Maoists’ dilemma: They need Congress but can’t fully trust itDahal says option of joining hands with the UML open if electoral alliance with coalition partners is not possible.
With the May 13 local level polls less than two months away, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), which sees its prospects grim without an electoral alliance, has started pressing the ruling coalition leader Nepali Congress to go to the election jointly.
But Congress remains non-committal, as voices within the party are getting louder against poll alliance with any of the coalition partners–the Maoist Centre, the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi Party.
Nonetheless, leaders of the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist on Thursday also demanded that Prime Minister and Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba make good on his commitment for an electoral alliance with coalition partners.
“The prime minister has agreed to form a mechanism down to the local level for an electoral alliance,” said Ramesh Malla, chief personal secretary of Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Some Congress leaders say they would win most of the local government seats even if they contested the elections single-handedly because the communist forces are divided and weaker. The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) formed in May 2018 has split into three different parties–the CPN-UML, the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the CPN (Unified Socialist).
And two of the splinter parties–the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist—last year helped Nepali Congress President Deuba to return to power by ousting the government led by UML chair KP Sharma Oli.
Back in 2017, during the first phase of the local polls, Congress had forged an electoral alliance with the Maoist Centre as they had run the government together, but Dahal reached out to the UML saying the electoral alliance could not be fruitful as Congress voters didn’t vote for Maoist candidates.
This time also, Dahal, who sees no hope of the party that had won 116 local levels retaining its local government seats without an electoral alliance, has asked Prime Minister Deuba to officially announce an electoral alliance for local elections or else the Maoist party would start talks with the UML.
Though UML leaders including party chair Oli and General Secretary Shankar Pokhrel have been ruling out the possibility of an electoral alliance with the Maoist Centre– Maoist chair Dahal and some other leaders including Barshaman Pun have been saying that the possibility of the Maoists forging an electoral alliance with the UML cannot be ruled out.
Some see this as a mere tactic of the Maoists to pressure Deuba.
“I don’t think the Congress would decide against an electoral alliance with the coalition partners,” said Haribol Gajurel, a senior Maoist leader, close to Dahal. “They know what happened [Congress fared poorly] in the last polls when we joined hands with the UML, although no official discussions have been held with the main opposition yet.”
Gajurel, however, said informal discussions with UML leaders were going on but refused to elaborate. Even the party chair Dahal has also said no formal discussions with UML have been held of late.
Dahal seems to have been offended by the statements of some Congress leaders like General Secretary Gagan Thapa and senior leader Shekhar Koirala who are vehemently opposed to the idea of electoral alliance with the coalition partners.
“Though we have not started discussions [for poll alliance] with the UML yet, we cannot rule out the possibility if the Congress attempted to push us away by coming under the influence of some of its hardline leaders,” Dahal told reporters at the press meet organised by Press Centre Nepal at Butwal on Thursday. “Nothing is impossible in politics.”
Of late, realising that a nationwide electoral alliance among the coalition partners was not possible, Dahal has been directing his party cadres to make preparations to fight and win the elections single-handedly. On Thursday, Dahal also said there could be electoral partnership among coalition parties for some particular local level seats, but a nationwide alliance is not possible.
During a training for his party workers in the Capital on Wednesday, Dahal said the upcoming polls, whether they be local, provincial or federal, would be a life and death battle for his party.
“There is a conspiracy to wipe out all revolutionary and pro-people parties that fight for rights and identity of the people, so that just two bourgeois parties could rule the country by turns,” Dahal said at the political training in the Capital on Wednesday.
“Whether it is local, provincial or federal election, each one will be a life and death battle for us.”
In the Nepali Congress, Prime Minister Deuba and leaders close to him have been maintaining that the party is committed to continuing with the coalition until the polls and the party will take an official decision on electoral alliance from its central working committee meeting scheduled for next week.
The UML, ousted from power by a five-party coalition and shunted to opposition benches, is poised to contest the local elections with all its might and has already started campaigning after settling all issues related to its party organisation.
“Since our relationship with the Madhav Nepal-led party remains bitter, I don’t think we will consider them [for poll partnership] even if they approach us, but with regard to the Maoist Centre, it will be premature to say anything because they have been vacillating,” said Subas Nembang, deputy leader of the UML Parliamentary Party. “Our priority will be to fight the polls alone. Also electoral alliance depends upon the situations in specific election districts.”
He, however, said there have not been any discussions, formal and informal, between his party and the Maoist Centre on elections.
Malla, the chief personal secretary to Dahal, also confirmed that there have not been any discussions between the two parties.
Some Maoist Centre leaders even said their party would face a moral crisis if they decided to forge alliance for elections with the UML because Maoist Centre leaders have accused the UML of attempting to derail the constitution by dissolving parliament twice.
“Since we would face some moral issues if we joined hands with the UML, our priority will be to continue the existing ruling coalition until the elections. But the Maoist Centre is still capable of contesting the elections without alliance because ours is the party that brought change to the country,” said Shakti Basnet, a senior leader of Maoist Centre. “We are the only force that can give a way out to all the problems of the country and this is what we are telling the people in the elections.”
There are lots of difficulties for Congress to forge an electoral alliance with the communist parties also because there is no guarantee of Congress voters following the party’s decision. Also the grand old party has a large number of aspirants for office and leaders fear that those denied election tickets could campaign against the party’s official candidates.
Political analysts say Dahal’s suggestion Thursday that he would start exploring the possibility of a poll alliance with the UML is just a tactic to pile psychological pressure on Deuba and Congress leaders.
“I don’t think the Congress would not go away from an electoral alliance,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political commentator who has followed left politics for decades. “But voters of local levels prefer the alliance of UML and Maoist Centre.”
According to Subedi, there is no guarantee if a Congress leader will vote for an alliance member not from the party.
‘If the party decides to go for an electoral alliance, its voters may not obey the party’s decision in all local seats,” said Subedi.