On Wednesday, while addressing the newly elected party representatives in the local units, CPN (Maoist Centre) Pushpa Kamal Dahal made two interesting points.
“The people have handed over the key to Nepalese politics to the Maoist Centre,” Dahal said. The statement stems from the fact that the party has become the third strongest force in the local elections, after the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML. The election results have instilled hope in the Maoist party that it could also retain the third position in the general elections, and in this case it can play a crucial role in forming or breaking governments.
“The Maoist Center has made a lot of effort to bring the Congress to power. But if it is also arrogant like the UML, it also needs to be scaled. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” Dahal told the same feature, alluding to the emergence of Congress as the biggest party in local polls.
Dahal’s statements come at a time when the ruling alliance is discussing general election dates.
Congress Speaker and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has resisted criticism from within the party to fight local elections in an alliance with the Maoist center, as well as the CPN (United Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party and Janamorcha Nepal.
By securing a respectable number of posts at the Maoist Centre, Deuba somehow gave Dahal political breath of fresh air at a time when his party’s popularity ratings were plummeting. But in doing so, Deuba also invited a source of misfortune.
The United Socialist is visibly unhappy with the results of local polls and has accused the Congress and the Maoist Center of not being honest.
Amid this, talk of a “left alliance” resurfaced, causing unease for Deuba and Congress.
Dahal, however, reiterated his commitment to the alliance on Wednesday. But with his increased bargaining power, not only the date of the elections, but also the country’s political course will likely be guided by the kind of deal Dahal strikes – or extracts from – Deuba.
Several congressional leaders the Post spoke to said Dahal’s recent statements earlier in parliament and on Wednesday clearly showed his heightened political ambitions and that he was going to lead a tough negotiation.
The Maoist chairman will now negotiate over seat sharing as well as his post as prime minister, they say.
“Prime Minister Deuba is concerned about a possible left-wing alliance between Oli and Dahal, no matter how far-fetched the idea seems at the moment, so he is in favor of holding an election as soon as possible,” said a member of the congressional office. “Thus, Deuba and Dahal could reach some kind of tactical agreement before the election dates are announced.”
Given the bitterness between Oli and Dahal, a reunion between them seems unlikely, observers say nothing is impossible in politics.
Dahal fell out with Oli after the latter refused to cede the head of government.
A two-time prime minister, Dahal still has ambitions to become prime minister at least once more.
If the alliance continues, Deuba and Dahal are expected to share the prime ministership for two and a half years each.
But the debatable question is: who will become prime minister after the local elections?
What if Oli offered Dahal the post of prime minister immediately after the elections?
And some even speculate that Dahal will become prime minister to lead an electoral government.
“Deuba is not only a smart but pragmatic politician, so he could offer Dahal to become the prime minister of the electoral government,” said Haribol Gajurel, a leader of the Maoist center. “Or else, an agreement between the two to share the post of prime minister is already in place.”
According to ruling party leaders, at a meeting of coalition partners on Monday, it was Deuba who proposed to hold the elections in mid-November.
“No decision has been made regarding the dates of the elections, however,” Gajurel said. “The elections could also be pushed back to February.”
Although the constitution states that the term of the House of Representatives is five years, it does not say from what date its term should be counted – whether from the date of the election, from the date of its meeting or from the date on which the Electoral Commission presented the list of elected members, or from the day on which the legislators were sworn in.
The first phase of general elections was held on November 26, 2017, and the House convened on March 5, 2018.
“We haven’t made a decision yet and the government hasn’t consulted with us either because there is enough time to hold the elections,” Election Commissioner Dinesh Thapaliya told the Post. “But the commission is of the opinion that federal and provincial elections should take place before December 1.”
According to him, for security reasons, this time too the elections will probably take place in two phases.
“We will ask the security agencies if they are ready to organize the elections in a single phase,” he told the Post. “If the situation is favourable, we can opt for a single-stage election.”
Even if the elections take place in mid-November at the earliest, the UML, whose morale is low after the local elections, has plenty of time to make efforts to break the ruling alliance.
Oli has repeatedly said he can break it in a jiffy, insinuating that the Maoist Center will leave the alliance as soon as it receives an offer it cannot refuse, which usually results in an offer to Dahal to live. in Baluwatar.
“There is no doubt that Dahal will play different cards to increase his bargaining power,” said Gagan Thapa, secretary general of the Nepali Congress. “It is also one hundred percent confirmed that Dahal will claim the post of prime minister after the election.”
According to Thapa, the local elections have certainly made the Maoist Center a decisive force in national politics.
“The way he spoke on Wednesday shows that Dahal will play several cards that we know. Certainly they will also negotiate with us,” Thapa said. “But so far, we have not received any proposal from him with the intention of becoming Prime Minister before the elections or after the elections. That, however, is highly anticipated.
In 2018, when the UML and the Maoist Center merged after sweeping elections, Oli and Dahal reportedly reached a gentleman’s agreement to take turns leading the government.
Oli’s non-compliance with the agreement led to the downfall of the party and the government.
This time, according to ruling party leaders, the chances of left unity are slim.
“However, some UML leaders, including General Secretary Shankar Pokhrel, are in talks with some Unified Socialist leaders according to our information and the Prime Minister is also aware,” said a Nepali Congress leader close to Deuba. “But we don’t see much chance of a leftist alliance.”
Not just the prime ministership, Dahal is likely to negotiate more electoral seats with Congress in the general election, which is also likely to put Deuba in a tight spot.
Of the 165 direct electoral districts to be won, Dahal could demand 40%, or 65 seats.
But there are also other coalition partners.
For the Congress, keeping fewer than 100 constituencies does not bode well, however, and insiders say 65 constituencies are likely to be split between the Maoist Center and other coalition partners.
A significant part of the Congress believes that if Deuba and Dahal do not unite, there is always a risk of a breakdown in the alliance.
Gajurel, the Maoist leader, ruled out an alliance with the UML.
“We saw how Oli betrayed us. We have a strong feeling that Deuba will not,” he told the Post.
It’s natural. Oli betrayed us but we believe Deuba will not betray,” Gajurel said. “We, however, are completely unaware of what the two leaders negotiated.”
Also on Wednesday, Dahal told lawmakers that the current ruling alliance will go beyond the elections and that there will be seat-sharing agreements between the ruling parties for the provincial and federal elections.
According to Congress leaders, all issues related to election dates, distribution of the prime minister’s mandate and seat sharing will depend on how Deuba and Dahal reach an agreement.
“If we don’t engage the Maoist Centre, it might side with the UML,” said Minendra Rijal, a Congress leader. “We cannot predict what will happen after the election, but before the election it is very difficult to give our word to Dahal that he will become Prime Minister for a period of time.”
According to him, it is natural for the Maoist party to keep its options open, including alliance with the UML.
“A political understanding between Deuba and Dahal is very important,” Rijal said. “But I don’t think there will be any agreement about sharing the premiership between them before the election.”