The main reason why this alliance took place at this moment, right before two crucial elections, is the Maoists' perception of their own weakness.
--BY SHANT SHARMA
As soon as this year's Dashain holidays were over, a political bombshell sent alarm bells ringing across the country. Two major communist parties of the country - the CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) - announced to form a left alliance for the upcoming parliamentary and provincial elections. They said the two parties would eventually unite and form a combined communist force that would eventually become Nepal's single communist party. When the announcement came, the Maoists were still in a coalition government with the Nepali Congress (NC), a centrist democratic party (they still are in the government though Maoist ministers have been stripped of their portfolio!).
Is it a case of deceit, or just opportunism? Did China orchestrate this, as some analysts have claimed? Is Nepal heading towards becoming a communist state? Or, as the two parties have claimed, is it an effort to unite the politically divided Nepali voters and bring political stability in the country? These are the most frequently asked questions these days.
The Maoists had waged a decade-long war against the state for a "social and political transformation". The conflict took the lives of more than 16,000 people. Peace was brokered in 2006, and today, there is a general agreement among political observers that ideology has little to do with Nepal's communists and their newfound unity.
The main reason why this alliance took place at this moment, right before two crucial elections, is the Maoists' perception of their own weakness. After the Maoists entered the peace process, they performed quite well in 2008 Constituent Assembly (CA) elections, becoming the largest party. But by 2013, as the second CA polls showed, they had become a poorly organised, distant third party. Political observers say their entire party organisation became really weak, as they had gone through numerous splits, and many in the rank-and-file who fought for them, abandoned them. But despite their waning popularity, the Maoists remained on the scene.
UML, which had treated the Maoists as a spent force, especially after the second CA elections, realised after the recent local elections that the Maoists still had some fire in them and would remain the third-largest party. Most importantly, the leaders of both parties realised that whenever one of the two parties did well in an election, the other invariably suffered. They analysed the local election results and found that had the two parties fielded common candidates, they could have won more than 80 percent of the all contested seats in the local elections. This realisation seems to have hit home particularly after the Nepal Congress routed both communist parties in the third phase of the local election held in Province 2.
Hence, in the reckoning of the top UML and Maoist leaders, it made perfect sense to forge a Left electoral alliance ahead of the provincial and federal elections to consolidate the Left leaning voters. Both UML chief KP Sharma Oli and Maoist supremo Prachanda did their political calculations and realised that given the proportional representation electoral system adopted by Nepal, there was no possibility of any single party getting an absolute majority in the upcoming elections.
That being the case, there was a real chance of the continuation of the current Nepali Congress-Maoist coalition far into the future, not least because India seemed to have given this coalition its blessing. In that case, Oli's ambition of becoming the prime minister once again would have been thwarted.
The China Factor
However, the 'unity card' did not come out of nowhere. There is a general belief in the Nepali political analysts that this is more beneficial to China, and that might be true. China has always wanted a strong partner who can maintain stability and look after its security interests. And there are already rumours in Kathmandu, often backed by credible voices, that China put together the current communist coalition to counter the NC-Maoist coalition backed by India.
Despite India's active diplomacy in forging peace between the Maoists and the state, relations between India and Nepal have been strained in recent years. In 2015, under the premiership of UML leader KP Sharma Oli, Nepal faced a harsh blockade - India, displeased with Nepal's constitution, severely restricted the imports of fuel, food and other essentials from India - making life difficult for average Nepalis. India practiced the worst form of diplomacy - short-term and interfering. This is a result of that failure.
While it is true that the Communist Party of China has long advised its communist cousins in Nepal to form a united front, it would be a stretch to claim that the Left Alliance was formed at China's behest. Because there is no reason for China to pick favourites among the political parties in Nepal these days. It now has a solid support in all three major parties in Nepal: Nepali Congress, UML and Maoists.
Unity between two big parties with many strong and ambitious leaders is already proving complicated. As was seen during the candidacy registration for the provincial and parliamentary polls, issuing tickets for the elections proved very, very difficult for them. It's become a common knowledge that the second-tier leaders of the two parties who did not get election tickets are disappointed. Many of them have registered for the polls as independent candidates. Nayashakti, a breakaway faction of the Maoists, initially joined the Left Alliance but promptly broke away after a disagreement over electoral seats.
This new political twist has left many guessing about possible outcomes. What is clear is that the former rebels are the junior players in this partnership. How the top brass of the Maoists will swallow this reality, and how power is played out in this alliance, will determine where the story goes from here.
The unnecessary fear
The fear that the two largest 'communist' parties want to turn Nepal into a communist republic doesn't seem to be well-grounded. Because, as said earlier, this alliance and unity is all about power consolidation and not about communism. Both the UML and the Maoists have huge stakes in private banking. They are also known to have investments in private health, education and other sectors. So, the reality is we don't have Left parties, we just have parties who call themselves the Left!
For Political Stability?
There is a lot of uncertainty, but the new wave of consolidation could also herald a new era of political stability in the country. No government since 1990 has ruled for the full five years. With the polity fractured even more after the 2006 changes, governments in Nepal have changed every nine months or so.
With the UML-Maoist unity, there is a real possibility of a single party garnering an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections and getting to rule for the full five years.
Political stability means a lot for a country like Nepal located between two giant neighbours. On the other hand, the lack of political stability has been blamed for all our ills, including our slow development for the past two decades and a half. So, if the so-called Left Alliance can bring about political stability in the country, what's the harm?
The Left Alliance is right if it can deliver us political stability.