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National Politics | Will Deuba ditch the coalition for MCC?

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

National Politics | Will Deuba ditch the coalition for MCC?

The present government was not formed after an agreement on the CMP among its members, but was assembled as a political instrument to fight Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli

“I am in frequent talks with Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. He is fully committed to keeping the current coalition intact. He has assured me that the coalition will stay alive till elections,” divulged CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal at a public function on Dec 20. Although Dahal seems upbeat about the continuation of the five-party ruling coalition, challenges galore, say party leaders and observers.

Dahal’s statement itself indicates all is not well. The present government was not formed after an agreement on the Common Minimum Program (CMP) among its members. Instead, it was assembled as a political instrument to fight Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, and so there are divergent views. When the CMP was finalized on August 8, a month after government formation, contentious issues such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact were skipped.    

Baburam Bhattarai, former prime minister and leader of Janata Samajbadi Party, a coalition partner, speaking on Dec 20, minced no words in revealing that attempts are being made to undo the alliance. He pointedly said that if coalition partners fail to forge a common position on the compact, the current coalition could run into trouble.

In the coalition are Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist Center), CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party, and Rastriya Jana Morcha. Among the five, there are no disputes over the compact inside the NC; the Maoists and CPN (Unified Socialist) want some amendments before endorsement; Janata Samajbadi’s federal council chair Bhattarai is in favor of endorsing it, while its chairman Upendra Yadav has some reservations. Meanwhile, the Jana Morcha is vehemently against the compact, but with a single seat in parliament, its position is largely irrelevant.

The coalition’s future largely depends on PM Deuba. Is he committed to keeping it intact? The PM does not give a straightforward answer to this, says a senior NC leader close to Deuba requesting anonymity. “PM Deuba is in favor of continuation of this coalition. But what happens if key national agendas such as the MCC compact do not move ahead and the government is embroiled in indecision and inaction?”

Also read: Does Deuba’s victory mean early elections? 

To save the coalition, says the leader, Deuba has not pressed coalition partners to vote in favor of the compact, he just wants it tabled in parliament. NC senior leader Gopal Man Shrestha, who is also close to Deuba, says despite differences the coalition will remain intact “till the elections and differences over MCC will soon be sorted out.”

Coalition partners, however, fear that two issues—MCC and early elections—may bring Deuba and KP Sharma Oli closer, which obviously means the ruling coalition’s breakdown. Oli has hinted of his readiness of supporting the compact if coalition partners do not.

Says analyst Geja Sharma Wagle, PM Deuba is determined to get the compact endorsed by the parliament at any cost. PM Deuba’s first priority is consensus within the coalition, says Wagle. If that does not materialize, he might seek the opposition’s support.

Giving utmost priority to the coalition, PM Deuba has not directly reached out to Oli on the MCC or on parliament disruption. In fact, since the formation of his government, Deuba has not held a single one-on-one with Oli on national issues.

Many in NC believe the coalition must be kept intact in light of upcoming elections. If it fragments, leaders say, there are chances of communist parties coming together to defeat NC, as they did in 2017.

Due to the impending Nepali Congress General Convention, Deuba had been vacillating on vital decisions, including the MCC compact.  

Now that he has secured party presidency for the next five years, coalition partners CPN (Maoist Center) and CPN (Unified Socialist) want an electoral alliance with the NC.

Ruling out cracks in the coalition, newly elected NC joint general secretary Jiwan Pariyar says the party will discuss all issues once the Central Working Committee gets a full shape.

Also read: Tracing the sources of Sher Bahadur Deuba’s power 

Meanwhile, Dahal is buying time. On his proposal, a committee of Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Jalanath Khanal, and Minister for Communication and Technology Gyanendra Bahadur Karki has been formed to give advice on the compact.

A senior leader close to Deuba says, “Shrestha and Khanal have a distinctly anti-MCC position, so the committee’s formation is just a delaying tactic.”  Similarly, Dahal has told Deuba not to push the MCC till the party’s national convention next week. However, there are strong voices inside the Maoist party that the MCC should not be endorsed, now or at any time in the future. Considering the Maoist party’s jamboree next week, the parliament has also been adjourned till January 2.

Some coalition leaders say that MCC should be touched only after national elections. However, the Americans have time and again conveyed that they will not wait so long. The board meeting of MCC on December 14 decided to wait for the time being as the Nepal government has committed to soon endorse it. In the first week of November, Deuba revealed that he and Dahal had written to the MCC, committing to early endorsement.

A later press statement from the MCC said, “MCC’s Board of Directors received an update and discussed the progress to date of the $500 million MCC-Nepal Compact”. The board made note of the commitment by the Government of Nepal. For a long time, parties have been discussing a resolution motion certifying that the MCC is not a part of the Indo-Pacific Strategy, to be tabled alongside the compact.

Speaker Agni Sapkota’s position on the compact is also creating distance between Congress and the Maoist party. According to sources close to him, the speaker has conveyed a message to Law Minister Dilendra Badu that he would not table the compact without an all-party consensus. On Dec 20, Badu met Sapkota to ask him to table the MCC bill in parliament. But there could be no agreement.