The prospect of unifying the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) and forming a stable government as mandated by the people through the recently-held elections is marred by growing mistrust between the two parties.
--BY SHANT SHARMA
When the two largest 'communist' parties of the country, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre), announced to forge an electoral alliance for the provincial and parliamentary elections right after the Dashain holidays and unify the two parties after the polls, there was optimism in the air as the people took it as a solid step towards achieving political stability in the country. The people endorsed the announcement by giving their valuable votes to the left alliance which was able to win nearly a two-thirds majority in the crucial elections.
However, as the formation of the new government gets delayed over the National Assembly row, mistrust between the UML and the Maoist Center has deepened, putting the party unification process at risk. It seems there’s lack of trust among leaders of the left alliance over formation of the new government and unification of the two 'left' parties. This is made evident by the remarks of some of the top leaders of the alliance.
Mistrust among the leaders of the left alliance has grown lately as Maoist Center leaders are apprehensive that the UML may choose to ally with other parties to form a new government amid uncertainty hovering over the party unification process.
The Maoist Center first grew suspicious of the UML after UML General Secretary Ishwar Pokharel recently declared that the new prime minister (from the left alliance) will be both the unified party's chairman and its parliamentary leader. Pokharel's statement was against the 'gentlemen's agreement' said to have been reached between UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli and Maoist Center Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal to rotate the prime ministership and chairmanship of the unified party between them.
Although Pokharel later tried to clear the air, saying that they could agree on a time frame for sharing all these posts between Oli and Dahal, the mistrust between the two parties did not end. Given Dahal's unpredictable nature, UML leaders too grew apprehensive of the Maoist Center after a section of the Nepali Congress (NC) leaders started lobbying to make Dahal the new prime minister.
In the parliamentary elections held recently, the UML got 80 seats and the Maoist Center 36 out of the total 165 seats under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system. Similarly, NC, Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) secured 23, 10 and 11 seats respectively.
Although the Election Commission (EC) is yet to declare the results for the 110 seats under proportional representation, simple arithmetic in the 275-member House of Representatives suggests that the UML will be in a position to form the new government with the support of FSFN alone, while the Maoist Center can form a government under its leadership only if it lines up the support of NC, FSFN and the RJPN.
Not surprisingly, UML also began backdoor negotiations with the Upendra Yadav-led FSFN to form a new government at the center. According to sources, Oli’s meeting with FSFN Chairman Yadav to ‘discuss government formation’ didn’t go down well with Dahal, while Oli was unimpressed by Dahal’s statement that the two parties had agreed to share the prime minister’s post on rotation basis.
While Yadav did not commit support to an UML-led government unless their demand for constitution amendment was addressed, Oli's overtures only made the Maoists more skeptical about the UML. Already frustrated over the delay in the party unification process, Dahal has alleged in public that the UML was trying to form a government without Maoist support.
"There was an effort to form a new government with the support of Upendra [Yadav]. But since he is not in a position to leave the other Madhes-based parties, a leftist government is not possible without the support of the Maoist Center," Dahal said at a function in Kawasoti, Nawalparasi, on Dec 23. He also claimed that the NC had offered him support to become prime minister for the next five years, apparently to break the left alliance.
Amid growing dispute and uncertainty over the formation of the new government and party unification, the two 'leftist' parties have lately also stood at odds over the formation of the National Assembly. While the UML is rooting for a majority-based electoral system for the National Assembly, the Maoist Center has moved closer to the NC, saying that they could opt for single transferrable votes to ensure representation of the opposition party in the upper house.
UML leader Pradeep Gyawali, however, denies that there are any mistrust between Oli and Dahal. “It is nothing but a conspiracy theory. A complex issue such as party unification takes time,” Gyawali said, “Talks are underway on the unification modality and government formation.”
Party unification in itself is a challenging process, as leaders of both parties will have to be demoted. The fact that the Maoist Center has around 4,000 members in its central convention organising committee makes the unification even more challenging. Managing the aspirations of the second-rung leaders in the two parties while going for the unification will be a very challenging task.
Only time will tell how the two parties will resolve their differences to effect unification and ensure political stability in the country.