Swatantra Party carefully calculating government supportPrime Minister Dahal is trying to woo Rabi Lamichhane as Maoist Centre leaders apparently fear a Congress betrayal.
Tika R Pradhan
After the Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) won two out of three seats in the by-elections, its chairman Rabi Lamichhane, who took the oath of office and secrecy as a newly-elected lawmaker, said on Friday that his party isn't thinking of joining the government in its current set-up.
With the RSP emerging from the April 23 by-elections with an increased strength, all eyes are now on the newly-established party: will it join the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government or withdraw its support, compelling Dahal to seek another vote of confidence?
However, the party is still undecided on its stance with its leaders giving mixed reactions—some saying they have already made up their mind to remain in the opposition and withdrawing their support to the government, while others assert they could join the government, if the ruling parties meet their conditions.
“The prime minister had called to congratulate me. He also inquired about our party’s support to the government,” Lamichhane told journalists after the swearing-in function. “We have not discussed it [our support for the government] much.”
Lamichhane, however, expressed dissatisfaction at the exclusion of his party’s agendas from the Dahal-led government’s common minimum programme.
The RSP managed to snatch away a Congress seat in Tanahun-1 where Swarnim Wagle, a Congress defector who joined the RSP ahead of the election, beat his former party’s candidate Govinda Bhattarai with a huge margin.
Although some RSP leaders have been saying that the party would join the government if they get the ministries they previously held or new ones that directly connect them to the people, the chances of that happening are slim despite the prime minister wanting the party to keep supporting the government.
“We have heard that the government is ready to give back our previous ministries, but that won’t be sufficient,” said Mukul Dhakal, spokesperson and general secretary of the RSP. “We have almost made up our mind to remain in the opposition and withdraw support to the government. But we are yet to make a final call on it.”
Dhakal said his party would make an official decision after its central committee meeting in a few days. He, however, said joining the government without ascertaining how long the government would last would not be a good idea. “There are many factors we need to consider before making any decision,” Dhakal said. “It’s not that we don’t want to join the government since our motto is to serve the public.”
For the party to join the coalition, Dhakal said, their agenda needs to be incorporated into the government’s policies and programmes.
Lamichhane was deputy prime minister and home minister in the Dahal cabinet, but he lost his position after the Supreme Court found legal flaws in his citizenship.
From his party, Shisir Khanal was the minister of Education, Science and Technology while Dol Prasad Aryal led the Labour, Employment and Social Security Ministry. Likewise, Dr Toshima Karki was the minister of state for Health and Population.
The other three ministers also resigned after the prime minister didn’t allow Lamichhane to rejoin the Home Ministry.
According to some Maoists Centre leaders, Lamichhane’s new statement that he is thinking of withdrawing support for the government is nothing but a bargaining tool for him to regain the Home Ministry.
“When he says there are lots of issues to be settled, Lamichhane is hinting at a deal over the Home Ministry,” said a senior leader of the Maoist Centre. “Even if the government needs a vote of confidence, it can easily get it even without the RSP support.”
Maoist Centre senior vice-chair Narayan Kaji Shrestha is currently leading the Home Ministry, Janata Samajbadi Party leader Ashok Rai is leading the education ministry, while the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party leader Sharat Singh Bhandari heads the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security.
But the prime minister is trying to woo the RSP, whose strength in the House of Representatives has gone up by a seat, to 21. The Maoist Centre leaders are apparently apprehensive that the Congress could betray them anytime.
“The prime minister congratulated Lamichhane after he was elected, but the two are yet to discuss substantive issues,” said Ramesh Malla, personal secretary to the prime minister.
Currently, four Cabinet portfolios—water supply, forest and environment, youth and sports, and health and population—remain vacant.