Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Political turbulence

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Fridays have a notorious standing in Nepali politics. This is not to say all Fridays are ominous in Nepali politics but most politically crucial incidents happen on Fridays. On Friday 27 January, Nepali politics got two shocking jolts.

First, after two days of deliberation, Maoists HQ officially decided to opt for national consensus in the upcoming elections for the president and, they did not forget to add, “national consensus also includes UML consensus”. This was clearly meant not to offend UML by renegading on the commitment given to them.

How the Maoists are going to strike a balance between two diametrically opposite forces – NC and UML – in search for a common president leaves a big question mark. The most Maoists can do is to toss a coin to decide the next president. Obviously, NC must be happy with the Maoist decision to have a president of national consensus. We still have not read UML’s official reaction to the Maoists’ proposal.          

From hero to zero

The second jolt is far more devastating than the consensus president. On the same day, in late afternoon, the Supreme Court annulled MP status of Rabi Lamichhane, the president of Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), including his all-powerful Home Minister status, on the ground of not holding an active Nepali citizenship.

The writ verdict is expected to have a far reaching impact not just on his political career and the status and functioning of his new political outfit RSP but on the longevity and stability of the coalition government and possibly unfolding of a new political turbulence in the country.

An online news portal has commented that his “meteoric rise” in Nepali politics has turned into a “steep fall”. Literally, within six months he has turned from hero to zero. Lamichhane had to grapple with three issues – citizenship, holding dual passport and, of course, the conflict of interest issue which has now been put to a close after his resignation from all public positions.

The writ verdict is expected to have a far reaching impact not just on his political career and the status and functioning of his new political outfit RSP but on the longevity and stability of the coalition government and possibly unfolding of a new political turbulence in the country.

What will be RSP's reaction to this new political crisis? Will they leave government as a show of displeasure or hang on to power? Which party will now oversee the Ministry of Home Affairs? Will it be RSP or RPP or JSP or the PM himself? Upendra Yadav, JSP President, is reported to be eager to join the government, if and only if, his party is given the vacated portfolio with a status of DPM.        

Blessing in disguise

If the first jolt put the Maoists into a difficult situation – having to decide whom to please – NC or UML, the second jolt has come as a blessing in disguise. PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal "Prachanda" clearly knows that men in RPP and RSP are Oli’s henchmen in disguise. In Nepali, there is a saying, “a dirt to be swept aside has been blown away by the wind”. Prachanda must be feeling relaxed with the Court order.

The Maoists' search for a consensual presidential candidate is a ploy to loose Oli’s grip onto the power. Definitely, Comrade Prachanda is not a fool to seek needless  confidence vote from NC when he already has secured far more votes than what is required. Irrespective to what NC critiques say about NC giving confidence vote to Prachanda, this scribe has assumed it to be a strategic move, a game-changer in Nepali politics. And this is coming true.

What next?

With the elections to the chair of the president around the corner, Lamichhane debacle will soon turn into a storm in the tea cup. The eyes will now focus on the new occupant to the Sheetal Niwas. So far, NC strategy is to have its nominee in the presidential palace, if not, then to defeat UML at any cost. For public consumption they have argued for safeguarding the Constitution (from the ills of Oli) and securing power balance when, in fact, the real motive is to split seven party alliance and to restore the power of the five party alliance. They have taken a policy to not to irritate Prachanda.

UML strategy is to secure Maoists' commitment on earlier power-sharing agreement; to have their nominee as the President and the Speaker. As a tactical ploy, they can delay the elections. But this cannot go beyond 10 March. Oli is meeting Prachanda almost on a daily basis and keeping the latter engaged. With Lamichhane in doldrums, one can fairly expect Oli churning out a new (vicious) strategy obviously in cahoots with RPP. 

Meanwhile, Maoists are not that stupid. While floating a proposal of “national consensus president” they are having another eye on “full five year-term guarantee”. Who knows one day Prachanda will propose for a five-year term in lieu of Maoists votes for the president? To neutralize UML control, Prachanda may co-opt CPN-United Socialist into the government.

UML strategy is to secure Maoists' commitment on earlier power-sharing agreement; to have their nominee as the President and the Speaker. As a tactical ploy, they can delay the elections. But this cannot go beyond 10 March.

Prachanda is already wary with UML capturing the state after having their nominee in the Sheetal Niwas. They have even started accusing UML of breaching the agreement reached on the eve of seven-party alliance. These included pushing Prachanda to appoint four ministers, as compared to one agreed, holding all powerful ministries, and Oli justifying his House dissolution moves. Among the litany of accusations, he has one more to make, that is, disrupting Cabinet protocol by pushing him to appoint a junior member as DPM. This infuriated his colleagues and barred them from joining the government.

With the Court order, Prachanda must be feeling relaxed now. But this will be like a child enjoying urinal warmth. The discomfort of the smell, the wet and the cold will soon wake and make the child cry.    

Published on 29 January 2023

 

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