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New Game in Nepal

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<strong>New Game in Nepal</strong>

Rattan Saldi

Climaxing nearly two months of intense political maneuvering, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the Communist Party of Nepal -Unified Marxist Leninist, (CPN-UML) have positioned their candidates as successor to President Bidya Devi Bhandari as nominations closed on Feb 25.  Voting in the straight fight will take place on March 9. The electoral college consists of 334 members of both Houses of Parliament and 550 members of all seven Provincial Assemblies.  

Nepali Congress has fielded its veteran Ram Chandra Poudel whom luck did not favour in his quest for the party chief’s chair. Luck was also in short supply when he had dreamt of becoming floor leader of the party in Parliament. Both times, Sher Bahadur Deuba piped him.

Interestingly, the same Deuba has worked overtime to pump prime Poudel’s chances for being the First Citizen of the country.   And secured for him the support of the third largest political force, the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist Centre led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, ‘Prachanda’. 

Madhav Nepal, who tantalizingly appeared as the front runner in the Prez race, has rallied his Communist Party of Nepal -United Socialist, behind Poudel. Only last year, Madhav had forced a split in CPN-UML, floated his own party, and brought down the K.P. Sharma Oli government. Madhav reportedly rejected Oli’s olive branch for his nomination for apparent reasons of disbelief in Oli’s offer.  The UML leadership zeroed in on their vice chairman, Subash Nembang for the top post. Subash was once Speaker of the Parliament.

Put simply there was no dull moment in Nepali politics, and unexpected twists and turns. After several rounds of parleys by CPN (UML) Chairman K.P. Sharma Oli with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and between Dahal, Deuba and Madhav Nepal, political scene offered a new talking point. Prime Minister Dahal walked back to the fold of Nepali Congress -led five party alliance, and refused to support UML candidate in the Presidential election. The revival of the five-party alliance who had fought the last November elections is thus a significant development; it is a big blow to Oli.

Oli blamed Dahal of breaking the understanding both had reached last December. It was under this deal Oli supported Prachanda to become Prime Minister though he had only 32 members in the 275 -member House of Representatives. Dahal, in return, assured support to UML candidate in the Presidential election but has ditched us, Oli claims now.  CPN (UML) has 78 law makers in the House, but being a shrewd politician, he garnered support for Dahal of five other smaller parties. And propelled Dahal into the PM chair on December 25 at the head of a seven -party alliance.

As a statutory requirement Dahal was required to seek vote of confidence within one month of becoming the Prime Minister. And in a tactical move, Nepali Congress and its allies voted in favour of the confidence motion.  Clearly, they had allowed bygones be bygones. This obviously threw enough hints that Nepali Congress, Madhav’s party, and their partners were ready to give space to Dahal for rethinking at any time he felt uncomfortable with Oli’s style of functioning. Dahal won the trust vote with 268 members voting in his favour in the 275 member House with three abstentions.

For keen observers of the Nepali scene, these twists and turns have not come as a surprise. Opportunism has been the bane of politics in Nepal since the country became a secular federal republic 17 years ago in 2023. Leaders threw their hats to adorn new ones, caring two hoots for stability, peace and development of the country and peoples’ well-being.

The Prez election may set the stage for a thorough shake up of political dispensations at the Federation level but also in the provinces. There is every possibility of dismantling and restructuring of some Provincial governments as well.  Already there are reports that K.P. Oli in a bid to mount pressure on Dahal to keep the ruling seven party alliance intact has threatened that in case he walks out of the ruling alliance, UML would withdraw support to him. He has also appealed to all members of law makers to vote for his candidate Subash Nembang.

The Oli threat however appears irrelevant as Dahal has the support of a larger amalgamation of parties now with much higher numbers in Parliament as well as Presidential electoral college. But will Oli spring any surprises? This is a question that stems from his trac record – ability to turn the tide in his favour even in adverse circumstances, like he did last December, when he checkmated the largest party with big ambitions, disintegrated the NC-led five – party alliance, and helped Dahal return as PM once again. 

Anything can happen between now and the election of the new President. Dahal government with CPN (UML) support could remain in office for just a little over two months. Dahal regime may see some political rejig, and set stage for many more rejigs. Because, reports speak of a tacit understanding between Dahal and his new eight party alliance.  

The three biggies of the alliance, NC, MC, and Madhav’s US would lead the government in turns – Maoist Centre for first two and half years   United Socialist for next one year and the NC for the tailender.  It is said that as per the understanding, President’s post is to go to the Nepali Congress, and Vice President to Janata Samajwadi party while the Maoist Centre settles for the Vice Chairmanship of the Upper House. Such a scenario would mean the next general election will be held when the NC is in the driver’s seat.

By all accounts. political alliances in Nepal have short shelf-life. Alliance dharma is still a mirage. Tactical handling of a situation, with give and take is the name of the game with Dahal and Oli once and now with Dahal, Deuba, Madhav and five others.  Leaders of all parties in the alliance have a greater role to play. Of course, they remain vigilant against efforts to destabilize their unity.

Needless to say, Prachanda, as Dahal is known, faces an onerous task today. Also, beyond the March 9 ballot ###