Prime minister’s overture to Congress on key posts makes UML jitteryCabinet expansion by Monday and all-party meeting on Tuesday, Dahal tells journalists.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s statement on Saturday that he would consult the Nepali Congress on the elections of the President and the Speaker has created confusion among the coalition partners.
Dahal’s statement, which he made while meeting a group of editors at Baluwatar, comes at a time that leaders of CPN-UML, his major coalition partner, are increasingly suspicious of the Congress’ decision to give the trust vote to the prime minister.
After a series of meetings with UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli, Dahal was said to have removed many such suspicions that the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the Nepali Congress, which fought the three-tier elections held last year in an alliance, were cosying up again.
When the Congress, fresh after emerging the largest party from the November elections, refused to make Dahal the prime minister, he sided with the UML to win the chief executive post. But then Congress threw up a surprise by deciding to back Dahal as prime minister in the confidence vote. Many saw the move as Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba trying to drive a wedge between Dahal and Oli.
Some Congress leaders have said that they gave their trust vote to Dahal, expecting votes for their own candidates in the Presidential and Speaker elections. Congress leaders may have hoped to turn the tide in their favour as the head of state is elected through a secret vote by members of the National Assembly, the House of Representatives and members of the seven provincial assemblies.
Dahal’s Saturday statement leaves the possibility of political realliances for the looming elections open. “We have called an all-party meeting on Tuesday where the elections to the President, Speaker and deputy Speaker will be discussed,” Dahal said. “As the Nepali Congress also gave me the vote of trust, it is my duty to consult the party too.”
The largest party in the House with 89 seats, Nepali Congress gave Dahal the vote of confidence on January 10.
“When Oli and I reached an agreement on power sharing, it was imagined that the Congress would sit on the opposition bench. Now that the Congress has extended me support, it is my responsibility to consult the party as well,” Dahal told the editors. “I need to thank the Nepali Congress and discuss how to go about electioning the President, the Speaker and others.”
Dahal clarified to the editors that there has been no written agreement with other partners on electing the President, Vice President and Speaker.
“I will hold a meeting of the parties that supported me on January 17. I’m trying to forge an agreement among all the parties,” Dahal said. “Many things will be determined by that all-party meeting.”
Some UML leaders tried to downplay the matter saying that they had no confusion over the confidence vote of Congress as Oli and Dahal had already settled the issue and were now focused on Cabinet expansion.
“How can Dahal talk about power sharing with the Congress after becoming the prime minister with the UML’s support?” asked Prithvi Subba Gurung, deputy general secretary of the UML, who is among the Speaker candidates. “Dahal must have given such a statement just to appease Congress leaders who gave him their vote of confidence.”
The much-awaited Cabinet expansion deal among the ruling parties has also been delayed with no concrete agreement on picking the Speaker and deputy Speaker. The Parliament Secretariat is scheduled to hold the votes to elect them on January 19 and 21, respectively.
As per an initial agreement in the ruling alliance, the UML will get the post of Speaker and one among the Rastriya Swatantra Party, Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Janata Samajbadi Party will land the deputy Speaker position.
UML leaders said they would decide the Speaker and deputy Speaker candidates after the second Cabinet expansion, most likely by Monday evening.
Prime Minister Dahal also said the distribution of ministries among the ruling partners would be complete by Sunday evening.
According to the Parliament Secretariat, the schedule for Speaker election will be published on January 17, final nominations will be published on November 18, and polling will be held on January 19.
UML deputy general secretary Bishnu Rimal said the Speaker candidates would be decided after Cabinet expansion as discussions on it had yet to begin. “The Speaker is allocated to the UML but we have yet to finalise the candidate,” he added.
UML leaders said that Chhabilal Bishwakarma and Prithvi Subba Gurung are the frontrunners for the Speaker’s post from their party. They believe Bishwakarma has better chances of the two.
A section of the UML is also floating the name of Devraj Ghimire, who won the recent parliamentary elections from Jhapa, but his claim is weaker compared to the prospects of Bishwakarma and Gurung.
“As Bishwakarma represents the Dalit community and Gurung comes from the indigenous background, both their claims are valid. As this puts the party leadership under pressure, the candidate selection has been delayed,” a UML leader said. “When Oli and Prime Minister Dahal sealed a power-sharing deal on December 25, it was also agreed to divide the term of the Speaker equally between the two parties.”
As per the understanding, the Maoist Center heads the government in the first half of the five-year term, before handing over the reins to the UML in the second half. By extension, a UML leader will lead the legislature during Dahal’s tenure and a Maoist leader will command the House when the government leadership is handed over to the UML.
The ruling alliance has yet to agree on the deputy Speaker candidate as well.
The latest Congress decision on the crucial elections came on Wednesday, when a meeting of the party’s incumbent and former office bearers decided to contest the four top state positions.
“We will decide [further] only after hearing the views of political parties represented in the House,” said senior Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel. “But it’s all up to the prime minister whom we supported with our trust vote.”