unless the Congress decides to go to the polls alone, the existing left-democratic alliance is likely to continue,” said Shrestha. “Congress might find it comfortable to go to the polls alone as the communist forces are divided.”
According to Shrestha, Nepal alone with his new party cannot face the polls, as he is well aware of the history of breakaway factions faring badly in the polls.
When Bamdev Gautam broke away from the UML in 1998 and formed CPN-ML, it failed to secure even a single seat in the 1999 elections. This is why Nepal, despite deciding to split the party, has maintained that the possibility of a left alliance, with Oli included, cannot be ruled out.
As far as Thakur’s LSP is concerned, it’s fight will be mainly with the JSP, as both have their constituencies in the Madhes region.
Analysts who have closely followed Madhes politics say the JSP was doomed to fail the day it was formed, as the two constituent parties were poles apart.
“It was a marriage of convenience between Yadav and Thakur’s parties. A divorce has taken place even before a proper honeymoon. It was bound to happen,” said Tula Narayan Shah, a political commentator. “Thakur’s party will become a mini-Congress.”
With Yadav already emerging stronger—he is believed to have a strong hold in Madhes constituencies still—Thakur could face a tough time, especially because of the Nepali Congress.
Whether the Congress and LSP could forge an electoral alliance in some constituencies in Madhes, however, is too premature to talk at this time, say analysts.
Thakur has already been losing some of his leaders, as they are defecting to Yadav’s JSP.
Shah says Thakur shot himself in his foot by supporting Oli.
“It was a myopic decision. Now because of Thakur’s move to stand by Oli, which barely benefited him, Yadav managed to take control of the party,” said Shah. “A lot of factors come into play during polls—personality, caste and power exercise. Yadav no doubt is likely to fare better than Thakur.”
During the upcoming Cabinet expansion, Yadav is going to join the government, and that will give the JSP an extra edge over LSP.
According to Sarbendra Nath Shukla, a leader close to Thakur, given the animosity with the Yadav faction, the possibility of his party forging an electoral alliance with the JSP during the local polls is almost nil.
“The Nepali Congress is our major competitor in Madhes, while the UML is also strong on the northern parts of the postal highway,” said Shukla. “We will decide with which party to forge an electoral alliance later. During local polls, decisions will be taken based on the needs on the ground.”
The outcomes of the local polls will also guide parties how they are going to make strategies for the general elections.
Though a natural alliance is possible between like-minded parties, or the parties that share similar ideologies like communists, observers say anything is possible in politics.
The Congress and Maoist Centre are recent examples. Both had joined hands to lead a coalition government in turns in 2017, but on the eve of the general elections, Dahal forged an electoral alliance with Oli’s UML.
Given the raging bitterness between Oli and Dahal, an electoral alliance between the Maoist Centre and UML is unlikely, raising the chances of an alliance between Dahal and Nepal instead.
“Our five-party alliance (Congress, Maoist Centre, JSP, Nepal faction and Janamorcha) will continue,” said Metmani Chaudhary, a leader close to Nepal. “Let’s see how the situation unfolds. Maybe we can even form a united left party, including the Maoist Centre.”