Power-sharing in provinces gets trickierNew ruling alliance has nine members eagerly waiting to make changes in federal and provincial governments.
Frequent changes in the power equation are not new to Nepali politics where political instability remains a persistent problem. Following last month’s change in the composition of the ruling coalition in Kathmandu, provincial governments are set to yet another change in leadership in just five months since the general elections.
Until a few weeks ago, the federal government was led by CPN (Maoist Centre), with the backing of the largest communist force the CPN-UML and other fringe parties. Now, the Nepali Congress has replaced the UML, and a new ‘ten-party’ alliance emerged in the run-up to the Presidential election held on March 9.
The new alliance has some new members. Despite the change in the coalition, the new members have yet to join the Pushpa Kamal Dahal Cabinet. Since the collapse of the UML-Maoist coalition in February-end that saw the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Rastriya Swatantra Party withdrawing their ministers, Dahal alone has been heading 16 ministries besides the Janamat Party, whose leader Abdul Khan is the minister for water supply.
Now the ten-party alliance is eagerly waiting to make changes in federal and provincial governments. The prime minister, however, will keep his post.
But in provinces, there will be changes not only in the composition of the Cabinets but their leadership as well.
The parties that were not in the provincial governments are more eager to join.
“We played a crucial role in cobbling together the new alliance, so we plan to join governments both at the centre and in the provinces,” said Jagannath Khatiwada, deputy general secretary of CPN (Unified Socialist), who is also the spokesperson of the party.
The three parties—the Nepali Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Unified Socialist—have an informal agreement to head the central government by turns. Prime Minister Dahal is set to expand the Cabinet soon after securing a vote of confidence in Parliament following the Vice President’s election, which is scheduled for Friday.
The UML lost the Sudurpaschim provincial government in February second week after one of the coalition partners, the Nagarik Unmmukti Party, refused to give a vote of confidence to UML’s chief minister. The Nagarik Unmukti Party, a regional party mainly having a stronghold in the same province, has been demanding that its de-facto leader Resham Chaudhary, who is serving prison term in Kathmandu after being convicted in the 2015 Tikapur killings, be released before it could join the government.
Although the party is reiterating the demand, it appears eager to join the government even before the demand is met. It has lawmakers in Lumbini, Sudurpaschim and Madhesh provinces.
“We will join provincial governments, but we have some demands that need to be addressed first. We are more focused on the Sudurpaschim Province,” said Ratan Thapa, general secretary of the party. “Our participation in provincial governments will be based on our strength in the respective provincial assemblies.”
In the previous coalition, Nagarik Unmukti was in a strong position as the UML could not manage a majority in the assembly without its support in the Sudurpaschim Province. Now the scenario has changed. The Congress and the Maoist Centre combined have a clear majority in the 53-strong assembly.
“But still, our main demand is the freedom of our jailed leaders, and joining the governments is our second priority,” insisted Thapa, the spokesperson.
The Nepali Congress is yet to join provincial governments in six of the seven provinces. It has been leading the Sudurpaschim government with Kamal Bahadur Shah as the chief minister after the fall of the UML government.
The UML, which has already pulled out of the government at the centre, is still leading provincial governments in Koshi, Lumbini and Gandaki. If the changed equation at the centre worked in the provinces, the UML would soon be thrown out of power.
In Koshi Province, which has a 93-member assembly, the UML and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party combined have 46 lawmakers. The new 10-party alliance, on the other hand, has 47 lawmakers, including the Speaker from the Maoist party. The Speaker votes only in case of a tie. In the Gandaki Province headed by the UML, the Congress-Maoist-led alliance has 36 members—a comfortable majority in the 60-strong assembly.
Similarly, in the 87-strong Lumbini provincial assembly, the UML and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party together have only 33 lawmakers. The ruling alliance can easily form a new government here. In other provinces, member parties of the new alliance are already heading the governments.
The Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, a partner of the ten-party alliance, is in the provincial assembly of Lumbini and Madhesh province, but has not joined governments.
“After the election of the Vice President, we will proceed based on a new agreement to join the provincial governments. Let’s see how the power sharing negotiation goes at the time,” said Keshav Jha, a Loktantrik Samajbadi Party leader.
Easier said than done for the new alliance, say political watchers. Since there are more parties–10– in the new coalition, power-sharing is set to get knottier.
A political commentator, Chandra Kishore, who follows national as well as regional politics closely, said, “The smaller parties getting united and finalising their own candidate for Vice President means they are seeking a significant share in the executive power-sharing.”
On Saturday, three Tarai-based parties—the Mahantha Thakur-led Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, CK Raut’s Janamat Party and the Nagarik Unmukti Party of Ranjita Shrestha—forged a working alliance to bolster their bargaining power. They even fielded their own candidate Mamata Jha for the Vice President election.
The Nepali Congress, on Wednesday, decided to vote for Janata Samajbadi’s Ram Sahay Prasad Yadav in the vice presidential election.
According to Kishore, the Nepali Congress has many aspirants for chief ministerial posts, the Unified Socialist has been claiming that it made huge sacrifices for the alliance in the past, and the Madhesh-based parties have accordingly upped their ante.
The Unified Socialist remained with the present coalition even as the rival CPN-UML had offered Madhav Kumar Nepal President’s post. CK Raut thinks that he should have a share of power equal to Upendra Yadav’s Janata Samajbadi Party as he had defeated Yadav in the elections, according to leaders close to the Janamat Party leader.
“That’s why forming provincial governments will be a very difficult job. So no one wants to open a Pandora's box before the vice-presidential election and prime minister’s floor test,” he said. “There is a chance that the number of provincial ministries will be increased by bi-furcating some portfolios and appointing more ministers of state.”
The constitution, however, has restricted the size of the cabinets to a maximum of 20 percent of the total number of members of the assembly concerned.
The Rastriya Swatantra Party, which is fourth largest in the House of Representative, will, however, have no role in formation of provincial governments since the party had opted out of the provincial elections.