Ruling alliance in a fix as it faces a host of challengesCoalition partners differ over MCC as crisis in the judiciary makes it more difficult for them to make a joint stance.
The incumbent government came into being after a long struggle. Five fronts—Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), a faction of the CPN-UML, a group of the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha—had come together to oust the KP Sharma Oli government.
The current Sher Bahadur Deuba government was formed on July 13 as per a July 12 Supreme Court diktat. The Nepali Congress-led government has the backing of the Maoist Centre, Madhav Nepal-led CPN (Unified Socialist), Upendra Yadav-led Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
The last four months of this coalition, however, have not been easy. Even though coalition partners are fond of talking about continuing their partnership until the next elections, no one knows what exactly is the glue that can bind them together. Rather, there are differences between key coalition partners—the Congress and the Maoist Centre—on a host of issues.
One is the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact, known as the MCC, under which Nepal is supposed to receive $500 million in grants from the United States. The MCC, signed in September 2017, is awaiting parliamentary ratification.
Prime Minister Deuba wants the MCC to get through Parliament, but his coalition partner Pushpa Kamal Dahal, chair of the Maoist Centre, has a different view.
The Deuba government is under pressure to pass the MCC.
Upon his return from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on Thursday, Deuba said that he and Dahal have jointly written to the MCC headquarters assuring the compact's parliamentary ratification.
Talking to the media, Deuba said that during his meeting with MCC officials in Glasgow he reiterated the MCC would get through Parliament as per the prior commitment.
“Prachanda ji (Dahal) and I have sent a letter (to the MCC headquarters) with the commitment that the MCC would be passed,” he said. Deuba had met Alexia Latortue, deputy chief executive officer of the MCC, on the sidelines of the climate conference. Latortue had asked Deuba about the MCC’s status and its parliamentary ratification.
Deuba said that he told Latortue it would be ratified after consultation with parties.
However, a day later Dahal contested Deuba’s statement.
On Friday, Dahal said that they hadn’t sent any letter committing to pass the MCC.
“We had sent a letter requesting for more time for discussions with the parties. The MCC cannot be endorsed in the present form,” said Dahal at an event in the Capital. “Let there be no confusion, we haven't sent any letter assuring its endorsement. It has to be revised.”
The conflicting statements from the chiefs of the two ruling parties indicate complexities within the ruling alliance.
The MCC has become a hotly debated issue in Nepal with political parties, public intellectuals and experts sharply divided over its endorsement. Some argue that it is nothing but a development grant while others say its parliamentary ratification in the present form will undermine Nepal’s sovereignty. Though the US embassy in Kathmandu and the MCC headquarters have clarified that the MCC is not above Nepal’s constitution, some political parties, including the Maoist Centre, and public intellectuals have been calling for revision of some of its clauses.
The MCC headquarters has continuously been reminding the Nepal government to endorse the compact.
Just a week before Deuba’s meeting with Latortue, the MCC headquarters on October 29 expressed its concern over the delay in its ratification from Parliament.
“The delays to ratification jeopardise the critical and timely support this $500 million grant would provide to help more than 23 million Nepalis access reliable energy and safer roads,” said MCC headquarters in a statement.
In September, a team led by Fatema Z Sumar, vice-president of the MCC, said the ratification must not be delayed.
Officials at the Millennium Challenge Account Nepal Development Board say they have no idea if any letter, as claimed by Deuba, has been sent to the MCC headquarters.
“We know there has been some communication between the Nepal government and the MCC headquarters,” said an official at the board on condition of anonymity. “However, we have no information about [Nepal government’s] commitment in writing to endorse the compact.”
Minister for Foreign Affairs Narayan Khadka, who has been giving a different view than Deuba about the endorsement, said he was not aware of any development.
“I have no information to share with you,” he told the Post.
But the MCC is not the only issue on which leaders of the ruling coalition have different views. The ruling coalition has not been able to make a joint stance even on the current crisis in the judiciary.
Ram Chandra Poudel, a senior leader of the Nepali Congress, has made his stance clear saying that Chief Justice Cholendra Shumsher Rana, should resign. But his party, the Congress, has not made any position clear. Calls have also grown for parties to move an impeachment motion against Chief Justice Rana.
Nepali Congress leaders including Joint General Secretary Prakash Sharan Mahat have been saying the Supreme Court should find a solution to the current crisis the judiciary is facing and that the parties should not interfere.
All 19 justices are up in arms against Chief Justice Rana. The Nepal Bar Association has been demanding that Rana should step down.
If Rana refuses to step down, the only way to remove him from office is an impeachment motion, which needs to be passed by a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives.
The five parties in the ruling coalition, however, do not seem to be keen on filing an impeachment motion against Rana. After all, the current government of the five coalition partners was formed as per an order by the Constitutional Bench led by Rana. Hence, questions are being asked if the coalition partners would make any move against Rana. Neither of the parties in the government has enough numbers to file an impeachment motion. And they don’t have a two-thirds majority to pass the impeachment motion jointly, even if it is filed.
“Actually political parties should come up with a common opinion about the ongoing crisis in the judiciary but they have not spoken fearing that could amount to interference,” said Vijay Kumar Poudel, deputy general secretary of CPN (Unified Socialist), who constantly attends the meetings of the ruling coalition. “We are not informed about the next meeting of the coalition to discuss the crisis in the judiciary.”
Many say the MCC and the crisis in the judiciary could unravel the ruling coalition.
According to political analysts, the crisis in the judiciary and the MCC are two major headaches for the current coalition government.
“Since the coalition partners are divided on the MCC, they are not in a situation to take a concrete decision... not at least until the polls,” said Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst. “In the judiciary crisis, all these parties are involved right from the appointment of the existing chief justice. Therefore they are silent on the issue, but they will have to speak sooner or later.”
According to Shrestha, Deuba knows well that if the MCC is moved forward, the current coalition will collapse.
“There is a clear division in the coalition partners on the MCC and this very issue could break the alliance if the American project is taken forward,” said Shrestha. “But I don’t think the judiciary's crisis will affect the unity of the coalition partners.”
Shrestha said that the current government stands on a very fragile ground.
Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator, said the present situation was bound to surface as the current coalition is a combination of parties with different ideologies and interests.
“Our leadership lacks a long-term vision. And it’s indecisive,” said Maharjan. “I don’t see a concrete decision on these issues coming anytime soon. The mess will continue.”