Split vote complicates government formation in Nepal

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Kamal Dev Bhattarai

Split vote complicates government formation in Nepal

The government formation process is likely to become a sticky affair following the fragmented vote in the Nov 20 parliamentary elections.

Weakened position of major parties — Nepali Congress, CPN-UML, and CPN (Maoist Center) — and the emergence of the new party like Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) mean there is no telling how the new government composition will be.

Had the Maoists won around 40-50 seats, its leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal was expected to lead the new government as a continuation of the current five-party coalition. But as the vote counting in 165 constituencies under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) reaches final stage it appears that Dahal’s party will only win around 30 seats in federal parliament.

The Congress and UML could secure in between 80-90 each. Similarly, the RSP could get around 20 seats and the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) around 10. It means the new parliament will be more fragmented than it was in 2017.

In this context, it is hard to predict how power-sharing deal pans out. The coming period of government formation will likely to prove long and hard. Parties may not be able to forge a consensus on government leadership even after the Election Commission announces the final election results, possibly in another two weeks’ time.

On Nov 24, UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli rightly pointed out that formation of a new government is going to be difficult, and even more so ensuring its sustainability. The NC will naturally stake its claim to the leadership of the next government. This, even though NC’s Deuba and Maoists’ Dahal had reportedly reached an understanding that the latter will get to become the next prime minister.

It was part of the deal brokered by the two leaders to forge an electoral alliance to defeat the UML. With the Maoists failing to win enough seats in parliament, Deuba may not honor that pact. Many NC leaders do not want the Maoists to lead the government anyway.

The NC-led five-party electoral alliance will require at least 138 seats to form government. But due to poor performance of its members, the current coalition will struggle to string together a majority. The will most likely have to reach out to the parties like the RSP, RPP and fringe Madhes-based parties.

And while the strength of the Maoist party may have reduced, it could still become the kingmaker. Without Maoists’ support, there won’t be a majority—neither for Deuba, nor for Oli. While Deuba may agree to hand over the government leadership to Dahal to prevent the UML from coming to power, it will be a very difficult task to say the least.

The NC is a divided house when it comes to the prime ministerial candidates. Party leaders like Gagan Kumar Thapa and Ram Chandra Poudel have been angling for the post of prime minister. Deuba’s rival Shekhar Koirala has not spoken anything about it. There is also a strong voice inside the NC that the party should lead the government.

UML which has won election at par with NC is a natural claimant to lead the next government. Oli has already called Dahal for a possible power-sharing agreement, even though the two leaders have not been seeing eye- to-eye after the bitter breakup of the erstwhile Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) in 2021, which was formed as a result of the merger between UML and Maoists in 2018. With both Oli and Dahal claimants to the post of prime minister and their already fractious relationship, it is hard to imagine if and how they will come together to form a government.

The NC-UML coalition government cannot be ruled out either. Oli had hinted about its possibility before the elections as well. And if the two parties were to come together, fringe parties could lose their bargaining power. It could also bring some semblance of government stability.

However, the last time the NC and UML entered a coalition, it had ended disastrously. After the 2013 second Constituent Assembly polls, the two parties had come together to form a government under a gentleman’s understanding that the NC would hand over the government leadership to the UML after the promulgation of constitution.

But the NC reneged on the promise and the UML went on to ally with the Maoists. But even if the NC and UML were to join hands to form a new government, the billion-dollar question remains: who gets to become the prime minister? No matter how fart-fetched it may seem, there is a chance that Deuba and Oli could agree to lead the government on a rotational basis, considering that the emergence of new parties is a common threat to them.

And if all fails, formation of a minority government also cannot be fully ruled out. In this case, the new government will have to take a vote of confidence within a month. None of the above-mentioned alternatives can be ruled out, because coalitions are never formed on the basis of ideology. The result of provincial assembly will also shape the possible power-sharing in the center.

At the same time, the role and influence of external power is another factor that could determine the power-sharing deal. The fragmented parliament provides spaces to external powers to influence the formation process. The race for the next prime minister has begun.

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