P.K.BALACHANDRAN | 7 JANUARY, 2018
Which of the two constituents will be in the chair?
COLOMBO: 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.
And yet, till the date, a new government has not been formed and the Nepali Congress (NC) headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba, continues to be in the seat of power in Kathmandu.
Elections to the Upper House of parliament – National Assembly – have been delayed because of differences over the mode of election. The seven Provincial Assemblies are yet to be convened. New governments are yet to be formed at the provincial level. Governors to the provinces are yet to the appointed. Even fixing the capitals of the provinces has become a subject of agitations.
A combination of administrative and political factors have created these uncertainties.
As regards the National Assembly, the 59-member Upper House comprises 56 elected by the members of the seven Provincial Assemblies, the Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs of the Local Bodies, and three others nominated by the President to ensure the representation of marginal groups.
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 has decided to hold the National Assembly elections on February 7.
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. In a merged Leftist party, which of the two constituents will be the chair? Will the Prime Minister’s office and the chair of the merged party go by rotation?
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 been discussed, including the rotation of top offices.
The other issue is: which of the two leaders is a genuine communist? Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda, being a Maoist with a revolutionary past, claims to be the more genuine one having led a violent movement for years. Oli, on the other hand, considers himself to be a more practical communist though he too had led a violent movement earlier on in the struggle against the Nepalese monarchy.
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.
It is therefore not certain as to what kind of government Nepal is going to have. Will the Left Alliance stay or will it break with Prachanda joining Deuba and the Madhesi leaders to form a government?
Both India and China are waiting in the wings for the outcome of this competition for power as both have high stakes in Nepal.
However, K.P.Oli’s CPN (UML) is most likely to be in the driver’s seat. Therefore, New Delhi has reasons to worry. Oli had led the Nepalese nationalist resentment against the Madhesi-implemented and India-backed border blockade in 2015 which caused immense suffering in Nepal. Oli, who was then in power, swung to the Chinese side, forcing India to back Deuba and Prachanda to throw him out. The successor Deuba government cancelled a Chinese-funded US$ 2.5 billion hydropower project.
But Deuba’s lackluster performance, indecisions on the Madhesi issue and inability to complete earthquake relief works, brought about Prachanda’s defection to the side of Oli. The defection led to Deuba’s defeat in the parliamentary 2017 parliamentary elections.
China’s footprint in Nepal is likely to expand as 2018 unfolds. Even with Deuba in power, and against India’s advice, Kathmandu had sign the Belt and Road Agreement with China for infrastructural development. India has many projects in Nepal and has a strong hold on its power sector. It also has a responsibility to safeguard the political interest of the Madhesis because this community has links with the Indian State of Bihar.
Above all, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has his “Neighborhood First” policy to safeguard because without being a force in the neighborhood, India cannot be considered to be the “regional power” – a tag it needs to secure permanent membership in the UN Security Council on par with its arch rival China.