Division in Congress adds interest to a foregone conclusionDeuba camp wants to support Dahal during today’s vote of confidence, while the rival faction is against the idea.
With Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal set to seek a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives on Tuesday, the largest party in the House of Representatives, the Nepali Congress, was undecided on whether to support the new government as of late Monday night.
As Dahal already enjoys the support of a majority of lawmakers, the vote of confidence is only a formality. However, supporting Dahal may prove to be a strategic gesture from the Congress which may pay political dividends in the days ahead.
On Monday evening, Dahal visited Deuba at the latter’s residence seeking Congress’ support during Tuesday’s vote.
“Our party president has responded in the affirmative. We have no issues with Dahal,” Nepali Congress Vice-president Purna Bahadur Khadka told the Post. “But Deuba said he would make a final decision only after the party’s parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday.”
But the party is still divided on the issue. Leaders of the Congress rival faction including Shekhar Koirala and General Secretary Gagan Thapa have publicly committed to playing the role of a strong opposition in parliament and to vote against the new government on Tuesday.
The party has called its parliamentary party meeting for Tuesday morning, a few hours ahead of the confidence vote, to make its position clear.
President Bidya Devi Bhandari appointed CPN (Maoist Center) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal as prime minister on December 25 after he showed the support of a majority of lawmakers. He has the backing of the CPN-UML, the CPN (Maoist Centre), the Rastriya Swatantra Party, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the Janata Samajbadi Party, the Janamat Party, the Nagarik Unmukti Party and three independent lawmakers.
He now seeks a vote of confidence from parliament as per the constitutional provision. As Dahal has the support of 169 out of 275 lawmakers in parliament, he could easily pass the floor test.
Yet the support of Congress to the Dahal government will be of more than academic interest.
Among the 12 political parties and three independent lawmakers in the new House, no party is close to a majority, making it one of the weakest hung parliaments in Nepal’s history and a ripe target for political manoeuvrings.
Until the final day given by President Bidya Devi Bhandari to form the government, the Congress-led alliance—which consisted of the Maoist Centre, the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha Party—was expected to form the new government.
To give continuity to the alliance, Maoist Centre chair Dahal had been insisting that he should be made the prime minister in the first half of the parliament’s tenure, but the Congress chief Deuba rejected the demand. A miffed Dahal then reached out to CPN-UMl chief KP Sharma Oli to form the left-majority government.
“Though it is difficult to understand their motive, the Congress is likely to vote in favour of the Dahal-led government Tuesday,” UML secretary Yogesh Bhattarai told the Post.
Even in the ruling coalition’s meetings, there have been discussions about asking the parties outside the ruling coalition to vote in favour of the government, said Mukul Dahal, who attends those meetings on behalf of Rastriya Swatantra Party.
After the 1994 by-election, the minority government formed under the UML leader Man Mohan Adhikari got a vote of confidence from the Congress, even though it was not a part of the government. But six months later, the Congress withdrew its support to the government.
“At that time Deuba was the Congress parliamentary party leader and under his leadership, the party had given the vote of confidence to the Adhikari government,” RK Mainali, a communist leader and a member of the then House, told the Post. “The vote was aimed at stopping the country from going into another midterm election.”
Later in 1995, the Congress withdrew its support to the Adhikari government to form a new government under Deuba.
Besides leader Koirala and General Secretary Thapa, the other Congress General Secretary Bishwa Parkash Sharma and leader Pradip Paudel are also opposed to voting in favour of Dahal Tuesday.
Though the Congress held the first parliamentary party meeting of its newly elected lawmakers on Saturday, it could not agree on whether to support the Dahal government.
“Our party will decide not to give the vote of confidence to the Dahal-led government,” General Secretary Thapa told reporters on Saturday after the meeting.
Sanjay Kumar Gautam, a leader of the opposition camp, says the Congress should not give the vote of confidence to Dahal as that would make it difficult for the party to act as a strong opposition.
“The mandate of the election was government formation under the leadership of the largest party. But as the new government has been formed under the leadership of second and third largest parties, Congress, as the largest party, must sit in the opposition,” Gautam said.
But speaking to the Post, party chief whip Ramesh Lekhak hinted at the possibility of the party supporting Dahal. “The party will definitely remain in the opposition whether we give the vote of confidence or not,” Lekhak said. “But there is a voice in the party that the Congress should vote for the Dahal-led government to guarantee political stability and to protect the constitution.”
Another Congress lawmaker NP Saud also didn’t decline the possibility, although he said the party will take a final call only at Tuesday’s parliamentary party meeting.
Talking to the Post, leader Narayan Khadka, however, said if the party chooses to back the Dahal-led government, the support will not be unconditional.
Nepal’s presidential election is held based on a weighted voting system. Therefore, Congress is reportedly giving a vote of confidence to the Dahal-led government in exchange for the Maoist Centre’s support in the presidential election.
But a Congress lawmaker representing the rival camp, Jeevan Pariyar, said there was no such calculation whatsoever.
“There is no rationale to the thinking that in return for a vote of confidence from Congress, the CPN (Maoist Centre) or any other ruling party will support the Congress candidate for the country’s President,” Pariyar said.