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Factors that led Dahal to ditch alliance with NC

Factors that led Dahal to ditch alliance with NC

In a dramatic turn of events, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has ditched his key coalition partner, Nepali Congress, to form a new alliance with the main opposition, CPN-UML. According to Maoist leaders, though the breakdown in the alliance seems sudden, there was a series of misunderstandings with the NC that led to the decision.

One of the primary reasons, they say, is the recently held Mahasamiti meeting of the NC where the party’s general secretary, Gagan Kumar Thapa, and scores of other leaders passed a proposal stating that the NC will not forge any pre-poll alliance. It was a clear reference to the potential partnership with the Maoist party, whose political ideology is diametrically opposite with that of the NC. Similarly, a political document presented by NC Vice-president Purna Bahadur Khadka at the Mahasamiti meeting had portrayed the Maoist insurgency in a negative light which miffed PM Dahal. 

One senior Maoist leader said considering the constant friction encountered with the Nepali Congress, Prime Minister Dahal reached the conclusion that the alliance cannot sustain for long and started working to revive the alliance with the UML. Besides the UML, Rastriya Swatantra Party and Janata Samajbadi Party have also agreed to enter the new alliance.     

The senior Maoist leader said that Prime Minister Dahal was in favor of continuing the Maoist-NC coalition as long as the NC was willing to forge an electoral alliance in the next general elections. While NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba seemed somewhat lenient regarding the Maoist’s condition, the NC second-rung leaders were averse to joining forces with the Maoist party ahead of the next elections.

Inside the Maoists too, many leaders were raising their voice for reviving the left alliance. 

NC leader and Foreign Minister Narayan Prakash Saud said while there were some disagreements with the Maoists, including the decision taken by the Mahasamiti meeting and the issue of Cabinet reshuffle, the NC had not anticipated that Prime Minister Dahal would go on to dissolve the coalition.

Another bone of contention between the Maoist party and NC was picking the National Assembly (NA) chairperson candidate. When the elections for 19 NA seats were held in January, the two parties had agreed to field NC’s Krishna Prasad Sitaula as one of their common candidates from Koshi province. The plan was to make Sitaula an NA member and then field him again as the NA chairperson candidate to replace the incumbent Ganesh Prasad Timilsina of the UML, whose term ends this month.    

Sitaula was elected to the NA with the Maoists backing, but the candidates from the Maoist party did not win the election. Dahal’s party later concluded that the NC did not vote for the Maoist candidates. Shortly after the NA election results, Maoist leaders including Barsha Man Pun publicly announced that the party would review its alliance with the NC. The Mahasamiti meeting of the NC further reinforced the Maoist suspicion that the alliance was unfruitful.

In the government, meanwhile, there was a continuous tussle between Prime Minister Dahal and the ministers from the Congress party, particularly Finance Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat. For a long time, Dahal had been complaining that Mahat was bypassing him while taking key decisions. The prime minister was unhappy with Mahat as he failed to make any progress to recover the faltering economy of the country. Prime Minister Dahal wanted to replace Mahat, but Deuba was against it. Dahal was also not pleased with the way the NC was pressing him not to investigate the corruption cases where senior Congress leaders and businessmen were reportedly involved. 

While taking the decision to change the current coalition, Prime Minister Dahal has his own personal reasons. As the government was becoming unpopular for its failure to improve service delivery, tame corruption and bring the failing economy back on track, Dahal wanted to divert people’s attention by shifting the blame on an incompatible alliance. Also, with a new coalition in place, he buys himself some time and the reason to renew his vows of delivering good governance and progress.  

Since the first day in power, Prime Minister Dahal’s top priority was settling the transitional justice process. To this end, he has been continually seeking international support including the United Nations. Most importantly, he needed the support of the main opposition, UML, which was not forthcoming. It was obvious that the UML would support Dahal’s plan to conclude the transitional justice process only if he was willing to sever ties with the Congress.  With the UML’s support, Dahal wants to conclude the transitional justice process according to his own terms, although it is still not an easy task.

As the main opposition, the UML too was continuously working to break the Maoist-NC alliance. Although the UML leaders publicly said that the party was set on the mission of emerging as the majority party through the next general elections, the party had also set its sight on breaking the ruling alliance and coming back to power. Due to the NC-Maoist alliance, the UML was powerless both at the center and provinces.  Initially, the UML had even tried to forge an alliance with the NC and keep the Maoists and CPN (Unified Socialist) out of the equation, but the NC was not ready to entertain the idea. 

It is uncertain how long the latest coalition will last. But Dahal’s tenure is likely to be prolonged. According to leaders, Dahal and Oli will lead the government for an equal period. The two leaders have agreed to take this coalition until the next elections. But given Dahal’s track record, his propensity and history of flip-flopping between the UML and NC, one could argue that there could be more topsy-turvy political events before we reach the election season in 2027.