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Can Dahal turn the tide?

Can Dahal turn the tide?

Two-thirds of the House of Representatives members now support the agreement between the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML to form a national unity government, though the specifics of the agreement remain undisclosed. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s major coalition partners, the CPN-UML and other smaller parties, have withdrawn their support, leaving his government in the minority.

This situation puts pressure on Dahal to resign, which is being pushed by his own party and other political factions. However, Dahal has decided to seek a vote of confidence on July 12. According to cross-party leaders, Dahal is offering the premiership to NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba to disrupt the NC-UML agreement. He has indicated that the Maoists are willing to support Deuba for a full term until the next elections in 2027. This offer was made the day after Deuba and UML leader Oli signed their agreement, but Deuba dismissed it.

Despite Deuba’s rejection, Dahal continues to reach out to NC leaders. Two days ago, he invited senior NC leader Shekhar Koirala to his residence for discussions. Koirala attended the meeting with the consent of Deuba. Sources say Koirala told Dahal that reversing the current situation is almost impossible. Even senior leaders within Dahal’s own CPN (Maoist Center) are advising him to resign, but Dahal insists there is still room for political maneuvering. After the NC-UML agreement, the Rastriya Swatantra Party decided to leave the government, but Dahal asked them to stay until the confidence vote.

There is some dissatisfaction within NC and UML ranks regarding the opaque agreement between Oli and Deuba, but no leader has openly criticized it. Both parties have unanimously endorsed the agreement. NC leaders believe Dahal’s efforts to form an alliance with UML are unlikely to succeed, despite his attempts. Some ambiguous provisions in the agreement might be exploited to prevent Oli from becoming prime minister, but it is almost certain that Oli will ascend to the position under Article 76(2) of the Constitution, which mandates a coalition government since no single party has a majority under Article 76(1).

Dahal and his allied constitutional experts argue that if Dahal’s government, formed under Article 76(2), fails to secure a vote of confidence, the President should initiate government formation under Article 76(3). This would mean appointing the parliamentary party leader of the largest party, likely Deuba. Neutral constitutional experts, however, assert that the government formation process should start under Article 76(2) again after July 12. If the government is formed under either Article 76(2) or 76(3), it is likely to face legal challenges, much like the 2021 Supreme Court verdict on Oli's dissolution of the House before its term ended. The verdict emphasized that all provisions of Article 76 should be tested to form a government.

The unexpected agreement between NC and UML has left Dahal, who had maintained power by striking a balance between NC and UML, in shock. He was confident that the rival NC and UML would not join forces. Additionally, Maoist leaders believed external forces would prevent Oli from coming to power. Dahal had been frequently changing coalition partners and was recently preparing to align with NC leaders again in the guise of forming a national unity government.

NC and UML were growing weary of Dahal's tactics, and there had been long-standing support within both parties for a coalition. The deteriorating economic conditions, frequent government changes, growing communal tensions and problematic constitutional provisions compelled the first and second largest parties to unite to address the country's challenges. The rise of new political parties also gave impetus to this unconventional alliance.

In this context, Dahal’s attempts to reverse the situation are unlikely to succeed. NC leaders state that Deuba is not willing to accept Dahal’s offer of the premiership. After nearly a decade, NC and UML are joining forces again, reminiscent of their successful collaboration in 2014 to deliver the Constitution in 2015. Now, they aim to form a strong government to resolve the current problems facing the country.