Dahal’s challenge of curbing fringe parties in coalition

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Dahal’s challenge of curbing fringe parties in coalition

Two ministers in his Cabinet have already made remarks against federalism and secularism. But prime minister is in no position to reprimand them

“Our main agenda is the restoration of the Hindu state and scrapping the federal structure. For this, our impactful presence in the government is necessary. Now our agendas will get traction in parliament as well.”

This is a part of speech delivered by Rastriya Prajatantra Party Chairman Rajendra Lingden, also the deputy prime minister and home minister in the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led coalition government, in his hometown Jhapa on January 23. Previously, another RPP leader and Law Minister Dhurba Bahadur Pradhan had said in a TV interview that the federal structure should be dismantled.

Prime Minister Dahal learned about the RPP’s long game of doing away with federalism and secularism—two cornerstones of the 2015 constitution—when he attended the National Assembly meeting on January 24.  At the meeting, NA member from the Nepali Congress, Anita Devkota, raised an objection to the statement made by Minister Pradhan. In response, the prime minister assured the Upper House that his government was fully committed to federalism. He even vowed to seek clarification from the concerned minister(s) for making anti-federal statements.

Dahal did not seek any clarification from Pradhan, nor Lingden for that matter. Doing so would shake the precariously balanced coalition of seven parties. Political analyst Binoj Basnyat says Prime Minister Dahal saying that he will demand explanation from his minister for making anti-federal remarks is a mere posturing to show that he has the confidence of continuing this government without the support of fringe parties. Besides, he adds, Dahal does not want to appear as a weak leader before his party.

The truth, however, is that Prime Minister Dahal is not in a comfortable position to rattle the coalition, which is a disparate collection of political parties with opposing ideologies.

RPP is a pro-monarchy, right wing Hindu party that opposes secularism and federalism, and Dahal leads the Maoist party that led a decade-long armed insurgency to overthrow the monarchy and bring a federal republic system in Nepal.

The newly emerged political force, Rastriya Swatantra Party led by Rabi Lamichhane, is also known for its disdain towards the federal system. The party did not field its candidates in the provincial assembly elections. Though the party has not made any formal stance regarding federalism, a bulk of its leaders and cadres want to reinstate unitary government.

Without the RPP and RSP, which together hold 34 seats in parliament, Dahal knows his government will collapse.

Dahal has said that his key priority is to fully implement the constitution by strengthening the current federal structure and concluding the peace process. But he faces opposition from within his own government.

Haribol Gajurel, Dahal’s political advisor, says that the prime minister is fully committed to the 2015 constitution by fully implementing federalism. How he will do that with parties like RPP and RSP in the coalition nobody knows.

RPP and RSP will enjoy the role of kingmakers even if Dahal’s CPN (Maoist-Center) parted ways with its current main coalition partner, CPN-UML, to form a government with the Nepali Congress. Their support will be decisive even if the UML and NC were to form a government without the Maoists.

Dahal fears the anti-federal sentiment will seep into the general public, not from outside but from his own government partners. He is not even sure of the UML, as KP Sharma Oli has made abundantly clear that he is not happy with the current political system. In recent years, Oli has been building his party on nationalist plank and he sees federalism as a hurdle.

When Dahal became the prime minister in December, this paper had pointed out how he would have a tough time managing the conflicting interests of his coalition partners. Within a month into his premiership, it seems that the coalition unity is fraying.

Prime Minister Dahal is also under pressure from Madhes, Janajati, Tharu, and other marginalized communities to address their concerns. Already, Nagarik Unmukti Party and Janata Samajbadi Party are threatening to withdraw their support if their demands are not addressed.

Dahal has a herculean task of managing his coalition partners. Political analyst Bijaya Kanta Karna says managing the right-wing parties in the coalition remains the single-most challenge for Dahal.

The prime minister does not want to dent his image as a champion of republicanism, federalism, inclusion, and secularism, but he has been thrust in a position where he must take a tough position with the parties that oppose these ideas, adds Karna.

One way to offset the influence of RPP and RSP for Dahal is to bring Janata Samajbadi Party, Nagarik Unmukti Party, Janamat Party, and Loktantrik Samajbadi Party on board. This is easier said than done, says Karna, for there is a risk of the UML pulling support from the government.

The UML had played an important role to bring RPP and RSP on board the coalition. Prime Minister Dahal must tread with extreme caution in order not to irritate the UML by pushing away either RPP or RSP.

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