Deuba under pressure to pull out of coalition
The Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government is apparently teetering on the edge of a precipice. Its failure to deliver has sparked waves of anger and discontent within the primary ruling coalition partner, Nepali Congress.
Within the ranks of NC, many leaders are convinced that Sher Bahadur Deuba, the party president, has allowed the government to run amok, with no accountability to the public. They are of the view that this coalition is firmly in the grip of Dahal's decision-making monopoly.
Deuba’s rival in the party, Shekhar Koirala, is the foremost critic of the Dahal administration. He has been openly advocating for seeking an alternative to the faltering government. Congress, the largest party in the House of Representatives, finds itself in a coalition with Maoists and various fringe parties, all united in their mission to prevent CPN-UML from seizing power. Yet, party leaders lament that Deuba remains conspicuously passive, failing to provide valuable input to the government or curb its penchant for unilateral decision-making.
Nine months into its tenure, the Dahal-led government struggles to maintain good governance, generate employment opportunities, resuscitate the flagging economy, and tame the surging inflation rate—a source of mounting discontent among the populace. But NC President Deuba, Prime Minister Dahal’s main coalition partner, has seemingly turned a blind eye.
Dahal has been attempting to tout an anti-corruption drive as a major accomplishment of his government, a claim hotly disputed by many NC leaders. While Deuba and his supporters, who hold crucial ministerial positions, favor continuing the current coalition, others within the party harbor deep reservations.
Recent times have seen the Dahal-Deuba relationship grow frostier, though it has not reached the point of coalition dissolution. Deuba is dissatisfied with the Dahal administration’s selective approach to investigating corruption scandals. In a recent meeting, Deuba pressed Dahal to remove Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha, primarily concerned about the arrest of his close aide, Bal Krishna Khand, in the fake Bhutanese refugee scandal.
Despite this tension, leaders assert that Deuba has not committed to leaving the coalition just yet, fearing it would open the door for Dahal to form alliances with the UML and Rastirya Swatantra Party.
Deuba, with no plans to vie for the party presidency again, intends to retire from active politics by becoming prime minister for a record sixth time. This ambition has led him to overlook the government's inefficiencies.
However, senior party leader Koirala is actively working to dismantle the existing coalition. It remains uncertain whether this is a mere bargaining tactic with Deuba or a genuine effort to change the government. Koirala has been reaching out to influential youth leaders in the party, such as Gagan Kumar Thapa, Bishwa Prakash Sharma and Pradeep Poudel, to build a united front and exert pressure on Deuba to remove Dahal from the government.
To compel Deuba to consider leaving the current coalition, Koirala called a meeting with his supporters, including Thapa, Sharma and Poudel, on Tuesday. During the meeting, leaders argued that the government’s failure to address the country’s critical issues necessitates an alternative.
Central Working Committee member Jeeven Pariyar says that despite being in the government, the people have not felt its impact. The government's inability to fulfill its objective duties and meet even the minimum expectations of the people have left many disillusioned, he adds.
But Thapa, who is himself aspiring to vie for the post of party president against Koirala, seems to have softened his stance on the government in recent months. As Deuba remains passive and Vice-President Purna Bahadur Khadka focuses on party matters, Thapa is working to strengthen his position within the party.
Koirala, on the other hand, has become more vocal and aggressive against the current coalition. In a recent public address, he did not mince words when it came to criticizing the government. He accused Prime Minister Dahal of fostering conflict and confrontation in the country through his rhetoric, particularly his endorsement of identity-based federalism.
Koirala emphasized that with 90 seats in the Parliament, the NC was discussing the way forward internally. He added that the continuation of the current government would be disastrous for the country. He even urged Deuba to assume the mantle of the next prime minister.
Some see Koirala’s suggestion for Deuba to take over the premiership as an act of extending overture to win the latter’s endorsement for the Congress presidency.
The Koirala faction’s displeasure with Deuba’s monopoly over intra-party affairs is no secret. They believe Deuba has failed to take a consultative approach in decisions related to the crisis in Koshi province, the selection of parliamentary committee heads, and appointments in the party’s sister organizations. In an attempt to draw attention to these issues, Koirala met with Deuba at his residence on Wednesday.
However, Koirala and Thapa combined lack the authority to make decisions regarding coalition changes and intra-party matters, as Deuba wields significant influence in both the party’s Central Committee and the Parliamentary Party. Nevertheless, the pressure is mounting on Deuba in light of the government’s performance.
Despite having nine ministers in the coalition government, Congress has been unable to steer the Dahal-led government toward effectively addressing the pressing issues facing the country. As the Dahal government shows no signs of improvement and public frustration mounts, Deuba is under increasing pressure from various quarters to reconsider the NC’s role in the coalition.
Some observers suggest that the fate of the current government will ultimately be sealed upon Prime Minister Dahal’s return from his China visit.
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