Six weeks have passed since elections to the Nepalese provincial assemblies and the federal parliament were held. The Left Alliance registered a thumping win in the federal parliament polls and had won six out of the seven provinces. Yet, Nepal is still to get a new government and a new Prime Minister. The defeated Nepali Congress is still in the seat of power in Kathmandu, and its leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, continues to be Prime Minister, notes P.K.Balachandran in South Asian Monitor.
This is partly because of the complicated and long electoral process and partly because of disagreements among allies.
Elections to the 275-member Lower House of the Nepalese parliament – House of Representatives – were held between November 26 to December 7, 2017. Earlier, elections to the legislatures of the seven provinces had been concluded. The Left Alliance, comprising the Communist Party of Nepal — Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), and the Communist Party of Nepal — Maoist Center (CPN-MC), swept the elections to the House of Representatives.
But the Upper House, the National Assembly, is to be elected only on February7. Government cannot be formed before the National Assembly, elected by the Provincial Councils, is set up.
Election to Upper House
The Presidential Ordinance on elections to the National Assembly was delayed because political parties were divided on the mode of election. The still in power Nepali Congress (NC) had advised the President to use the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system so that even the smaller parties could find a place. The CPN-MC was neither here nor there but finally opted for the STV system. But the CPN-UML was pressing for the First Past the Post System (FPPS) as it will have the upper hand given the fact that it is the single largest party.
Finally, the NC’s views prevailed and the cabinet decided to hold the National Assembly elections on February 7.
Cracks in Left Alliance
While the issue of elections to the National Assembly has been resolved, government formation is stymied by political confusion in the CPN (UML)-CPN (MC) alliance.
The issue is how to share power. It is said that the Maoists, namely the CPN (Maoist Center), want either the Prime Minister’s post or the post of Chairperson of the unified CPN (MC)-CPN (UML) party. But the CPN (UML) is reluctant to give up either position because it has a much higher score in the elections. It wants the Maoists to be junior partners, not equals.
Seeing the quarrel within the Left Alliance, other parties are fishing in the troubled waters. The Nepali Congress, supported by the parties of the Madhesis (people of Indian Origin settled in the Terai or plains of south Nepal), is wooing the CPN (MC) with the bait of a Prime Ministerial position through a system of rotation.
The problem in the Left Alliance stems from numbers as well as the self-assessment of the its two leaders – K.P.Oli of CPN (UML) and Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda of CPN (MC).
First the numbers: In the newly elected 275-seat House of Representatives, Oli’s party ,the CPN (UML), has secured 121 (combining those who came through the First Past the Post system as well as the Proportional Representation System). The Nepali Congress (NC) has 63 and the CPN (MC) 53. The Rashtriya Janata Party has 17, and the Federal Socialist Forum, 16. The Rashtriya Prajatantra Party has 1.
The CPN (UML) with 121 members, feels that it has to get the Prime Minister’s post and the bulk of the positions in a unified Left party as the CPN (MC) has only 53 members.
However, various options are being discussed, including the rotation of top offices.
As for personalities, Oli considers himself pro-China and anti-India, and therefore a true Nepali nationalist resisting domination by India. On the other hand, Prachanda is seen as pro-Indian which casts a shadow over his attachment to Nepalese nationalism.
While Oli is unsympathetic to, and even against, the political demands of the Indian-origin Madhesis in the Terai region, Prachanda is generally accommodative towards them. K. P. Oli is trying to portray himself as a true Nepalese nationalist based on his resolute opposition to the Madhesis’ demands for greater political representation through constitutional amendments.
Nepalese nationalism comes into play also because of the backing the Madhesis get from neighboring “big power”, India.
Tussles in Nepali Congress
In the meanwhile, the Nepali Congress is in turmoil. Party president Sher Bahadur Deuba came under fire for his failure to retain power. In an interview this week, senior leader Shekhar Koirala said that the party’s top leadership should take the lion’s share of the blame. Gagan Thapa went a step further and urged senior leaders to “take restand play the role of guardians to let younger leaders”.
By all accounts, Deuba willstick to the status quo. But it is hoped that the Nepali Congress remains united and strong because Nepal needs an effective opposition party.
Madhesis Also Divided
The only place where the Left Alliance is not dominant is in Province 2, where the Madhesi population (people of recent Indian origin) overwhelmingly voted for the Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum Nepal (SSF-N) and the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJP-N).
But the RJP-N and the SSF-N will have to stick together. Neither has the numbers to form government by itself. The parties have been discussing forming a joint government. But the process has not been easy, media reports said.
“The leaders of the two parties have been unable to figure out their power sharing arrangements. A few days ago there seemed to have been an agreement that while the SSF-N would get the chief minister position, the RJP-N would get the deputy chief minister and speaker of the provincial legislature. Now, however, it appears that both parties are again bidding for the chief minister position. Some leaders talk of rotating the chief minister position, while others are opposed to it,” recent report said.
Meanwhile, the development process and the rehabilitation of earthquake victims are held up with only a lame duck government in Kathmandu. India and China have major projects in Nepal and both want to do more. But they have to wait till a new government takes over. Both have to put up with political uncertainty which appears to be endemic in Nepal.