UML, Maoist Centre on key posts: Each expects the other to blink firstSome Maoist leaders say the UML is rigid at the start and comes to a compromise only at the last moment.
Tika R Pradhan
Amid growing disputes in the seven-party ruling alliance over power-sharing, leaders of the major coalition parties—UCPN (Maoist Centre) and CPN-UML—have tried to find a middle path in an effort to save the coalition.
The two parties are at odds over giving the home ministry to the Rastriya Swatantra Party and on the election of a new President.
Although top leaders of the two big parties have toughened their stands on power-sharing, some of their second-rung leaders are also exploring common ground to avoid the risk of the alliance’s collapse.
“Both the Maoist Centre and the UML will suffer big losses if this coalition breaks apart, so they are working hard to avoid such a situation,” said Prithvi Subba Gurung, deputy general secretary of the UML. “I think the Maoist Centre is bringing up national consensus on the presidential candidate just to appease foreign power centers.”
Gurung, who was one of the main initiators of the UML-Maoist coalition, said it is not easy for the Maoist Centre to return to the Congress-led alliance, and therefore Maoist leaders would also be willing to come to a compromise.
The high-level political mechanism, which is headed by UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli, has become an irritant for the prime minister and Maoist leaders. Dahal sees the mechanism as a body formed by the UML to straitjacket him with the backing of other ruling parties including Rastriya Swatantra Party and Rastriya Prajatantra Party, which are thought to be working closely with Oli.
As a result, the mechanism has not been met for quite some time as Maoist Centre is reportedly unhappy with the UML chief’s leadership.
Maoist leaders see the mechanism as just another avenue of meeting between coalition leaders while leaders from UML, RSP and RPP prefer to call it a high-level political mechanism.
“Two top leaders of the coalition–the prime minister and UML chair— are expected to meet on Saturday morning to narrow down their differences,” said a member of the prime minister’s Secretariat. “They could then convene a meeting of the ruling coalition later in the day.”
On Thursday evening, a meeting of the RSP, the third largest party in the ruling alliance, which is unhappy after the prime minister refused to reinstate its leader Rabi Lamichhane as home minister, had decided to wait until Saturday to finalise whether to withdraw its support to the government.
The UML that earlier succeeded in breaking the Congress-led ruling alliance by cashing in on the mistake of Congress chief Sher Bahadur Deuba, is well aware of the possible consequences of upsetting the Maoist Centre.
“Things are getting complicated with the RSP unrelenting in its demand for Home Ministry and this could even break the coalition apart, but I believe UML leaders could still calm their RSP counterparts and save the coalition,” said Chakrapani Khanal, secretary of the Maoist Centre. “Oli knows the UML would be at the receiving end if the coalition ruptures.”
After getting strong commitment of support from the Congress in the event of the UML pulling out of the coalition, Prime Minister Dahal, according to insiders, has told Oli not to come up with difficult conditions as the situation has changed after the Congress gave a vote of confidence to the Dahal government and that he would seek national consensus on new President.
The Maoist Centre’s Standing Committee meeting has already endorsed a proposal to seek national consensus for the upcoming presidential election, which is scheduled for March 9.
The Nepali Congress has been working to dismantle the ruling alliance even since the Maoist Centre ditched it to join hands with the UML on December 25 to form a new governing coalition.
“I don’t see any sign of a compromise in the statements of the UML chair,” said Dev Prasad Gurung, general secretary of the Maoist Centre.
But other Maoist leaders said that the UML always takes a hard line at the start, only to soften its position later.
“This time also UML must come to a compromise as there is no other option left,” said a Maoist Centre Standing Committee member asking not to be named. “They have to be ready for a compromise or they lose out on the power they enjoy at both federal as well as provincial governments.”
However, some UML leaders think their Maoist counterparts are well aware that the Congress could again dupe them. Thus the Maoists won’t be foolish enough to ditch the alliance with the UML and join hands with the Congress instead.
“Our chairman has been trying to make it easier for the prime minister to function, for instance by sending to the Cabinet fewer ministers than it deserves, and many new faces at that, and he is even helping coalition partners resolve their differences,” said Bishnu Rijal, a UML leader. “The Maoist Centre knows it has no future with the Congress that left Dahal high and dry by refusing him the premiership.”
By putting its weight behind the Dahal-led government, the Nepali Congress has boosted Dahal’s bargaining power with Oli.
“The future of the ruling coalition depends on how the UML reacts to our national consensus proposal,” said Amrita Thapa Magar, a Standing Committee member of the Maoist Center. “We will come up with a decision on Saturday.”