Electoral alliance among ruling parties still up in the airSome fear UML might try to exploit its position on the MCC pact during elections.
The ruling coalition on Sunday managed to overcome a major hurdle by joining hands to pass the Millennium Challenge Corporation Nepal Compact from Parliament. The $500 million grant at one point had threatened the alliance. Even though the Rastriya Janamorcha has quit the coalition, the Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Centre), CPN (Unified Socialist) and Janata Samajbadi Party have remained together.
For the two communist forces, the Maoist Centre and Unified Socialist, keeping the alliance intact is a compulsion, as they see a fighting chance of being politically relevant should Congress agree for an electoral alliance in the upcoming polls, starting with local elections on May 13. Federal and provincial elections are due later this year.
A large section in the Nepali Congress, however, is against forming an electoral alliance with the two communist forces, even as their leaders have for long made public statements that the alliance would go to the polls together.
Krishna Prasad Sitaula, a senior Congress leader, said political parties now have to focus on elections, as local polls are quite close.
“We have not discussed possible alliances among the ruling partners. Such talks and negotiation will begin only after mid-March,” Situala told the Post. “But one must understand, an alliance for forming a government and an alliance to fight elections are two completely different things.”
Congress insiders say they are well aware of the fact that the two communist forces in the current coalition want an electoral alliance more than their party needs it.
In the run-up to the MCC compact’s ratification, Prime Minister and Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba made an all-out effort to save the alliance from breaking. Some in Congress, including Deuba, are concerned if the current alliance breaks, the communist forces, at least the Maoist Centre, could forge an alliance with the CPN-UML.
Both the Maoist Centre and Unified Socialist are in a precarious situation, and they need a ride—either of Congress or the UML—during the elections.
The Maoist Centre had fought the 2017 elections under an alliance with the UML, Rastriya Janamorcha and Rastriya Prajatantra Party.
After sweeping the elections, the Maoist Centre and the UML merged to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). However, infighting led to the invalidation of the NCP in March last year. In August, a section of the UML led by Madhav Nepal split to form the Unified Socialist.
Both the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist are well aware of the fact that fighting the upcoming elections independently would be difficult for them.
UML chair KP Sharma Oli, who was once cornered by Maoist chair Dahal and Madhav Nepal, appears averse to joining hands with them, so the two communist forces in the current coalition want to stick to Congress.
Both the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist are not comfortable about going to local elections on May 13. Before the local poll date was announced, Maoist chair Dahal had even proposed holding parliamentary elections in April-May by delaying local polls.
It was apparent that the reason the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist decided to vote for MCC ratification after haggling for weeks was that they feared the coalition could break.
The Unified Socialist appears to be confident about the current alliance fighting the elections jointly.
“The alliance will remain intact and we will jointly go to elections. The government has already announced the date of the local elections so we are committed to the alliance,” said Bedurm Bhusal, general secretary of the Unified Socialist. “Chances of derailing the elections are slim but since a case is pending in the Supreme Court, we have to wait and see.”
Responding to a petition filed by Sanjeev Kumar Sah, the mayor of Bhangaha Municipality in Mahottari district, the Supreme Court on February 22 issued a show cause notice to the government.
Sah in his petition has argued that holding elections across the country for 753 local units in a single phase on May 13 breaches the constitutional provisions that guarantee five years’ terms for all representatives. In 2017, local elections were held in three phases—on May 14, June 28 and September 18.
Local elections will take place on the announced date unless the court issues a stay order.
A senior Maoist Centre leader said the main opposition UML will try to exploit MCC ratification to its advantage during elections.
“Yes, now parties’ focus will shift to elections,” said Ram Karki, a central committee member of the Maoist Centre. “Now the question automatically arises who will benefit and how.”
According to Karki, every political party will try to make the most by using different means, and the UML could make MCC an agenda.
The controversy around the American grant under which Nepal will receive $500 million for electricity transmission lines and road improvements has penetrated Nepali society with a barrage of disinformation regarding it. Only the Nepali Congress appeared to be determined to pass the compact amid concerns among leaders from across the political spectrum that speaking for the US aid could hamper their poll prospects.
Left with no option, the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist fell in line to vote for the compact, but the main opposition UML decided to stay away from the entire ratification process.
“If the UML attempts to take advantage somehow by making the MCC an agenda, its direct confrontation will be with Congress,” said Karki. “Therefore Congress has to make an alliance with us so that it can do better than the UML.”
But inside Congress, there is a strong group lobbying against forging any electoral alliance with any party. According to some leaders, there are already too many aspirants for election tickets in the party so Congress would not have constituencies to offer to other parties if an electoral alliance is formed.
A faction led by Shekhar Koairla, who lost the party president post to Deuba during the 14th general convention in December, is dead against fighting elections jointly with any other party. They are of the view that an electoral alliance for local elections is almost impossible but some seat sharing arrangements can be made for parliamentary polls.
A Congress office bearer said the party is well aware of the fact that the US grant has become a polarising issue in society.
“But we decided to follow our principled position, as it would have been wrong on our part if we had backtracked on our signed obligations,” the office bearer told the Post. “As far as elections are concerned, our calculation was there could be a marginal five percent impact on our constituencies because of our position on the grant.”
According to the Congress leader, there is little chance of the main opposition UML cashing in on the MCC agenda as the general public now knows almost every party and top leader supported the compact.
During the upcoming elections, the UML may also face a bit of difficulty because a section led by Nepal has left and it won’t have the luxury like in 2017 when the entire Maoist Centre was under an alliance with it.
“MCC is unlikely to become an agenda for the upcoming elections. We have our own genuine agenda items,” said Subas Chandra Nembang, a vice chair of the UML. “It’s clear that there will be a competition between the UML and Congress. The Maoist Center and Unified Socialist will struggle for their existence.”
According to Nembang, both the parties will try to tie up with Congress for their survival.
“We don’t need an alliance with any party,” said Nembang. “The Maoists and Unified Socialist will suffer as they have done so much to divide politics and society.”