Does Deuba’s victory mean early elections?

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Does Deuba’s victory mean early elections?

Instead of trying to manage what is an increasingly unwieldy coalition, Deuba may dissolve the House and call for early elections | Photo: Pratik Rayamajhi/ApEx

“If I lose party presidency, attempts will be made to remove me from the prime minister’s post.”  So said Sher Bahadur Deuba ahead of the party’s election to elect its new leader. Prime Minister Deuba has been re-elected as Congress president, potentially helping him remain in power till the next elections. But what does Deuba’s victory mean for national politics? 

According to Keshav Dahal, a political analyst who is also a leader of the Janata Samajbadi Party, the implications should be evaluated from two broad perspectives. First, is Nepali politics getting something new and transformative from Deuba’s election: creating new dimensions, charting a new political culture and agenda? “Surely not,” says Dahal.

Deuba’s re-election as party president clearly indicates a continuation of the status quo, says Dahal. “The same-old faces have been elected at the helm of major parties. So, the agenda of change and transformation has been sidelined.”  KP Oli has been elected head of CPN-UML, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ is almost guaranteed to emerge as the undisputed leader of CPN (Maoist Center) again.

In the second perspective, we should evaluate the impact of Deuba’s reelection on current power politics, adds Dahal. Though things won’t drastically change on this front as well, say observers, Deuba’s handling of some key national issues could reshape power politics.

Inside the party, Deuba has emerged as a more powerful leader than before, which makes it easier for him to decide on key national issues at the party’s Central Working Committee. His traditional faction remains intact and now the party’s senior leaders Prakash Man Singh, Bimalendra Nidhi, and Krishna Prasad Sitaula are with Deuba as well. Long-time rival Ram Chandra Poudel, who did not fight for party presidency, is also likely to go soft on Deuba.  

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

Deuba will have to deal with some national issues as party president and prime minister in the near future. America’s $ 500 million grant under Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) awaits parliamentary ratification. Deuba had long wanted to push this forward but waited till the party’s convention, as being pro-MCC could have affected his electoral prospects.  

Deuba believes the parliament should be allowed to settle the MCC compact. Deuba may not face any opposition within the party to push the compact but it is not an easy task for him as prime minister. Two ruling coalition partners—CPN-UML and CPN (Unified Socialist)—are not in favor of endorsing the compact without amendment. A mishandling of the issue could well lead to a split in the coalition. However, Deuba has a history of taking bold and unpleasant decisions. If there is no consensus within the coalition, Deuba and the main opposition CPN-UML may come together to pass the compact.

“As the MCC compact is a major bone of contention among coalition partners,” says political analyst Puranjan Acharya, “it is going to become a defining challenge for Deuba”.  

Deuba is believed to have won the party election after striking secret power-sharing deals with senior leaders like Krishna Prasad Sitaula, Prakash Man Singh, and Bimalendra Nidhi. Says political analyst Bishnu Dahal, as Deuba cannot accommodate all those leaders in power-sharing so he may opt for early parliamentary elections. But then his coalition partners are not in the favor of early elections.

Also read: General Conventions: Old parties, old faces 

However, Deuba may also announce elections by dissolving the parliament if the main opposition CPN-UML continues to obstruct the parliament. UML has been obstructing the House, alleging the government and the parliament of illegally validating the earlier UML split.

Analyst Bishnu Dahal predicts a dissolution of parliament and announcement of new elections if the obstruction continues. Main opposition leader KP Sharma Oli has also been batting for early polls to justify his parliament dissolution.

Political Analyst Keshav Dahal agrees with Bishnu Dahal. “After being re-elected party chair, Deuba may also come to believe that instead of managing the complex coalition, early elections would be a more comfortable option,” he says. If Deuba dissolves parliament, UML is likely to support him.

Coalition partners CPN (Maoist Center) and CPN (Unified Socialist) are seeking an electoral alliance with Nepali Congress for parliamentary elections. However, big segments in the NC are against it, including such heavyweights as Shekhar Koirala and Gagan Thapa. However, the Maoist Center still wants to ensure an electoral alliance with Deuba, something Pushpa Kamal Dahal hinted at while addressing the inaugural session of NC’s 14th General Convention, saying that parties in coalition should stand together.  

Deuba is in favor of an alliance with coalition partners, at least in some electoral constituencies. A senior leader close to Deuba also says that the party should be ready for some sort of electoral alliance with the Dahal- and Nepal-led parties to forestall the kind of broad leftist alliance last seen in 2017.

“As our politics is devoid of norms and values, it is hard to predict the kind of coalitions and alliances that could yet be formed,” says analyst Keshav Dahal.