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Will this ruling coalition last?

Will this ruling coalition last?

After the Central Working Committee meeting of Nepali Congress, it appears that the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government has become even more stronger. The NC's rival faction led by Gagan Kumar Thapa has pledged to keep the current coalition intact, a shift from his earlier position where he said that the coalition could break if the government fails to meet people’s expectations.

The CWC meeting of Congress party has also taken ownership of the decision to form an alliance with Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Center), but made no pledge to renew electoral alliance with the Maoists in the next general elections.

“Our experienced leaders demonstrated their political skills carefully, bringing Nepali politics back to normalcy, even in an adverse political situation,” the NC decision says. The party adds that the move to forge an alliance with the Maoists enhanced the NC’s political reputation as well as boosted confidence of the parties involved in the coalition.  

Congress has called its ruling partnership with the Maoists and other fringe parties as “an alliance formed for a specific purpose in a specific situation.” It has called the current alliance the very foundation from which Ram Chandra Poudel, a senior NC politician, was elected the President of Nepal. 

The decisions that came out from the CWC meeting of NC, the largest party in parliament, suggest that the Dahal government has no threat from its primary coalition partner. Another coalition partner, CPN (Unified Socialist), despite showing some dissatisfaction over the budget, is also firm on its position to keep this government alive until next general elections.

This also puts an end to all the theories and conjectures regarding government change born out of several rounds of talks that the Thapa-led faction of the NC held with the main opposition, CPN-UML. 

The Thapa camp was exploring the possibility of forging an alliance with the UML, in case things did not go quite as well with the Maoists. But NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba was opposed to this idea. 

“Thapa influence in the party is very weak and Deuba was never in favor of aligning with the UML,” says political analyst Puranjan Acharya.

Amid all these developments, it is the NC that seems to be in trouble. The CWC gathering showed that the factional rift in the party is ever more widening, with general secretary duo, Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma, still insistent on changing the parliamentary party leader. In other words, Thapa and Sharma are strongly opposed to the idea of Deuba becoming  prime minister for the record sixth time.   

As per the power-sharing agreement, Prime Minister Dahal will hand over the government reins to Madhav Kumar Nepal of Unified Socialist, who will in turn cede the premiership to Deuba.

It is highly unlikely that Thapa and Sharma will succeed in stopping Deuba from getting elected as the parliamentary party leader again, as the latter simply hold too much sway in the party. 

But for Prime Minister Dahal, the friction within the Congress party is enough to make him suspicious. He fears that a conspiracy is afoot to upend the current coalition. 

“Efforts are underway to create friction inside the ruling alliance as the government is fighting corruption and maintaining good governance,” Dahal said at a public function on Sunday. A few days back, Deuba and Nepal had made similar statements. It just goes to show that the parties in the ruling alliance are plagued by uncertainty regarding their unity. Deep down, the UML could somehow scupper their coalition. 

But the UML leaders say this fear is unfounded. They say the NC leadership is not ready to enter a power-sharing deal with the UML.

In a recent interview with ApEx, UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli had said that the NC is not thinking politically by refusing to consider a power-sharing agreement outside the Maoists party.  

According to Oli, the UML was not in a rush to ascend to power, though the party was in favor of forming the NC-UML government to ensure government stability. 

A senior UML leader says Deuba even refused the party’s offer of premiership.

“He is reluctant to talk with us. We think he is under external pressure to not join hands with the UML.” 

If the current ruling alliance survives, the UML is sure to remain out of power till the next elections.
Earlier, it was expected that the Dahal government’s decision to investigate and prosecute the suspects of the fake Bhutanese refugee scandal and high level corruption cases could create friction between the Maoists and the NC. Several NC and UML politicians and lawmakers, including Bal Krishna Khand and Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, were arrested in connection to the Bhutanese refugee scam. In the wake of the infamous case, several NC and UML leaders had denounced the government’s move as “selective prosecution” and “vindictive politics” launched by Prime Minister Dahal.  

UML Chairman Oli had questioned the intent of Prime Minister Dahal and called on his government to display its impartiality by opening an investigation into the alleged corruption that took place during the management of Maoists cantonments after the 2006 peace agreement. 

For many political pundits and observers, the arrests of NC and UML politicians created an environment for the two parties to come closer and take out the Maoist party from power. Things didn't pan out that way.  Political analyst Acharya says the opening of high level corruption files means more politicians from all major parties will be under scrutiny.

“The investigations into Lalita Niwas land grab case and fake Bhutanese refugee scandal have already created an unease inside all major parties,” he says. “In this scenario, there is no immediate threat to the ruling coalition.” 

External factors, if not determinant, also play a vital role in the change of government. So far, according to a ruling party leader, India is in favor of the continuation of the current coalition led by Dahal. 

“So long as Dahal enjoys the support and goodwill of India and Western powers, he has little to fear,” says the leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Prime Minister Dahal is set to visit China in September, and some observers say the trip will likely determine the fate of the current coalition. Ahead of Dahal’s China trip, according to multiple sources, some UML leaders have started talks with the Maoist side for the revival of the left alliance. In that case, it is the NC that needs to be worried.

But Lokraj Baral, professor of political science and former ambassador of Nepal to India, says the reason why the talks about government change is finding traction has also to do with the political history of Nepal. 

No government since the past seven decades has completed its full term. “In fact, we have recently seen that even the government with two-thirds majority cannot complete a full term. So naturally, politicians, people and analysts think that this government will not last long,” he says.