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If anything, Dahal should be thankful to Oli and Deuba

If anything, Dahal should be thankful to Oli and Deuba

Embattled Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is more than certain to lose the confidence vote on July 12. However, as he is determined not to step down easily, one thing is clear: There won’t be a smooth, amicable transition of power.

From the parliament’s lectern, Dahal is expected to criticize CPN-UML Chairperson KP Sharma Oli and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba for their surprise alliance, which reduced his government to a minority. The Maoist prime minister may accuse them of political backstabbing, question their political morality, and warn against their plan to amend the constitution. Yet, does Dahal have the moral high ground to criticize NC and UML?

Indeed, it would have been better if NC and UML had made the secret agreement's text public, but they did not. But a careful review of Dahal’s 10-year journey since the 2015 constitution shows he has no grounds to complain about betrayal by NC and UML.

Let’s revisit some instances where Dahal used NC and UML after one another to his advantage. After the promulgation of the constitution in 2015, Oli became the new prime minister with support from Dahal, whose party was in third place. But by July 2016, Dahal withdrew support from Oli and aligned with the NC to form a new government and become prime minister for the second time. Despite being in coalition with NC, Dahal later secretly signed a deal with UML for an electoral alliance, betraying NC.

In 2018, Dahal merged his party with CPN-UML to form the Nepal Communist Party, aiming to lead the powerful communist party. When Oli denied him the full-fledged party presidency, Dahal campaigned to remove Oli from power. This intra-party feud led to the dissolution of Parliament, for which all senior NCP leaders share responsibility. An agreement between Deuba and Dahal to lead the government in rotation resulted in more power struggles. 

After the 2022 national elections, where the Maoists secured only 32 of 275 seats, it was natural for NC to claim government leadership as the largest party. But Dahal, after tough bargaining, aligned with UML to become prime minister, only to betray UML in the presidential elections by supporting NC candidate Ram Chandra Paudel.

There may have been hidden factors forcing Dahal to support Paudel, but it was still a betrayal to UML. In March of this year, Dahal again ditched NC without warning and allied with UML. Just a few weeks ago, Dahal publicly suggested the government could last the full five-year tenure if they navigated between the first and second largest parties. His penchant for switching sides to suit his convenience is not hidden, as he has often demonstrated over the years. Several of Dahal’s former Maoist comrades, including former prime minister Baburam Bhattarai, have accused him of being a power-hungry individual with little to no regard for party ideology.      

Certainly there is no shortage of moral decay and corruption within NC and UML, but should anyone point the finger at or cry foul over their alliance, Dahal should be the last person. 

Dahal simply lacks the moral ground to accuse NC and UML of political immorality. Instead, he should be grateful for their support, which allowed him to lead the government despite waning support for the Maoists. In a coalition, even a small party can lead, but based on the people's mandate, the Maoists should have been in opposition, rebuilding their position. Doors may not be completely closed for him; he could become prime minister again if a rift emerges between NC and UML.

The best option for Dahal would have been to resign once UML withdrew its support. It is perceived that he is trying to influence President Paudel to initiate the government formation process through Article 76(3) of the constitution, making Deuba the prime minister. However, it is unlikely as the process should start from the initial articles of the constitution. Dahal has not publicly stated this, but his close associates suggest the President should appoint a new prime minister per Article 76(3). President Paudel has indicated to Oli and Deuba that he would begin the process from Article 76(2).

While an NC-UML government may not ensure stability, Dahal should wait. After a long gap, the first and second largest parties have pledged to provide political stability and address economic woes. The Maoists now have the chance to play the opposition role, and Dahal should seize this opportunity to rebuild his party. There is no reason for Dahal to be shocked by the NC-UML agreement.