UML trying every trick in the book to break five-party bondIn public, its leaders say they’ll sit happily on opposition bench with NC-led coalition not expected to last long.
Tika R Pradhan
CPN-UML, the largest party in the previous House of Representatives, slipped to a second position in the new House with 78 seats, winning 11 seats less than the Nepali Congress, which has become the dominant force with 89 lawmakers.
UML leaders, who are well aware that they could have no executive powers for the next five years, have been trying to sow divisions in the Congress-led five-party coalition, but its leaders in public say the party will be happy to stay in the opposition.
Some leaders said breaking the ruling coalition is proving to be a hard nut to crack, at least for now. This is why the party may decide to be a strong opposition should their efforts to break the alliance fail.
“Deuba seems capable of managing a coalition, so he can lead the new government,” said Surendra Pande, vice-chair of the UML, at an interaction organised by Press Chautari, the party’s press wing, in Bharatpur on Thursday. He said the UML won’t claim the government’s leadership.
Despite such claims by Pande and a few other UML leaders, some senior party leaders have intensified negotiations with their counterparts in the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the Congress.
According to UML insiders, leaders including party Vice-chair Bishnu Poudel, General Secretary Shankar Pokhrel and Deputy General Secretary Prithvi Subba Gurung have, of late, been meeting leaders of the Maoist Centre including its general secretary, Dev Prasad Gurung.
“I cannot disclose much now, but our party is working to break the Congress-led coalition to form a new government under the UML’s leadership,” said a central committee member asking not to be named. “But if the Maoist Centre cannot be driven out of the coalition, and we are as such not in a place to get the Presidency and other vital positions, we will stay out of power for at least a year.”
With several UML leaders who were regarded as confidantes of party chair KP Sharma Oli beaten in the November polls, many in the party are of the view that it should remain in the opposition for a year or two. They appear confident that the new Congress-led coalition government wouldn’t last long.
Senior UML vice-chair Ishwar Pokhrel, Vice-chair Surendra Pande, General Secretary Shankar Pokhrel, Deputy General Secretary Pradeep Gyawali, and secretaries Padma Aryal and Lekhraj Bhatta are among those who lost the elections besides Oli’s close aides Mahesh Basnet, Bhanubhakta Dhakal, Agni Kharel and Rajan Bhattarai.
The party has on Friday scheduled its office bearers’ meeting which is expected to pick 34 members from its Proportional Representation list and forward it to the Election Commission, besides discussing the election results.
After picking their PR lawmakers, the parties will start the process of selecting their parliamentary party leaders. After this, they will engage in intense discussions on government formation.
Of the total 12 parties that have won parliament seats in the November 20 polls, seven have managed to be national parties. For a party to become a national party, it must win at least one seat under the first-past-the-post system and garner three percent of the total PR votes.
According to some UML leaders, the party will try its best to break the existing coalition although the job looks difficult after both the Congress and the Maoist Centre publicly affirmed their commitment to the coalition. But UML leaders said the Congress-Maoist partnership could break if Deuba refuses plum government posts to the Maoist Centre.
“Our party is closely following the coalition’s moves,” said Bishnu Rijal, a central committee member. “We will claim government leadership if a favourable situation arises.”
Earlier, UML Chairman Oli, in an attempt to break the ruling coalition, had offered his Maoist Centre counterpart Dahal to become the prime minister of a new UML-Maoist coalition. Oli simultaneously promised support to Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba for the next five years if the latter broke the coalition and formed the government alone.
“UML seems desperate to break the coalition, but our party has so far no plans on ending the partnership with Congress,” said Pampha Bhusal, deputy general secretary of the Maoist Centre. “They seemed to have reached out to various leaders with attractive proposals.”
According to some UML leaders, the party has promised the Maoist Centre the prime ministership, and the post of Speaker to the CPN (Unified Socialist). The latter, however, having won just 10 seats and failing to be a national party, is reportedly in no mood to partner with the UML.
“So far, we have no plans on collaborating with the UML, but things could change if the Congress behaves in a high-handed manner and starts ignoring smaller coalition partners,” said Jagannath Khatiwada, spokesperson of CPN (Unified Socialist). “Now, everything depends on how the Congress treats us. We revolted against the UML and we are free to choose our fate if the Congress fails to meet our terms.”