Is Dahal’s coalition government under threat?UML and Congress in talks amid visible unease among ruling party over budget and launch of Socialist Front.
All is not well with the incumbent ruling alliance, if the recent remarks by coalition leaders are any guide. They are lashing out at Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the recently unveiled budget and the formation of the socialist front by a group of leftist parties.
At a function organised by his party on Friday, CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Kumar Nepal commented on the reports that said CPN-UML chair KP Oli was trying to cajole Nepali Congress leaders into forming a government under Congress leadership.
“What an irony!... The leader of a communist party [Oli] is working to topple the government led by another communist party chair, and wants to partner with Sher Bahadur Deuba, a comprador capitalist, liberal capitalist…,” said Nepal.
Insiders say some leaders of the Congress, the largest party in Parliament, and the UML, the second-largest, have been in informal talks to explore a new political alliance.
A Nepali Congress leader confirmed that some leaders from the dissident faction of his party have been in informal talks with the UML. “These discussions are in preliminary stages. But the main question is, can the [Congress] leaders who are in talks do much without any green signal from the party president. That is unlikely,” the leader said. “Tea talks cannot topple the government.”
According to the leader, most leaders in the party want to give continuity to the current government.
But Congress General Secretary Gagan Thapa, a few days ago, told Kantipur daily refused to rule out the possibility of two largest parties joining hands to run the government.
Congress chief and former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is currently in Singapore for medical treatment.
With the leftist parties in the ruling alliance forming a separate bloc, namely the Socialist Front, some UML leaders have tried to drive a wedge between the ruling parties.
“The prime minister’s formation of a sub-alliance within the ruling coalition has alarmed the Congress, which in turn is a hint of mistrust and disenchantment in the coalition,” said UML whip Mahesh Bartaula.
Nepal’s leftist forces had announced the much-touted Socialist Front last Monday comprising the CPN (Maoist Centre), the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janata Samajbadi Party, and the Communist Party of Nepal led by Netra Bikram Chand Biplab.
The front has 54 seats in the House of Representatives: 32 of the Maoist Centre, 10 of the Unified Socialist, and 12 of the Janata Samajbadi Party. In the 25-member federal Cabinet, however, the front occupies the largest chunk with 10 ministers and three ministers of state.
“The current government is rather unnatural with the third largest force in the Parliament leading it. The public wants a stable UML-Congress government. Although there have been no formal talks towards that end, we are getting suggestions that such a strong government is the need of the day,” said Bartaula.
Currently, the Congress has nine ministries in the Cabinet, while the CPN (Maoist Centre) leads six and has one minister of state, besides the prime minister. The CPN (Unified Socialist) leads two ministries and has one minister of state. The Janata Samajbadi is in charge of two ministries and has one of its leaders as a minister of state, while the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party head one ministry each.
The recently unveiled budget has also kicked up a storm in the ruling alliance.
On Thursday, the parliamentary party meeting of the CPN (Unified Socialist) gave party chair Madhav Kumar Nepal the mandate to discuss the party’s dissatisfaction over the budget with Prime Minister Dahal and Finance Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat. The party leaders have accused the finance minister of funnelling funds mainly to Gorkha, Dadheldhura and Nuwakot—the constituency of the prime minister, the home district of Nepali Congress President Deuba, and the home district of Finance Minister Mahat, respectively.
On the same day, at a press meet at his party office in Kathmandu, Janata Samajbadi Party chair Upendra Yadav said that the budget would not be passed in its current form as it was brought without consulting alliance partners. “The budget has ignored the Madhesh and other regions. That’s why we have asked for revision. Without revision, it will be difficult for us to endorse the budget,” he said.
Another partner in the ruling coalition, Janamat Party, is also unhappy with the budget allocations. Its chair CK Raut has been saying that his party will pull out of the government if the budget is not revised.
Likewise, CPN (Unified Socialist) vice chair Rajendra Pandey has time and again vented his ire at the government and prime minister. Speaking in the lower house on Friday he said that there was no use of the prime minister's secretariat and it should be dissolved.
He accused the secretariat of poor performance saying that the prime minister did not answer the question of one lawmaker during the question answer session in the House of Representatives. “The question was asked three days ago. Shouldn’t his secretariat have readied the answer? It would not be wrong to dissolve such a secretariat.”
Political watchers also reckon that a door to a different power equation in Kathmandu is opening up.
Senior journalist and analyst Purushottam Dahal, who is close to the Congress, said the front could be a strategy of the leftist parties in the ruling coalition to show to the Congress that they have consolidated and have more strength and their complaints about the budget are serious. “The coalition partners have been saying that they won’t endorse the budget. This has created a difficult situation for the ruling coalition.”
According to him, given the presence of many parties in Parliament and the unstable nature of Nepal’s parliamentary politics, it is normal for an opposition party like the UML to make attempts to break up the ruling coalition. “But whoever is in the game of toppling the government should prove that they can give a stable government that delivers.”