As Dahal, Oli spar over presidential candidate, Congress sees chance to revive its old allianceA two-hour-long meeting between Prime Minister Dahal and UML chair Oli on Friday was inconclusive.
With the crucial presidential election scheduled early next month, candid talks and serious bargaining are going on between major parties, particularly the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Center).
Meanwhile, Congress leaders have reportedly met Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and offered to revive their pre-election alliance after the presidential election slated for March 9.
On the other hand, Dahal and CPN-UML chair KP Oli are still haggling over a common candidate for President, but an agreement looks elusive with Oli insisting that Dahal respect their December 25 power-sharing deal, as per which the presidency should go to the CPN-UML.
But with the Nepali Congress cosying up to the Maoist Centre, its chief Dahal is reluctant to respect the December 25 deal and has been harping on the Congress’ demand for national consensus on a presidential candidate.
A two-hour-long meeting on Friday between Dahal and Oli held at the latter’s residence was inconclusive, according to UML and Maoist leaders.
Although Dahal, after their meeting, told the media that he and Oli were on the same page on the presidential election, UML leaders who spoke to the Post said chances of an agreement are slim.
Oli reminded Dahal to stick to the December 25 agreement, but Dahal said that the political situation has changed after January 10, when Nepali Congress and other parties gave him a vote of trust.
Oli reportedly warned Dahal that their partnership could end if the Maoist Centre did not give the presidency to the UML. Dahal, in reply, said he would take an appropriate decision when the time comes, according to leaders privy to the developments.
The Congress has, meanwhile, promised to support Dahal for the entire five-year period if the Maoist Centre backed a Congress nominee for President.
“Dahal will continue as prime minister for the next five years if the party supports our candidate,” Prakash Sharan Mahat, spokesperson of the Nepali Congress, said on Friday.
“A high-level understanding between the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Center is possible in the near future,” Mahat added.
A Nepali Congress office-bearer said Sher Bahadur Deuba and Prime Minister Dahal have met separately several times, and several other Congress leaders including party vice-president Purna Bahadur Khadka, general secretary Gagan Thapa, and senior leaders like Ram Chandra Poudel, Shekhar Koirala, and Krishna Prasad Sitaula, among others, have held one-on-ones with Dahal several times to discuss the presidential election and post-election arrangements.
“Dahal wants full assurance that Congress would not betray him as it did on December 25 [when it refused to back Dahal’s bid for prime minister],” the office bearer said.
The Congress has assured him that our party won’t join hands with the UML, and promised to back him for the entire five years, the leader said.
“In our conversations, we learnt that Dahal wants to free himself from the clutches of Oli, whom he doesn’t trust,” the leader said.
The Congress has reportedly assured that the party would not opt to form a government as per Article 76 (3), which allows the largest party (Congress) to form a new government, in the event of Oli withdrawing support to the Dahal government.
“We have given this assurance to the prime minister,” said the Congress leader, who claimed he has met Dahal several times over the past two weeks.
Some Maoist leaders told the Post that their party will soon take an official decision to elect a new President through national consensus.
“First we will take our decision, and then the Congress will announce its candidate and our party will support the candidate,” a Maoist Center standing committee leader said.
Nepali Congress is working to revive the old alliance by keeping out the UML, Rastriya Swatantra Party, and Rastriya Prajatantra Party.
“A new political course will emerge within ten days,” chief whip of the Nepali Congress, Ramesh Lekhak, said, adding, “UML is showing its desperation and as a result, the ruling alliance has become unstable.”
Although the Congress has not selected its candidate for President, its leaders say they are preparing to field either Ram Chandra Paudel or Krishna Prasad Sitaula. And if the situation demanded a non-political individual, then former Chief Justice Kalyan Shrestha will be picked, according to leaders.
Since the backing of the Congress, the Maoist Centre, and CPN (Unified Socialist) alone will not be enough to elect the president, Congress will look for the backing of other parties including the Rastriya Swatantra Party, Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Janata Samajbadi Party, Janamat Party, and Rastriya Unmukti Party, according to Congress General Secretary, Bishwa Prakash Sharma.
“To elect our candidate, we are short of around 1,000 electoral college votes besides the votes of the Nepali Congress, the Maoist Center, the CPN (Unified Socialist), Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, and Rastriya Janamorcha,” said Sharma. He said the Congress is looking for the backing of at least two other parties like the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the Rastriya Swatantra Party, the Janamat Party, and the Rastriya Unmukti Party.
Jagannath Khatiwada, spokesman of CPN (Unified Socialist) said his party is keen to revive the old alliance but they have yet to decide on a consensus candidate for President. “But we might support a candidate who is not a UML nominee.”
UML leader Bishnu Rijal, meanwhile, argues that it is wrong for the main opposition party, Nepali Congress, to demand its share in the presidential appointment. “How can a party, which is not part of the ruling coalition, demand that its candidate should be made President?” he said.