Congress-Maoist alliance back in focusMaoist Centre chair Dahal ‘positive’ about electing President from Nepali Congress.
Immediately after the Election Commission on Wednesday kicked off the presidential election process by publishing the voter list, a new kind of political understanding seemed to be in offing between the Nepali Congress and the CPN (Maoist Centre).
A meeting between the two sets of leaders on Wednesday evening agreed to revive the old five-party alliance formed in July 2021 after CPN-UML chief KP Sharma Oli’s ouster from prime minister’s office, the Post has learnt.
Congress chief Sher Bahadur Deuba, senior leader Ramchandra Poudel, vice-president of the party Purna Bahadur Khadka, General Secretary Gagan Thapa and party leader Krishna Prasad Sitaula had reached Baluwatar to meet Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
In the meeting with the prime minister, the Congress leaders claimed that Congress alone should get to appoint the new President. Congress Vice-president Khadka, who participated in the meeting, said that the prime minister took the proposal affirmatively.
"In the meeting with Prime Minister Dahal, who has been calling for electing a new President through national consensus, we demanded that our party nominee should become the new President," Khadka told the Post. “Prime Minister Dahal is positive about it.”
Dahal told Nepali Congress leaders that his party has entrusted him to take a final call on whom to support for President, but he will again consult his party leaders on Thursday and take a concrete decision.
Before Congress leaders met with Prime Minister Dahal, CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Nepal had met with Congress chief Deuba. Unified Socialist chair Nepal was accompanied by his party vice-chair Pramesh Hamal, general secretary Beduram Bhusal, and leader Ghanashyam Bhusal.
“We met the Congress chief to discuss the presidential election,” Beduram Bhusal told the Post. "He has requested that our two parties should cooperate in all situations."
Ahead of the meeting between the Nepali Congress and the Unified Socialist, Deuba also met Upendra Yadav, chairman of the Janata Samajbadi Party, and discussed the possibility of reviving the old five-party coalition.
The election for President is scheduled for March 9. Tuesday’s developments suggest that the prospect of a UML nominee becoming President looks slim.
“Someone from the five-party alliance will be elected Vice-president, and further details of power-sharing will be finalised on Thursday,” a Maoist Centre leader said.
The presidential race has become tricky with key partners of the ruling coalition—the UML and the Maoist Centre—at odds over the candidate and their alliance on the brink.
“We have agreed to revive the old five-party alliance,” said an office-bearer of the Nepali Congress. “The alliance will cooperate in the election for President.”
During his election to the post of prime minister in July 2021, Congress chief Deuba was supported by the CPN (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
The five-party alliance broke down on December 25 last year after Deuba refused to support Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s bid for prime minister. But the UML came to Dahal’s rescue and he became prime minister with support of seven parties and three independent lawmakers.
Earlier, in a meeting between the Congress and the Unified Socialist top leaders, the two sets of leaders agreed to revive the five-party alliance. After the meeting, Congress leaders visited Prime Minister Dahal at his residence. “During the meeting with Dahal, we agreed to revive the old alliance,” the Nepali Congress leader said, adding that there would be a concrete agreement by Thursday evening.
But there has been no agreement on who will be the Congress presidential candidate, according to two senior Congress leaders the Post spoke to. There are at least two Congress leaders—Ram Chandra Poudel and Krishna Prasad Situala—who are vying for the top state post.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Dahal and UML chair KP Oli had failed to find common ground on electing a new President, forcing Dahal to seek an alternative. Oli reportedly asked Dahal to support UML Vice-chairman Subas Nembang as President while downplaying the chances of Madhav Kumar Nepal, the Unified Socialist chairman.
Oli has remained firm in his stance that his party’s candidate should be elected the next President, something that was reportedly agreed with Dahal on December 25, when UML supported his prime ministerial bid.
“Even during Wednesday’s meeting with Dahal, our party chair stressed that a UML candidate should be elected President,” according to sources close to Oli.
Prime Minister Dahal, however, has been stressing that the President should be elected through a political consensus. Of late, he has argued that the December 25 understanding with Oli had become irrelevant after the Congress gave him the trust vote in Parliament on January 10.
Dahal repeated the same at Wednesday’s meeting with Oli, according to Haribol Gajurel, the political advisor to Prime Minister Dahal.
Prior to the meeting between Prime Minister Dahal and UML chair Oli, Chinese Ambassador Chen Song had called on Prime Minister Dahal. A source privy to the development said the Chinese envoy spoke in favour of the continuity of the left alliance.
“The Chinese envoy urged Prime Minister Dahal to stay with the present coalition and urged cooperation between left parties, particularly the UML and the Maoist Centre, ahead of the presidential election,” at least two sources privy to the development told the Post.
Media advisor to Prime Minister Dahal, Manahari Timilsina, however, dismissed the claims of the two sources. “The Chinese ambassador met the prime minister to invite him to participate in the Boao Forum to be held in the Hainan Province of China in late March,” Timilsina said.
The Chinese ambassador also met Madhav Nepal, chairman of the CPN (Unified Socialist), on Wednesday.
An office bearer of the Unified Socialist said that although he could not give full details of the meeting between Nepal and Ambassador Chen, “their talks were focused on protecting the unity between the UML and the Maoist Centre. He also wanted to know if the two parties would cooperate in the presidential election.”
When inquired about the Chinese ambassador’s meeting with Prime Minister Dahal and Unified Socialist chair Nepal, the Chinese embassy’s media representative declined to comment.
A few days ago, the Chinese Ambassador Chen had reached Oli’s Balkot residence to meet the UML chair.
Neighbouring countries like India and China have shown a growing interest in the presidential election and their diplomats have held multiple meetings with the top leaders of major parties.
Vinay Mohan Kwatra, the foreign secretary of India, was recently in town to assess the political ground reality, and to take stock of each party’s position in the upcoming election for President. Kwatra met over a dozen leaders from different political parties and his focus was on the upcoming presidential poll and negotiations around it. On Wednesday evening Indian Ambassador Naveen Srivastava also met Prime Minister Dahal at Baluwatar.
Three top American officials have also visited Nepal since the formation of the Dahal government.