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Fate of NC-Maoist coalition

Fate of NC-Maoist coalition

For quite some time now, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been vocal about his intentions to revamp his Cabinet, aiming to oust underperforming ministers and those embroiled in controversies. Specifically, Dahal seeks to remove Health Minister Mohan Basnet, who has been mired in various controversies, and Minister of Physical Infrastructure and Transport Prakash Jwala, whose negligence resulted in the deaths of two youths in Balkumari. However, coalition leaders Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress and Madhav Kumar Nepal of the CPN (Unified Socialist)have exerted pressure on Dahal to refrain from making such decisions. The main opposition, CPN-UML, is also urging Dahal to dismiss ministers entangled in controversies.

The prime minister is apparently dissatisfied with the performances of Finance Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat and Foreign Minister NP Saud, both from the Deuba camp of the Nepali Congress. But Deuba is reluctant to recall them due to the intra-party dynamics. The Dahal-led government is facing widespread criticism for its failure to improve the country’s economy, create jobs, curb youth migration abroad, and enhance service delivery. Acknowledging these shortcomings, Dahal repeatedly asserts that he will bring about changes through Cabinet reshuffling, but faces resistance from his coalition partners.

Another point of contention between the primary coalition partners, Congress and Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Center), is their respective positions on the candidate for the chairman of the National Assembly (NA). With the current chairman, who is from the main opposition UML, retiring this month, both parties are vying for the position. The NC has already communicated to the Maoist party that its senior leader Krishna Prasad Sitaula, who won the NA election last month, should be elected as the new chair, a position that Prime Minister Dahal had initially supported. But of late, Dahal’s party has taken a hard stance on the issue due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, the NC voters did not vote for the Maoist candidates in the Koshi provinces during the NA election, and secondly, the recently concluded NC’s Mahasamiti meeting portrayed Maoist insurgency in a negative light.

Prime Minister Dahal is under pressure from his own party not to relinquish the claim for the NA chair. Although the Maoist party has decided to field its own candidate, leaders say Dahal will most likely support Sitaula for the NA chair. 

Maoist leaders fear that the party will be left without any representatives in the Constitutional Council if the NA leadership is handed over to the NC.

After the NA election last month, the Maoists, which is the third-largest party in the House of Representatives, emerged as the largest party in the National Assembly. In the recently concluded party’s Standing Committee, there were strong voices advocating for the party to claim the chairmanship of the NA, which led to the formal decision on the same issue. 

The Maoist decision may also have been partly influenced by the NC’s Mahasamiti meeting, where the majority of representatives opposed the electoral alliance with the Maoist party, though the outcomes of the meeting did not create any obstacles for the party to forge an electoral alliance in the next local and national elections.

A senior Maoist leader says, “We should not expect that one alliance lasts forever; there could be changes.”

Though the current coalition may not be in any significant danger, the gap between the two coalition partners is widening by the day. It appears that both Deuba and Dahal are committed to the continuation of the current coalition, but there is growing unease within both NC and Maoist parties. Both Dahal and Deuba are extra cautious that the current differences between the two parties should not create problems in the coalition.

They sit together even if some minor issues arise to maintain an environment of trust. For instance, when Nepali Congress General Secretary Gagan Thapa took a firm stance in the party’s Mahasamiti meeting to endorse the proposal that the party would not forge a pre-poll alliance, Deuba and his close aide Purna Bahadur Khadka personally assured Dahal that the coalition will remain intact. Inside the NC, senior leader Shekhar Koirala continuously asserts that he is working to change the coalition, while Thapa has taken a middle ground that the party should remain committed to the current coalition but should not forge an electoral alliance in the next general elections. 

Meanwhile, Deuba and leaders close to him argue that the party should take a pragmatic approach because if the party leaves the government, the UML will come to the rescue of the Dahal-led government, ultimately paving the way for the left alliance. And, in case the left alliance is formed again, the party could face an electoral defeat like it did in the 2017 elections.

However, the NC rank and file are not happy with the alliance, as reflected in the party’s Mahasamiti meeting where they stated that the alliance with the Maoists has eroded the party’s ideology and support base. Inside the NC, there are growing voices that the party is suffering due to the non-performance of the NC as a key coalition. 

A NC senior leader says, “On the one hand, our cadres at the local level have not felt the party’s presence in the government, on the other hand, the Dahal-led government is becoming unpopular, but people are pointing fingers at us because Dahal remains in power.”

Similarly, inside the Maoist party, there are growing demands that the alliance with NC should be reviewed as vote transfer has emerged as a big problem. Though Dahal seems committed to continuing with the current coalition, senior leaders inside the party believe that it would be natural to form a left alliance. For now, it seems that both Deuba and Dahal, who have a strong command in the party, would manage the differences, but it is uncertain whether they will be able to do so for a long time.