Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Political permutations and combinations

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The two court verdicts – one, restoring the dissolved parliament and other, annulling the unification of CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Centre) – have brought political tsunami in Nepal. The verdict also revealed the deep fallibility of political parties, that is, their vulnerability to legal decisions when they are bereft of a solid public base. A political party having a solid public foundation should not be worried by legal decisions over its title, election symbol or party flags.   

Currently, the four major political forces, namely, CPN (UML), Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist-Centre) and Janata Samajwadi Party (Jasapa) are jostling for power. None of them commands a simple majority in the House. Like in a game of chess, players are making their cautious moves and counter-moves.

Political uncertainty looms large

Given the political fluidity, no one is sure of the shape of things to come tomorrow. Are we heading towards a hung parliament situation like the one we experienced in mid-1990s? Or are we into nasty politics of intense horse trading, party defection and outright kidnapping of Members of Parliament?          

With the official splitting of Nepal Communist Party into two original outfits, Nepali Congress, hitherto, reduced to playing underdog, has found itself occupying the chair of a king-maker. But no sooner it is mulling over this, the rug seems to have been pulled by Jasapa. It is Jasapa making or, for that matter, breaking the deals.  

Politics is also called the game of possibilities. A number of possible political permutations and combinations exist, none giving an absolute power to anybody. In a hung parliament situation even an MP at the margin commands a substantial value. Currently, this is what Jasapa is seeking to extract. There is even a rumour that Mahant Thakur can be the next PM.    

Strategic advantage of CPN (UML)

However, CPN (UML) is having a strategic advantage. This comes from two reasons. First, it is already holding the power. It simply had to defend its position. The opponents first have to topple UML and then form next government. That is the single reason why PM KP Sharma Oli is refusing to resign and face no-trust motion in the parliament. It is for sure, by hook or crook, UML will hold onto power. If the parliament cannot appoint a new prime minister, by virtue of being into power, it can dissolve the parliament and prepare for next round of elections. This is also the reason why it is threatening to dissolve the reinstated parliament.

Second, CPN (UML) can form a coalition government, simply by partnering with any one of the three political forces. The remaining three have to come together. However, there is also a serious rift within CPN (UML) between two camps – one headed by PM Oli and other by Nepal-Khanal both claiming themselves to be legitimate CPN (UML). It is reported that PM Oli has a majority in the parliamentary party, however, mere defection by MPs loyal to Nepal-Khanal faction, can bring disaster to the camp. This is why Oli camp is preparing to take disciplinary actions. 

There is also a simmering dispute within Jasapa over possible alliance either with Oli faction or with Nepali Congress and Maoist coalition. Upendra Yadav and Dr Baburam Bhattarai are dead against the idea of joining hands with PM Oli while Thakur and Mahato, who currently hold majority MPs, are interested in joining hands with any party willing to fulfil their demands.

The fluid nature of politics has added complexity. In politics, there are no permanent friends and foes; one has to sleep with strange bedfellows. Who is going to sleep with whom? This is what the public is eagerly waiting and watching.

Looking at the summary of political agenda and voting strengths of the four big players in the parliament (Refer to the Table 1), clearly, the game is in favour of a coalition between NCP (UML) and Jasapa. Jasapa may have to give up its demand for constitutional amendment as it is next to impossible in the current situation; and contain with the goal of releasing their fellow MP, Resham Chaudhary, languishing inside the jail for his role in orchestrating and carrying out the 2015 Tikapur massacre. However, PM Oli’s anti-Madhesi stand in the past is as much a source of distraction for Jasapa as it is a source of attraction to get onto power. In the current vortex of politics, Jasapa may easily split into two factions – one supporting and the other opposed to PM Oli.  

Table 1: Political Parties, their Agenda and Voting Strengths

SN

Political Party/Agenda

Total Seats

Voting Strength (%)

1

CPN (UML):

  • No resignation
  • Hang onto power by any means
  • Defending no-trust motion
  • Heading the next election government

120

44

2

Nepali Congress:

  • Ouster of Oli Government
  • Early elections
  • Ready to head the next government

63

23

3

CPN (Maoist-Centre):

  • Ouster of Oli Government
  • Heading next coalition government, however open to negotiation
  • No early elections, the next government to run for remaining two years
  • No immediate withdrawal of support to Oli Govt; instead demanding PM’s resignation on moral ground

53

20

4

Janata Samajwadi Party (Jasapa):

  • Getting release of MP Resham Chaudhary
  • Constitutional amendment for inclusive agenda
  • Forming a national government for early elections
  • Supporting the next coalition government from outside

34

12

Note: The percentage is calculated with a base of 270 MPs. Out of 275 MPs in the lower house, one has passed away and four MPs are under suspension.

 

The threesome, Nepali Congress, CPN (Maoist-Centre) and Jasapa can also come together to form a coalition government. They have a common agenda of getting rid of the Oli Government. However, having three partners could become a crowd; moreover, there still remains the problem of finding an acceptable leader to head the coalition government. Although Prachanda has publicly admitted that he is open to negotiation and does not aspire to head the next government, Nepali Congress is particularly irritated by the Maoists not withdrawing its support to Oli Government or registering a fresh no-trust motion.

Though this is now reported as a strategic move to deter Jasapa making deals with PM Oli and allowing the present government turning into a government by the largest party. This will allow PM Oli to have a breathing space of 30 days required for seeking vote of confidence in the parliament. In politics 30 days could be a long time to make impacts. There is also rumour of having Nepali Congress and Maoists sharing the booty on a turn by turn basis.

Dr Baburam Bhattarai’s proposal to have a national government designed primarily for early elections could be a face saving device. But there could still be a problem of belling the cat or power sharing arrangements between the four major players. PM Oli’s obduracy to resign may come as a bottleneck to forming a national government.

Internal dynamics

It is the internal dynamics that complicates the politics. Each of the four political forces does not constitute a single, monolithic party. There are divergent views, interests, positions and even personality clashes within all of the four big political parties. At least, within Nepali Congress there is now a concerted voice that it should lead the next government. Otherwise, the party itself was divided over several opinions.

At the end, political dust is expected to be settled through juxtaposing three factors. First, constitutional provisions related to forming the government. As the majority government has come to an end with the formal splitting of NCP, the political parties are eyeing on other sequential provisions – a possibility of coalition government or a government by the largest party and finally, the government by a charismatic leader. The second factor will be the explicit and implicit political agenda of the four big parties and their commonality with the coalition partner(s). Third, the relative attractiveness of getting into the power. Remember, the party in power enjoys immunity from vote of no trust motion for next two years plus an added bonus of holding next round of general elections. The politicians will rarely like to miss this opportunity. 

Published on 21 March 2021

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