Prachanda’s move to align with the UML has caught Prime Minister Deuba’s Nepali Congress off-guard. His move may lead to a new churning in Nepali politics
]Nepal is witnessing a bizarre development. The Maoist Centre also known as the Maoists have aligned with the Opposition Communist camp (CPN-UML) and Naya Shakti Party of veteran Communist, Baburam Bhattarai even as they remain a part of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s coalition government. The new Left Alliance (LA) that is in the works has the potential to be a formidable force at the hustings.
Maoist supremo, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as Prachanda, has stunned political observers with his decision with less than a month for heralding election season; polls for the National Parliament and Provincial Assemblies are scheduled for 26th Nov and 7th Dec. Significantly, Prachanda has refused to withdraw his ministers from the ruling coalition.
Deuba’s Nepali Congress has a razor thin majority in the 593- effective member Parliament even after counting the support of Madhesi parties and both factions of the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP). The Prime Minister can sack the Maoist Ministers. But the question is will he take such a drastic step since the term of Parliament is set to end.
Dahal’s move, needless to say, has caught the Nepali Congress, which has formed the present ruling coalition only recently, off-guard. The drubbing the Maoists received in the local elections has pump primed the realignment.
Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist, UML) emerged as front-runner in the three phase elections to local bodies. The runner –up was the Nepali Congress. Way behind them were the Maoist Centre and the Madhes centric parties, many of whom did not participate in the first and second phase of these elections.
The verdict indicated grassroots tilt in favour of UML. So in a sense, the Left forces joining hands to keep their vote bank is a natural phenomenon. This way UML will be able to blunt the criticism of being anti- Madhes, a tag it had earned during the stint of K.P. Sharma Oli in Nepal’s driver seat. He was vehemently opposed to the constitutional amendments demanded by Madhes parties, Tharus, Janmjatis and other minorities for protecting their ethnic interests.
It is too early to say that Nepal is heading to be a two-party/alliance state. Much would depend on how the wind blows, more so as large scale differences in perceptions on issues of national importance still persist in both LA and DA
Oli has since mended fences to some extent with the Hill as well as Terai people, who live on the border with India. The stratagem he adopted is rather ingenious: nationalist rhetoric and blaming of New Delhi for the late 2015 and early 2016 blockade at the border. India bashing is a good pastime in Nepal, particularly when political parties are looking for some electoral manna.
A related development that will have a great bearing on Nepal scene is the fall-out of the decision of Madeshi parties to boycott the first two rounds of local elections. The call for boycott was given by the six party alliance of Madhes centric parties.
Disgruntled leaders of Rashtriya Janata Party of Nepal, (RJPN), like Hridesh Tripathy, have deserted the party in the Western region, which is the party’s traditional stronghold. It was a grave mistake on the part of RJPN and some other Madhes parties to linger on with their threat of agitation and not going to the people to strengthen their base.
To stymie the strides of emerging Left Alliance, the Nepali Congress, RJPN, both factions of the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party, the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal and the Nepal Loktantrik Forum have decided to close their ranks, and form Democratic Alliance (DA) for the coming electoral round. They have since set up a Task Force to go into nitty-gritty issues including seat distribution.
The task cut out for the Task Force is a very difficult task indeed. Same difficulties confront the Left Alliance, which too has formed a Task Force to go into ‘working details’.
The term of the present Legislature Parliament, as the Parliament is known, will end this month. The new 601-member House has to be in place by 21st January, 2018.
The Nepali Parliament has 240 First Past the Post (FPTP) or direct election seats, 335 Proportional Representation seats and 26 nominated seats. The outgoing House has an effective strength of 593. As many as 207 members belong to Nepali Congress, 181 to CPN (UML) and 82 are from CPN (Maoist Centre).
The CPN (UML) and the Nepali Congress are expected to be virtually in neck and neck race at the hustings as both parties fared equally well in the Municipal elections spread over seven provinces. CPN (UML) captured 294 Municipalities while Nepali Congress bagged 266 out of 744 Municipalities. The CPN (Maoist Centre) could win just 106 Municipalities. The Madhes centric parties, made a mark in about 70 Municipalities.
CPN (UML) Chairman Oli claims that Left Alliance will get a lot more than simple majority. A senior Nepali Congress leader however disputes the claim. He dubs the Left Alliance as undemocratic, and avers that it could push the country to authoritarianism if voted to power.
Presently the advantage appears to be with the Left forces. And it means the Democratic Alliance of Nepali Congress and its allies will have to work overtime to win the mandate. Mere rhetoric that the Left alliance is anti-Madhes will not work. They will have to come out with concrete plans and programmes tailor-made to woo different sections like the youth, elderly, women, minorities and ethnic groups. Development of the hill people too should form a poll plank for both Alliances.
It is too early to say that Nepal is heading to be a two-party/alliance state. Much would depend on how the wind blows, more so as large scale differences in perceptions on issues of national importance still persist in both LA and DA.
—R C Saldi