Congress in power in SudurpaschimFall of UML-led provincial government suggests more problems ahead for ruling coalition.
In what is a major blow to the ruling coalition, Nepali Congress provincial parliamentary party leader Kamal Bahadur Shah was appointed chief minister of Sudurpaschim Province on Thursday.
Provincial head Devraj Joshi appointed Shah as chief minister after the incumbent, Rajendra Singh Rawal of the CPN-UML, failed to secure the confidence of the provincial assembly earlier in the day.
“As the number of lawmakers saying ‘no’ is higher, I declare that the motion of Rajendra Singh Rawal seeking a vote of confidence has been rejected by a majority,” said provincial Speaker Bhim Bahadur Bhandari.
Rawal couldn’t secure the assembly’s confidence after one of the coalition partners, the Nagarik Unmukti Party, refused to back him. The situation got knotty after the party’s de-facto leader Resham Chaudhary, who is serving prison term in Kathmandu after being convicted in the 2015 Tikapur killings, directed the party’s provincial assembly members to skip the vote. With this, the provincial government collapsed within a month of its formation.
Congress’ Shah was appointed chief minister as per Article 168 (3) of the Constitution.
The article states that in cases where the chief minister cannot be appointed within 30 days of the declaration of the final results of provincial assembly elections, or the chief minister fails to secure a vote of confidence within 30 days of his appointment, the chief of the province shall appoint the parliamentary leader of the party having the highest number of members in the assembly as new chief minister.
Now, the Congress will lead the next government as per the constitutional provision as the largest party in the provincial assembly with 19 seats. In the 53-strong assembly, the main opposition Nepali Congress has 19 members, the Unified Socialist three, and one independent lawmaker, while the UML has nine, the Maoist Centre 10, the Nagarik Unmukti Party seven, and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party has one member.
UML’s Rajendra Rawal was appointed chief minister on January 11, with the backing of 29 assembly members. He needed to secure the vote of confidence by Thursday as per the constitutional requirement.
Article 168 (4) of the constitution states that the chief minister appointed as per clause (2) or (3) must secure a vote of confidence from the provincial assembly within 30 days after the date of such appointment.
Rawal and UML central leaders had tried until the very end to get the vote of confidence from the provincial lawmakers of the Nagarik Unmukti Party, but to no avail.
A few days back, seven provincial assembly members of the Nagarik Unmukti Party had come to Kathmandu to discuss party strategy with the central leaders and their de-facto leader Resham Chaudhary. Nagarik Unmukti Party’s major condition for supporting the government both at the federal and provincial levels is the release of Chaudhary, a former lawmaker serving a sentence after being convicted of masterminding the Tikapur killings in August 2015 that left seven police personnel and a toddler dead.
The party that emerged as a new force in the western plains didn’t budge from its demand and refused to support the provincial government despite consistent pressure from leaders including KP Sharma Oli, UML chair.
The regime change in Sudurpaschim comes at a time major partners in the ruling coalition in Kathmandu also seem divided, including over the issue of the impending election for new President on March 9.
Deputy chief of the UML publicity Bishnu Rijal, however, said the foundation of the ruling alliance remains intact.
He is of the view that when novice forces become kingmakers, all kinds of unexpected results are to be expected. “It is not easy to grant amnesty to a murder convict, that too after a court’s decision following a long legal process. They did not acknowledge it and made it an issue for bargaining,” he said.
According to him, the provincial legislature’s structure hints at more political instability ahead. “The new Congress government in the province will also fail the trust vote. Weak legislatures cannot give strong governments,” he added.
Nagarik Unmukti Party leaders are adamant that they will not give a vote of confidence to any government in Sudurpaschim until their demands are met. “We won’t participate in voting until our leaders are released. Even the new Nepali Congress government will not get our vote,” said Thakur Singh Tharu, a leader of the party.
Observers say political instability is a result of a gap in communication and understanding between regional forces and central powers.
Political analyst Tula Narayan Shah said Nepal’s federal politicians have been ignoring regional voices. He gives the example of how the Nagarik Unmukti Party is pursuing Tharu politics, but Kathmandu is not ready to accommodate this persuasion. “With such a gap, instability is inevitable,” he told the Post. “So long as the major parties continue to ignore the political message from the provinces, stability will be hard to achieve.”