Coalition partners want to stick together but there is trust deficitThe Congress and the communists are suspicious of each other even as they harp on fighting the polls in alliance.
Two recent political developments within the ruling alliance have risked the widening of a trust deficit among coalition partners, especially between the Nepali Congress and the communist forces—CPN (Maoist Centre) and CPN (Unified Socialist).
Just as the Congress is seeking to ensure a majority by fighting elections under the current alliance, its two communist partners are attempting their own joint plan.
On Monday, a meeting of the Congress Central Working Committee decided to fight the upcoming provincial and federal elections under the current alliance, aiming at securing a majority.
The following day, five senior communist leaders from the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist as well as Bamdev Gautam, a former CPN-UML leader who is attempting a broader left alliance, and Baburam Bhattarai, a former Maoist leader, sat together to discuss a possible leftist front.
Multiple leaders say though there is an understanding among the coalition partners that they should fight elections together to keep the UML in check, there is a lack of trust.
Within the Congress, there’s some sort of anxiety that the communists in the coalition could not only form a left alliance but also join hands with the UML. The Congress faced a drubbing in 2017 when communists fought elections jointly.
Senior Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel on Friday expressed his frustration that the communist parties are attempting a left alliance.
“The communists are hatching a conspiracy to corner the Congress,” said Poudel while addressing a function of Nepal Press Union in Hetauda. “Some international powers seem to be backing communists in a plot to weaken the Nepali Congress and democracy.”
According to Poudel, the Congress is clear about the fact that the current coalition partners must fight the upcoming elections jointly.
“But within the Congress, some hold views that the party should go to the polls on its own,” said Poudel. “Similarly, communists in the coalition are exploring a left front.”
While the alliance helped Congress emerge as the largest party from the local elections and gave the Maoist Centre a new lease of life, the Unified Socialist, formed in August 2021 after splitting from the UML, is annoyed.
The Unified Socialist’s performance was not up to the mark and it has blamed the Congress.
Earlier this week, Unified Socialist chair Madhav Kumar Nepal even warned the Congress not to display a highhanded attitude, saying a left alliance, including the UML, cannot be ruled out.
A Unified Socialist leader told the Post that a pre-poll prediction of the Congress too has made the communists in the coalition suspicious.
Congress leader Bal Krishna Khand, who is also the home minister, had presented a report at Monday’s meeting with the predictions that the Congress and the UML would emerge as the first and second largest parties in terms of popular votes if elections are fought independently.
The poll projection seen by the Post is said to have been prepared by the Home Ministry by analysing the results of the local elections held in May.
A Home Ministry official said that the report was based on the votes received by the respective parties in the ward chair elections.
Of the 165 seats under the first-past-the-post system, the Congress and the UML are projected to win 77 and 66 seats, if elections are fought independently—without any alliances.
And if the present alliance with the Maoist Centre, the Unified Socialist and the Janata Samajbadi Party continues, the Congress may add up to 22 more seats, according to the report.
In the same report, Khand claims that the Maoist Centre will win eight seats, the Unified Socialist will win one, Janata Samajbadi Party will win four and the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party will win only two seats under the first-past-the-post system.
But, if there will be a larger left alliance like in 2017, the Congress will be limited to 21 seats.
Insiders say the Congress is strongly pitching for keeping the coalition intact because of the report, as a larger left alliance would cost the party dearly.
The report, however, has vexed the communists in the coalition.
“The way the home minister presented the report that our party will win only one seat in the elections has undermined our political strength,” said Beduram Bhusal, general secretary of the Unified Socialist. “Such reports and the Congress [leaders’] intentions to strengthen only that party—and not the coalition—are against the spirit of the alliance.”
According to Bhusal, the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist are exploring possibilities to see if they can attract like-minded forces, excluding the UML, to a leftist alliance so as to keep the Congress in check.
Such a leftist alliance could be under a “socialist centre”, some communist leaders say.
Bhattarai, Dahal’s former deputy, has been pushing for a socialist centre, arguing that there is a need to bring together forces advocating progressive ideas, even those parties that are different from conventional communist parties and the Congress.
“Our party has decided to remain in the alliance. So there should be no confusion that we will leave the Nepali Congress and form a new leftist front,” said Bhusal. “We are not for uniting different communist parties. At most, we will have a working alliance of like-minded forces. We are currently discussing how seat-sharing can be finalised based on the votes received by the parties in the recent local elections and the 2017 general and provincial elections.”
According to Bhusal, on Friday also Prime Minister and Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, Maoist chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Unified Socialist chair Madhav Nepal discussed various aspects related to the upcoming polls including seat-sharing arrangements.
The Election Commission has proposed November 18 for general and provincial elections but the government is yet to announce the date.
Amid meetings of communist leaders from the coalition, the UML has stepped up efforts to exploit the situation to its advantage.
Some say the party is also exploring ways to bring the Unified Socialist back in its fold.
“We are in talks with all the parties and some serious discussions are going on with some leaders of the Unified Socialist also,” said Subas Nembang, deputy Parliamentary Party leader of the UML. “Picture is not clear yet how many Unified Socialist leaders will return to the UML.”
According to Nembang, the UML is of the view that the current ‘unholy’ coalition must be dismantled.
The current Congress-led coalition was formed to unseat UML chair KP Sharma Oli as prime minister.
“Once this polluted coalition breaks down and some so-called communist leaders sever their ties with the Congress, we can think of a larger left alliance,” Nembang said. “As of now, no remarkable progress has been made.”
Some observers and experts said the seat-sharing issue is set to snowball in the coming days, which could deepen the distrust among the coalition partners. But they are likely to take a decision based on the competitive advantage for each constituent, according to them.
“The sub-alliance minus the UML of the leftist forces in the coalition that is under discussion will surely create unease in the UML as well as the Congress,” said Khagendra Prasai, an associate professor of political philosophy at Nepal Open University. “Recent developments show leftist politics has gone in the hands of [Pushpa Kamal] Dahal. The current bid of the communists in the coalition is aimed also at putting the Congress under pressure.”