UML volte-face on PM’s resignation sparks speculationsTrust deficit between parties, ongoing corruption probe and even foreign hand suspected as possible reasons.
On Monday, a day after the agreement between the three top leaders to resume the House meeting following an apology from the prime minister for his controversial statement insinuating that India had a role in appointing him the country’s executive head, the UML leaders easily agreed to lift their obstruction of the House proceedings.
The UML is not the party that easily drops its stance and has a history of blocking parliamentary proceedings for months on end.
The UML leaders, including its chair KP Sharma Oli, were demanding the prime minister’s resignation, saying that was the only option to resume the Parliament proceedings.
Dahal, at a book launch last week, had said that Sardar Pritam Singh, referred to as Nepal’s pioneer truck entrepreneur, had once made efforts to make him the prime minister and had even travelled to New Delhi multiple times for the same purpose. This was perceived in Nepal as New Delhi having a role in making and breaking governments in Kathmandu.
But leaders and observers suspect there is more than what meets the eye about Oli’s backtracking on the party’s stance so easily.
According to leaders, UML’s decision was nothing but the result of the Congress’ rejection of a proposal to form a new Congress-led government with the backing of the second-largest party.
“I don’t think it is a good idea to break the existing coalition arguing that we can form a more stable government. The party is also not in a mood to do so,” said Badri Pande, a joint general secretary of the Congress. “There is no guarantee the UML will not later pull the rug from under the Congress-led government.”
Pande said the Congress should stick to the existing coalition instead of being lured by UML’s random proposal because that would also imply that the Congress is against the government’s ongoing anti-corruption drive.
A popular youth leader of the Congress said foreign power centres were also not in favour of changing the existing ruling coalition—and hence the UML’s about-turn on the prime minister’s resignation.
“I think our neighbour is against Congress joining hands with the UML,” said the leader, asking not to be named.
UML chair Oli has had a tense relation with New Delhi over the past decade or so, most recently after he oversaw the publication of a new map of Nepal that included Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura and Kalapani areas that India also claims.
On Tuesday, UML chair and former prime minister Oli told his colleagues that his party would not get involved in making and breaking governments for the time being. Instead, it would focus on strengthening the party organisation with the goal of winning majority seats in the next general elections and to lead the government on its own.
“We have not set our sight on forming the government this time around. We have not even thought of it. We were focused on the grassroots until a few months ago. Now our focus is ‘Mission 2084’ [BS] and on forming a majority government of our own,” Oli said at a function of the party’s Bagmati provincial committee. “We don’t have time to either save this government or make a new one. Nor do we seek support to form a government.”
Oli made another important statement at the function that “the party, having set its own destination, will not get distracted by other fruitless issues.”
The assumptions about a change in the ruling coalition and Congress inching toward the UML started making rounds mainly after the formation of the Socialist Front led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal. The ruling CPN (Maoist Centre), the Janata Samajbadi Party, and the CPN (Unified Socialist) are the major partners of the front. Maoist splinter Nepal Communist Party, led by Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplav’, is another member of the bloc.
The main opposition has called its secretariat meeting for Saturday to discuss recent developments. According to Rajendra Gautam, chief of the UML’s publicity department, the meeting will discuss the latest happenings, evaluate party works and set strategies to move ahead.
Oli held extensive meetings with the party’s vice-chairs on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of the secretariat meeting.
Some UML leaders said the party wanted to test the ground by proposing Congress leaders for a stable Congress-led government even if they had to stay out of the government, but that strategy did not work.
“I think our party just wanted to test the waters. But it seems there is pressure from foreign powers against a change in government,” said a standing committee member of the UML asking not to be named. “The UML was never serious about government change. We only wanted to see how willing the dissident Congress faction would be to go against the party establishment.”
The UML standing committee member also said the demand for Prime Minister Dahal’s resignation was only meant for public consumption and had the party actually wanted to topple the government, it would have taken to the streets and continued to stick to its demands both in Parliament and on the streets until his resignation.
“I think Dahal’s government will get continuity unless there is a new turn of events in the largest party [Congress], which is unlikely anytime soon,” said the UML leader. “After sensing that the existing Congress-Maoist alliance can’t be easily broken, Oli said the party will focus on leading a majority government after the next polls.”
The leader said foreign forces were instrumental in keeping the Congress-Maoist coalition intact.
Last week, the UML leaders told the Post that the party was keen to join the government if Congress leaders wished to form a new government.
Even the party general secretary, Shankar Pokhrel, publicly said the Congress and UML should join hands for a stable government as per the election mandate. In the November election last year, the Congress and the UML emerged as the first- and second-largest parties, respectively. Nonetheless it is Dahal, the leader of the CPN (Maoist Centre), a distant third party in Parliament, that is leading the government.
Political analysts also suspect that Oli now believes there is no possibility of breaking the existing coalition after Congress chief Sher Bahadur Deuba did not fall for his proposal. But that does not mean the party will stop trying to cobble a new coalition.
“The UML will not stop making efforts to topple the government,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political analyst. “Leaders often give statements for public consumption and to appease their cadres while they have something entirely different in mind.”
According to Gautam, the chief of the UML’s publicity department, the party is now focussed on strengthening its organisational base so as to ensure victory in the next elections.
“Unless the Congress is ready to break the existing coalition, we can do nothing,” said Gautam. “For now, we are not in a competition to make or break a government. Let’s see how the upcoming central committee meeting of the Congress unfolds.”