Why the sudden need to ‘strengthen’ coalition?Ruling parties’ leaders deny fissures in the alliance as Dahal-Deuba meetings increase in frequency.
Tika R Pradhan & Purushottam Poudel
As differences persist between the CPN (Maoist Centre) and the CPN-UML over the candidate for President, ruling alliance parties have started doubting the longevity of their partnership.
A meeting of the ruling parties held at the prime minister’s residence at Baluwatar on Sunday failed to make any headway in the dispute with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal sticking to his proposal of finding a consensus candidate for new President.
With just 13 days remaining for filing nominations for the presidential election scheduled for March 9, parties in the ruling coalition are yet to resolve their differences over the new presidential candidate. Although Prime Minister Dahal and CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli have been meeting regularly to discuss the issue among other things, they are far from an agreement, according to leaders of the two parties.
According to leaders privy to the meeting, Rastriya Swatantra Party President Rabi Lamichhane, while responding to a request by some leaders to rejoin the government, stressed that strengthening the shaky coalition was more important than his party returning to the Cabinet.
At the high-level mechanism meeting, coalition partners had asked the RSP chief to re-join the government, said the party’s Chief Whip Santosh Pariyar.
“Our party has some issues and we have to be in the government to address them” Pariyar told the Post. “Whether our party re-joins the government or not will depend on how politics unfolds in the days to come.”
After Prime Minister Dahal refused to restore RSP chief Lamichhane as home minister, the party on February 5 decided to pull out of the government. On January 27, Lamichhane resigned the home minister’s post after the Supreme Court invalidated his citizenship. He also lost his lawmaker post and party presidency.
Another participant of Sunday’s meeting, Rastriya Prajatantra Party chief Rajendra Lingden, also said the ruling partners have agreed to further strengthen their alliance and to give continuity to the meetings of the high-level mechanism.
“There are no differences over the presidential polls among the ruling parties and even if the December 25 [coalition] agreement needs changes, that would be effected through discussions among the partners.”
So why did the ruling leaders feel the need to strengthen their alliance at this time? Is it really so shaky?
UML vice-chair Subas Nembang doesn’t think the coalition has become weak. “We have stressed the need for further strengthening our partnership amid media reports claiming that the coalition has grown weak,” Nembang argued. “All parties are committed to the coalition and it is very much intact.”
The leaders also accused the media of falsely claiming that fissures have appeared in the ruling alliance.
But Prime Minister Dahal’s recent activities suggest otherwise. Dahal has been in frequent contact with Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba. On Friday evening, the two met in Baluwatar where they discussed the presidential elections. Besides Deuba, Dahal is in constant touch with several other Congress leaders also and their discussions are centred on the presidential elections, according to leaders privy to the meetings.
“Yes, our party is in constant touch with the prime minister,” Prakash Saran Mahat, Congress spokesperson, told the Post. “The Congress has been constantly reminding the prime minister that the President must be someone with a democratic bent of mind.”
The country’s two largest parties, the Congress and the UML, have been lobbying hard to get a leader of their choice elected to the top position. Under the weighted voting system for President, the Maoist Centre, which has a total of 47 seats in Parliament, and 82 seats in provincial assemblies, will have a decisive role.
Lingden, however, claimed that the presidential election did not even figure during Sunday’s meeting of the mechanism.
Nembang echoed Lingden and said, “To my knowledge, the high-level mechanism meeting on Sunday did not broach the topic of the presidential election.”
UML leaders have been claiming that the new President will be elected from the ruling coalition based on the understanding that was reached among them just ahead of Dahal’s election as prime minister. According to them, they have already agreed to pick a UML candidate as the next head of state and there is no point in arguing over the issue.
But the prime minister seems adamant that the presidential candidate should be selected based on all-party consensus arguing that the December 25 agreement among the coalition partners “has lost its relevance in the changed context”.
Addressing a function at his party’s headquarters in Koteshwar organised by the party’s Bagmati Province Coordination Committee, Dahal said the situation has changed after the Congress gave him the vote of trust in Parliament on January 10. He has been arguing that he was obliged to respect the feelings of all the parties who backed the government.
“There is no new development on the presidential candidate,” said Haribol Gajurel, chief advisor to the prime minister. “We want a candidate, be it from the UML, the Congress or the Maoist Centre, who is acceptable to all.”
Though the ruling coalition comprises seven parties, three of them have not been attending the meetings of the high-level mechanism. Upendra Yadav of the Janata Samajbadi Party, Ranjita Shrestha of the Nagarik Unmukti Party and CK Raut of the Janamat Party have been absent from these meetings.