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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2401

Is Nepal Heading For Political Instability Again..?

By Rattan Saldi - Syndicate Features

Merger of two political parties is not an easy proposition anywhere, more so in Nepal, where personalities, and ideologies matter. Though Communism is their basic core philosophy, the Maoist Centre, MC, and the Communist Party of Nepal -Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN -UML), the two parties that have come together as the Left Alliance to run the Himalayan country, have divergence in their moorings and approach to a host of issues. The result is irritants that refuse to fade away even after the two parties had reached a seven - point deal on merger in mid-February, and have been in the saddle for a while.

Well, the accord did not set the date for MC-UML unification. It also was silent on who would head the unified party. It merely stated that the Prime Ministership would be rotated between Oli and Dahal.

Frankly, the unification process is going to take time. Satraps are vying for honours at all levels of the party - the Central Working Committee as well as provincial, district and village level committees. Pleasing them all is not an easy task for Oli or Dahal.

It was on 03 October 2017, that MC supremo, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, “Prachanda” and UML chief Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli decided to jointly fight the elections to Federal Parliament and Provincial Assemblies as the Left Alliance (LA). They declared that their ultimate aim was unification of their parties.

Riding on a popularity wave and nationalist rhetoric, the Left Alliance made a clean sweep by the time the two-phase election ended on 26 Nov. And Oli, being leader of the dominant party took over as Prime Minister on 15th February, 2018.

UML-MC unification is an unresolved riddle of Nepal with trust deficit on both sides. It is affecting the Oli government. Satraps in both camps are vying for honours at all levels of the party - the Central Working Committee as well as provincial, district and village level committees. Pleasing all is not an easy task for Oli or Dahal says the author, a veteran Nepali watcher.

The delay in government formation was largely on account of differences in sharing the power pie. Some seniors from both camps advocated further delay in taking over the reins. “Let us give priority to UML-MC merger”, they said but their homily was drowned amidst victory celebrations.

The vast difference in vote share and the number of seats won by the two partners has become the major irritant in achieving the merger. The Maoist Centre wants 50:50 seat sharing arrangement in all organisational committees in the new party at all levels while the UML is ready to give them their share based on their electoral show.

The two parties had fought the elections sharing the seats on 60:40 basis. And had won 174 seats in the 275- member Federal Parliament. The CPN (UML) achieved 33.25 percent vote share and cornered 121 berths but MC found itself relegated to the third spot behind the Nepali Congress (NC). MC won 53 seats with 13.55 percent vote share while the NC bagged 32.78 percent vote, and 63 seats. Reflecting this ground reality, UML is asking the MC to accept 70:30 representation in all forums of the new party - 30 percent seats to MC and the remainder 70 percent to UML

From what is in public domain, the offer is not acceptable to Maoist Centre leaders. The apprehension in a section of Maoists is that they could be in minority in the new party panels. They would be at a disadvantage in case UML puts forth its agenda. An unsaid fear is that Dahal could be losing his say in the unified party once the party convention is held and a duly elected Chairman takes over. Now he is the boss of his own party, MC, and has a big say in all MC-UML affairs. In the unified party he may have to play a second fiddle.

On his part, Dahal has gone on record with ‘a denial’ a few days ago. “There are no major issues remaining now and our focus is to conclude the unification perfectly”, he said in a media interaction. “We took some extra days to do the homework and the two parties could be unified on May 1 or 5.”

His assertion carries little conviction. For valid reasons. The two Task Forces (TF) that have been set up on unification have skirted controversial issues and said only Dahal and Oli could resolve them. One of the Task Forces was headed by senior UML leader Madhav Kumar Nepal; it prepared the road map on organisational structure. The second TF under MC leader Ram Bahadur Thapa has charted out ideological moorings.

Oli and Dahal are required to prepare interim statute of the unified party. Both of them as also other leaders from two sides have held discussions almost on a day- to - day basis. But they are nowhere near to finding a way out. As per the Feb deal, the General Convention of the unified party will take a final call on party ideology, organisational structure and party statute. It will do so only after the Big Two give the go ahead.

Maoist spokesperson Pampha Bhusal said unification will happen “on the basis of equality in a respectable and justifiable manner.” He was short on details.

UML and MC organised a joint programme in Kathmandu on 22 April to commemorate Lenin’s birthday and the foundation day of Nepal Communist Party. It was widely speculated that unification would be announced at this function but it did not happen.

Both sides, however, used the occasion to reiterate their commitment to unification. Dahal said “We are facing heavy pressure from voters and communist cadres; so we cannot turn back from the party unification.” Oli added that “both parties had done enough hard work to decide on unification and it was impossible to step back…”

Yet, a sense of “insecurity” prevails amongst the Maoist Centre cadres in the country side about their status in the new formation. They also fear the dominant nature of Oli and some other top UML leaders. Moreover UML is a well organised and efficiently structured political party with a host of heavy weights like Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Chandra Prakash Mainali, and Bamdev Gautam. In contrast, the Maoist Centre has hardly any leader of their stature. The Maoists area a new dispensation. Dahal is a towering leader, and he is in a different league.

Lurking in the shadows is what is no more than trust deficit because of the recent past. In July 2016, Dahal had withdrew support to the then Oli government and joined hands with the Nepali Congress; he was instrumental in bringing a no confidence motion that forced Oli to resign without facing the trust vote in Parliament which he was sure to lose anyhow.

After breaking ties with the Nepali Congress last year, Dahal re-joined the Communist fold. He wanted to avoid a split in the Left vote at the hustings since such a split could be to the disadvantage of his party, the Maoist Centre.

Of late, Oli has been hobnobbing with the Madhesh centric parties - the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal and the Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal, which together have 33 members in the 275- member Federal Parliament; he wants them to join his government, and if they do so, it would give “stability” and “parliamentary majority” to the UML camp but such a development has the potential of undermining Dahal’s position. Worth recalling in this context is the fact that Madeshi parties had supported Oli on the floor of Parliament in the 2018 Confidence vote.

Given these ifs and buts some said and some unsaid, MC and UML are locked in hard bargaining on their way to unification. Even if the merger is achieved, political stability, their main poll plank, would be difficult to sustain because of large aspirations on both sides.

For the present, the still unresolved riddle of unification is affecting the Oli government despite Left Alliance winning a near two third majority.

- Asian Tribune –

CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli and CPN-Maoist Centre Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal would become the country’s prime minister on rotation
diconary view
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