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What caused Samajbadi Party to split?

What caused Samajbadi Party to split?

Earlier this week, on May 5, the Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal, led by Upendra Yadav, underwent a sudden split. Out of its 12 lawmakers in the House of Representatives, seven members led by Ashok Rai filed an application with the Election Commission seeking the registration of a new party. The following day, despite legal ambiguity, the election body, perceived to be influenced by parties in power, registered the new party, Janata Samajbadi Party and issued a certificate of political party to the Rai-led panel.

Yadav, also the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health, was in the US when the split occurred. Upon hearing the news, he cut short his trip and returned to Nepal, but there was little he could do to persuade the dissident leaders to undo their action. What might have caused the split within Samajbadi party? There's a prevalent belief among top politicians that Yadav and Madhav Kumar Nepal, chair of CPN (Unified Socialist), were plotting to withdraw support from the current coalition government simultaneously, potentially to topple it.

Media reports suggest that Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and CPN-UML Chair KP Sharma Oli got wind of this plan and orchestrated the split to salvage the coalition. Rai and his supporters publicly endorsed this narrative, claiming they felt compelled to part ways with the mother party due to Yadav's alleged intention to withdraw support from the current coalition. Days after the party split, Prime Minister Dahal on Thursday stated his determination to maintain the coalition by any means necessary. 

Following Samajbadi’s split, there were rumors that senior Unified Socialist leader Jhala Nath Khanal may also split the party if its chairman, Nepal, decides to withdraw from the Dahal-led government. However, Khanal has refuted the rumors. Upon his return from the US, Yadav met with Prime Minister Dahal to assert his commitment to the coalition and clarify any misinformation. Despite the split, Yadav expressed his intention to remain in the government, though much depends on the prime minister, who appears to favor the Rai-led faction for their role in preserving the coalition. Even if Yadav walks out of the government, Dahal will technically have majority support in the Parliament to continue his government.

The Unified Socialist has also publicly declared its intent to stay in the government, despite its Chairman Nepal voicing doubts about this coalition’s longevity. While reports suggest that the main opposition, Nepali Congress, was in discussions with Nepal of Unified Socialist and Yadav of Samajbadi Party about forming a new coalition, there were reportedly no significant talks between NC and Yadav.

A senior NC leader indicated readiness to accept Nepal as prime minister if the coalition collapses, but denied willingness to support Yadav for the position. Meanwhile, Yadav's camp has expressed willingness to form a new coalition only if offered the prime ministerial position. The NC itself is a divided house when it comes to forming a coalition with the Samajbadi and Unified Socialist. While leaders close to Deuba want to form a new coalition sans UML, its senior leader Shekhar Koirala is in talks with the UML to forge a coalition between the two largest parties. 

However, according to some UML leaders, the party chair, Oli, is in no rush to break the current coalition. They say he is aiming for a long game with the sole purpose of making the UML the largest party through the general elections of 2027. It appears Oli is in no hurry to become prime minister.   With the Samajbadi party split in two, it is now up to Prime Minister Dahal to decide whether to keep both Yadav and Rai factions in the coalition. He is already under pressure from the Rai camp to throw out the Yadav faction. Rai has clearly stated that the prime minister should choose between him and Yadav.

The events that unfolded over the past few days reveal that the split within JSP was not solely driven by coalition issues; intra-party conflicts also played a significant role. Before leaving for the US, Yadav issued an intra-party circular outlining the formation of an election committee for the upcoming general convention. Rai claimed Yadav favored his supporters as convention representatives, sidelining other senior party members. Yadav was also accused of attempting to transform the party into a regional entity centered on Madhes, despite its national scope. Rai acknowledged that aside from coalition concerns, intra-party disputes fueled their rebellion against Yadav.  Despite multiple splits over the years, Yadav continues to retain leadership of the party due to his strong base in Madhes. He hopes to do the same this time as well.