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Fate of Prachanda-led govt hangs in balance as rift with Oli widens

By Santosh Ghimire
Kathmandu, Feb 17: The fate of the fragile seven-party coalition government is hanging in a balance due to growing rift between former and current Prime Ministers KP Sharma Oli and the incumbent Pushpa Kamal Dahal aka Prachanda.

As the nomination for the country’s crucial presidential elections slated for March 9 comes to a close, tension between the Prachanda-led Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center) and Oli’s Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) has further escalated.

A meeting between Prachanda and Oli ended inconclusively Thursday with the latter’s insistence that he will not accept a consensus president for the president, according to sources.

Prachanda, however, was persistent that UML should agree on a consensual candidate acceptable to the country’s major political forces including the Nepali Congress.

“Oli has continued to stick to his stand that someone else proposed by the UML should be a common candidate of the ruling alliance for the president as per the power-sharing deal reached among the coalition partners in the time of government formation. The prime minister is of the view that UML should agree on a consensual candidate acceptable to the country’s major political forces including the Nepali Congress,” a leader close to Prachanda told India Narrative on Thursday.

Prime Minister’s political advisor Haribol Gajurel said that the two key leaders of the ruling alliance today met to discuss the potential nominees for the post of president.

“They will hold similar discussion on Friday to find a way out,” Gajurel told local media. He, however, brushed aside rumors that the ruling alliance will fall apart due to differences over the presidential elections. “The current alliance will survive,” he claimed.

Contrary to Gajurel’s remarks, UML insiders say the ruling alliance will collapse if Prachanda continues to stick to his stance.

“Prime Minister Prachanda can’t disown the agreement that he reached with UML in the time of government formation. He should accept the UML nominee for the post of president without any doubt. We never talked about electing the president based on consensus. Prachanda’s betrayal will lead to the collapse of the alliance,” a leader close to Oli told India Narrative.

Prime Minister Prachanda and Oli’s meeting comes as the day for filing nominations for the post of president is inching closer. As per the schedule published by Nepal’s Election Commission, political parties should file nominations for the post of president by February 25, twelve days ahead of the presidential elections. The term of Bidya Devi Bhandari, who was re-elected to the post of the Head of the State in 2018, will expire on March 13.

Prachanda’s UML fear

According to observers, there are a couple of reasons why PM Prachanda is now favouring a consensual president and not backing the UML nominee.

Prachanda’s concerns stem from current President Bhandari’s role in the political crisis that the country witnessed after then Prime Minister Oli dissolved parliament twice in December 2020 and May 2021. President Bhandari openly supported the then Prime Minister Oli in his political moves including dissolution of parliament.

“Although, the constitution clearly states that the president is a ceremonial figure who must carry out his or her responsibilities within the parameters established by the national charter, but President Bhandari’s role instilled fear in the hearts of our top leaders, compelling them to look for a non-UML candidate as the new president,” Narayan Upadhyay, a political commentator in Kathmandu said in his article in the state-run The Rising Nepal newspaper.

According to Upadhyay, another source of concern for parties is the likely concentration of power in the UML, which may hold main constitutional positions such as the President, Prime Minister, Speaker, powerful ministerial portfolios, and the majority of provincial administrations.

“More concerned about the UML’s likely dominance, parties and their leaders are apprehensive about what might happen if UML chair Oli becomes the next Prime Minister, as agreed between him and the PM. The NC is currently moving heaven and earth to elect one of its senior members as president. It has sought to create schisms in the present ruling alliance over the presidential election. If it fails in this endeavour, it will push for a consensual candidate who is not a member of the UML,” the analyst observed.

Congress eyeing for reviving old alliance with Maoist

Amid souring ties between the coalition partners UML and Maoist, the Nepali Congress, the largest party in parliament, has intensified talks with Prime Minister Prachanda as it is eyeing for the post of the president. The motive of the Nepali Congress is not just to ensure the post of the president, but also to revive the old alliance with the Maoist, say insiders.

“Prachandaji (prime minister) is talking about electing the president through consensus which is a good idea. There can be a consensus among major parties in the name of a Congress nominee for the post,” Prakash Sharan Mahat, a spokesperson for the Congress Party told India Narrative on Thursday.

He said that the Congress Party is in touch with the Maoist to revive the old alliance. “If Maoist lend support to a Congress nominee in the presidential elections, that, of course, will pave the way for reviving the old alliance,” Mahat added.

Earlier in December last year, the Congress-led government collapsed after Maoist chief Prachanda did a dramatic U-turn when he and then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba failed to reach a deal over which one of them would be the prime minister first. Amid this, UML rescued Prachanda.

Even after the formation of the new government, Prachanda and Deuba continued holding their in-door talks. To rebuild its trust with the Maoist, the Congress party gave trust vote to Prime Minister Prachanda when he went on a floor test in parliament on January 10.

In the mid of this week, Congress President Deuba met with Prime Minister Prachanda to discuss about the presidential elections and see the possibility of reviving their old alliance.

“This ruling coalition will collapse by February 23,” Congress General Secretary Thapa claimed at a public program this week after Deuba met with Prachanda, indicating that the old alliance between the Maoist and the Congress would be revived sooner or later given the frosty ties between Prachanda and Oli.

(Santosh Ghimire is India Narrative’s Nepal correspondent based in Kathmandu)

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