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Who will save the current coalition?

Who will save the current coalition?

On 4 March 2024, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal changed his coalition partners, citing lack of cooperation from the Nepali Congress (NC), his key coalition partner at the time. 

He strung together a new coalition, with the support from CPN-UML, Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), CPN (Unified Socialist), and Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), and promised to deliver on the missed promises to the nation. It’s been almost two months since the formation of the new alliance, and Prime Minister Dahal has little to show for his promises. 

Already, cracks seem to have appeared in the ruling alliance, with the Unified Socialist refusing to support a common candidate between UML and Maoist for the by-election that is taking place in Ilam-2 on April 27. This refusal has particularly angered the UML, which has fielded Suhang Nembang, son of late UML Vice-chairman Subas Nembang, in Ilam-2. While Prime Minister Dahal’s Maoist party has agreed to support UML in the by-poll, there is still risk of vote-splitting as the Suhang’s candidacy has caused a division within the local UML leaders. In such a scenario, the Unified Socialist’s electoral support to the UML would have been welcome. The Unified Socialist’s decision to field its own candidate in Ilam-2 has certainly not helped ease the rift with its former mother party, UML.

Meanwhile, Chairman of Unified Socialist Madhav Kumar Nepal also seems ill at ease with Prime Minister Dahal. Nepal is apparently resentful of Prime Minister Dahal not taking him into confidence before breaking the alliance with the NC.   

Nepal on Monday expressed doubts regarding the longevity of the latest coalition. He noted that the shifts in ruling coalition in a short period of time have raised a serious suspicion regarding the longevity of the latest alliance.     

“I am not in a position to answer how long this coalition will last. Perhaps Prime Minister Dahal could answer these questions,” he said. 

Nepal’s dissatisfaction with the fellow ruling coalition partners, particularly Maoist and UML, was clear when he said that the current coalition does not seem favorable. 

“We are not feeling comfortable,” he said.  

Earlier, Nepal had threatened to pull out of the coalition after his party was denied the position of chief minister in Sudurpaschim Province. When UML and Maoist Center decided to support Kailash Chaudhary of Nagarik Unmukti Party for the post, Unified Socialist backed Laxman Kishor Chaudhary from the rival faction of Nagarik Unmukti led by Resham Lal Chaudhary. 

Laxman Kishor also had the support from the NC. At the time, Unified Socialist leaders had said that what happened in Sudurpashchim Province was just the beginning and that other provincial governments could also fail. 

Taken aback, the Maoist Center and UML immediately decided to back Dirgha Sodari of Unified Socialist for the position of Sudurpaschim Province chief minister. However, the formation of the Unified Socialist-led government in Sudurpaschim did not defuse the tensions among the coalition partners. Nepal’s recent remarks regarding the Dahal-led government suggest as much. 

“We are not subservient to anyone, and we do not listen to anyone’s threats, intimidation, abuse or insults,” he said recently.  

RSP, another major member in the ruling coalition, is also in a difficult position at the moment. Rabi Lamichhane, the party’s chairman and minister for home affairs, is under pressure to quit the government for his alleged involvement in a fund misappropriation case of a financial cooperative.  

The NC has been obstructing the parliament demanding for a panel to investigate the allegation against Home Minister Lamichhane. If the case against Lamichhane escalates, he is likely to face pressure to take a break till the investigation is over. In that scenario, it is unsure whether the RSP will continue to remain in the government. The Dahal government could slip into a minority. 

Even if Lamichhane does not step down, the RSP could walk out of the coalition if the government fails to deliver on its promises. A large section of the RSP are of the view that it is better for the party to concentrate on the 2027 general election if the current coalition government fails to work effectively.

As of now, the UML has maintained a low-profile in the coalition. The party has pledged steadfast support to Prime Minister Dahal as long as his government works in favor of the country and the people. 

Meanwhile, the NC has been making efforts to improve its relationship with the UML. NC leaders, mainly senior leader Shekhar Koirala faction, is in constant communication with the UML to change the coalition. 

Koirala is proposing that the current electoral system should be changed once NC and UML come together. Regarding the power-sharing arrangement, he has said that Oli can lead the government with the condition that he cedes the power to the NC in the run up to the 2027 elections.

Amid all these coalition infighting and political maneuvering, it appears that Prime Minister Dahal is the only one committed to saving the rickety alliance that he has put together. Nepal’s political landscape is getting more murkier and turbulent with each passing day.