Nepal PM ‘Prachanda’ forges new alliance with ex-premier Oli’s party after splitting with Nepali Congress

Communist coalition back at the helm in Nepal after little more than a year; CPN (Maoist-Centre)’s demand for the post of the National Assembly chair had caused a rift with Nepali Congress

March 04, 2024 02:14 pm | Updated March 05, 2024 05:50 pm IST - Kathmandu

Chairman of Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) party Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, also known as K.P. Oli, (L) shakes hands with the chairman of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, during a news conference in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Chairman of Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) (CPN-UML) party Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, also known as K.P. Oli, (L) shakes hands with the chairman of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, during a news conference in Kathmandu, Nepal. | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Nepal’s ruling alliance broke down after Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) switched sides from the Nepali Congress and joined with the K.P. Sharma Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) on Monday.

The latest development puts the Nepali Congress, the largest party in parliament with 88 seats, in the Opposition seat.

Leaders from both the CPN (Maoist-Centre) and the CPN-UML said that they have reached a new deal to form the government, once again bringing a communist coalition to the helm in Kathmandu after little more than a year.

The Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) and the Janata Samajbadi Party will also be part of the new Maoist-UML coalition.

Mr. Prachanda on Monday evening dismissed all his Ministers and inducted three new Ministers without portfolios into his Cabinet — one each from his party, the CPN-UML and the RSP — and kept all 25 portfolios with him.

Also Read | Nepal’s coalition politics, a game of musical chairs 

Mr. Prachanda’s CPN (Maoist-Centre) party had fought the 2022 general elections with the Nepali Congress. However, Mr. Prachanda was elected Prime Minister with the backing of the CPN-UML, the second largest party with 78 seats, on December 25, 2022, after the Nepali Congress refused to oblige his demand to lead the government.

Later in February 2023, the CPN-UML pulled out of the government after the CPN (Maoist-Centre) decided to back Ram Chandra Poudel, a Congress leader, for the post of President. The Nepali Congress subsequently joined the government.

Cracks in coalition

Hari Sharma, a writer and political analyst, says the Maoist-Congress coalition had become untenable, especially after some Nepali Congress leaders began questioning Mr. Prachanda’s style of governance and the relevance of the alliance. “There is nothing to be surprised about this change. This Maoist-UML coalition was not a matter of if but when,” Mr. Sharma said.

Cracks began to appear in the Maoist-Congress coalition lately over various issues. But the post of the National Assembly chair had become the major bone of contention. The Maoist-Centre’s demand that it be given the National Assembly chair post had rattled the Nepali Congress.

Also Read | Nepal politics, past, present, and future 

The National Assembly chair post is crucial, for he is a member of the Constitutional Council which recommends members to constitutional bodies. Nepal is electing the new National Assembly chair on March 12.

Frequent government changes are not new in Nepal, and it has seen 11 governments since it abolished the monarchy in 2008.

Nepal’s electoral system is such that it is almost impossible for any party to secure a majority in the 275-strong House of Representatives to form a government on its own. Of the 275 members, 165 are elected under the direct election system, or first-past-the-post system, and the remaining 110 are elected under the proportional representation system.

It was because of that that Mr. Prachanda found room to manoeuvre and managed to wrest the post of the Prime Minister from the first and second largest parties despite his party coming third with just 32 seats in parliament.

The CPN-UML and the Maoists merged in 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in a bid to form a large Left force in Nepal. However, a power struggle between Mr. Prachanda and CPN-UML Chairman K.P. Sharma Oli led to the implosion of the NCP in 2021.

Though some view the coming together of Maoists and the UML as a renewed bid to create a leftist behemoth, Mr. Sharma, the analyst, ruled it out.

“This new development is as simple as some interest groups joining hands,” he said.

What is concerning is, he says, that such frequent changes in government, aimed at serving a handful of politicians’ petty interests, give more room to external players.

“While this harms the country, it benefits certain geopolitical actors,” Mr. Sharma says. “The kind of practice Nepali politicians are engaged in is damaging their own credibility. And it becomes easier for external players to manoeuvre when the credibility of Nepali political class deteriorates.”

A Maoist-UML unity in Nepal is something Beijing has always wanted, and the new developments may come to its liking. It is unclear how India, which has traditionally enjoyed its clout in Nepal, will react to a suddenly evolved left-dominated dispensation in Kathmandu.

Mr. Prachanda, a vocal critic of India in the past, in recent years has made peace with the south, and he does appear to be in New Delhi’s good books, if recent high-level bilateral exchanges and some forward-looking deals under his prime ministership are anything to go by.

Observers say Mr. Prachanda cannot afford to ruffle Delhi’s feathers.

“His dependability, however, is questionable,” Mr. Sharma said.

(Sanjeev Satgainya is an independent journalist based in Kathmandu)

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