Division in ruling coalition over possible Cabinet entry of Swatantra PartyWhile the prime minister wants to accommodate the party, RSP leaders say they are yet to seriously discuss matter.
The suspense over the Rastriya Swatantra Party’s next move endures.
As matters stand, the RSP leadership is keeping its cards too close to its chest—whether it will join the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government or withdraw its support, remains to be seen. The party registered impressive victories in two of the three constituencies in the by-elections.
“The prime minister had called to congratulate me. He also inquired about our party’s support to the government. We have not discussed [RSP’s support to the government] much,” RSP chair Rabi Lamichhane told journalists after his swearing-in on Friday.
It appears that the prime minister is keen on having the RSP in the government. Lamichhane even met the prime minister in Baluwatar on Sunday.
Back-to-back talks between Dahal and Lamichhane within days of the bypoll results and the RSP leaders’ cautious statements about joining the government have fueled speculations about the possibility of the party joining the government.
RSP leaders have expressed their reservations over the omission of the party’s agenda items from the Dahal-led government’s common minimum programme.
On the other hand, there are mixed views in the ruling coalition regarding the RSP’s accommodation in the government, especially as portfolio distribution in the coalition was settled after a hard bargain.
Following the major polls, the federal government was formed under the leadership of the CPN (Maoist Centre), with the backing of the largest communist force, CPN-UML, and other fringe parties, in December last week. The Nepali Congress replaced the UML as the leading ally and a new ruling coalition emerged just ahead of the presidential election in the second week of March.
Currently, the Congress, the Maoist Centre, the Unified Socialist, the Janata Samajbadi Party, the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party and the Nagarik Unmukti Party are in the Dahal-led Cabinet. The Janamat Party and the RSP have maintained their support, from outside.
“Technically, it may not be difficult to bring the RSP in the Cabinet. But the main problem is the way these parties went against the coalition in the presidential and vice-presidential elections. They also fielded their own candidates in the bypolls while maintaining support for the government. Why should we try to accommodate the parties which have time and again acted against the spirit of the coalition? There is no need to try to bring them into the government,” said Keshav Jha, a leader of Loktantrik Samajbadi, a partner in the ruling coalition.
After negotiations that went on for months, the coalition finally expanded the Cabinet in March, but it is yet to take full shape. As per the agreement, the Congress is to lead eight ministries. But it has sent its ministers to only six ministries—Defence; Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs; Foreign Affairs; Finance; Industry Commerce and Supplies; and Urban Development. For now, Congress Vice President Purna Bahadur Khadka is leading two ministries—Defence, and Law and Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. Congress chief Sher Bahadur Deuba has agreed to give three ministries and a state minister to the party’s Shekhar Koirala faction. Prime Minister Dahal is himself overseeing four ministries.
Besides the prime minister, the Maoist Centre has six ministries—Home Affairs; Communication and Information Technology; Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation; Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation; Federal Affairs and General Administration; and Women, Children and Senior Citizen. The party has a state minister too, in the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.
The CPN (Unified Socialist) is in charge of two ministries—Physical Infrastructure and Transport, and Agriculture and Livestock Development—and has a state minister in the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and Transport. The Janata Samajbadi Party has taken the responsibility of the Education, Science and Technology ministry, even though the agreement was for two ministries.
The Loktantrik Samajbadi Party leads the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security. The Nagarik Unmukti Party has got one ministry—Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation.
Unified Socialist vice-chair Pramesh Hamal said there has been a broad agreement on giving a full shape to the government. “However, the issue of taking the Rastriya Swatantra Party on board has not come up clearly in the coalition,” said Hamal. “We don’t know what Lamichhane and the prime minister discussed. To analyse whether it will be feasible, first it should be an agenda of discussion in the coalition.”
According to party insiders, the RSP leaders are divided on whether to join the government. When the party was earlier a part of the Cabinet, some leaders had strongly argued that the public mandate for the fourth-largest party was to sit in the opposition, raise issues of public concern and mount pressure on the government to address them, build the organisation, and work to improve their electoral prospects in the next elections. “This time too, some want the party to withdraw its support for the government, while others are in favour of joining the ruling coalition if the ruling parties meet their conditions,” said a central committee member.
Lamichhane was deputy prime minister and home minister in the Dahal Cabinet, but he lost his position after the Supreme Court invalidated his lawmaker status, stating that the citizenship certificate he had submitted to contest the November polls was invalid.
At the time, from the party, Shisir Khanal was the minister of Education, Science and Technology, Dol Prasad Aryal led the Labour, Employment and Social Security Ministry and Dr Toshima Karki was the minister of state for Health and Population. They all stepped down after the prime minister didn’t allow Lamichhane to rejoin the Home Ministry.
In their replacement, the Maoist Centre’s senior vice-chair Narayan Kaji Shrestha currently leads the Home Ministry, Janata Samajbadi Party leader Ashok Rai is the minister for education, while the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party leader Sharat Singh Bhandari heads the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security.
Kabindra Burlakoti, joint general secretary of the RSP, said: “Whatever we do, it will be done after intense discussions within the party. It will take time.”
Observers say the prime minister is ready to make some compromises to bring the RSP on board.
“The prime minister may want to show that an emergent popular force is a part of his ruling coalition. In trying to induct the RSP into the Cabinet, he may also be looking to thwart the designs of coalition partners that may be looking to defect,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political analyst. “How other parties such as the Congress and Unified Socialist will see this move remains to be seen.”