January 2023 Analysis: Domestic Politics & Governance

Posted by : Sourav Dahal


Date : 2023-01-30

On 10 January, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) secured a vote of confidence at the House of Representative (HoR), after which he expanded the cabinet on 17 January. On 19 January, CPN UML candidate Devraj Ghimire was elected as the speaker of the House of Representative. Following the Supreme Court’s verdict that the Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane had failed to follow the due process of acquiring new citizenship certificate of Nepal, after giving up his citizenship certificate of the United States, minister Lamichhane resigned from his post. On the opposition front, discontents have soared against the leadership in the Nepali Congress, over failing to keep the electoral coalition of the November polls intact, and for continued deferral of the Central Committee meetings after the polls.

Timeline of Major Events

Date Events
10 January PM Dahal secured vote of confidence.
17 January PM Dahal expanded the cabinet.
19 January CPN UML candidate Devraj Ghimire elected as the speaker of the House of Representative.
27 January Deputy PM and Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane resigned after the Supreme Court annulled his status as a lawmaker.

PM Dahal’s Floor Test and Expansion of the Cabinet

On 10 January, PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) secured a vote of confidence, receiving 268 votes in the 275-strong House of Representatives. Apart from the members of the ruling alliance, lawmakers from the Nepali Congress, CPN (Unified Socialist) and Loktrantrik Samajwadi Party too voted in favor of the confidence motion. Only two lawmakers representing Nepal Workers and Peasant Party and Rastriya Janamorcha voted against.
On 17 January, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) expanded the cabinet, appointing 15 ministers from five member-parties of the ruling alliance. Two other parties of the ruling alliance, Janata Samajwadi Party Nepal, and Nagarik Unmukti Party, however, didn’t join the government. With this, six of the ministers are from the CPN Maoist Center, including the PM, eight from the CPN UML, four from the RSP, four from the RPP, and one from the Janamat Party.

The ruling-coalition struggled to expand the cabinet for weeks, as a consensus had to be reached on sharing limited ministries amongst as many as seven member parties. Further, each party of the alliance made attempts to ensure important ministries for themselves which added to the challenge. The CPN UML which is the largest party of the government demanded important portfolios like Finance Ministry, Ministry of Foreign Affairs amongst others; and likewise other parties of the alliance also lobbied to bag attractive ministries. The difficulty in cabinet expansion is reflective of challenges that coalition governments usually face in ensuring good governance and in taking swift actions.

Early Signs of Fissures Within the Ruling Coalition

Although PM Dahal’s government managed to receive a thumping approval of the lower house, there are early indications of fissures within the ruling alliance. The main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) is reported to have supported the Dahal’s government with a quid pro quo motive – the NC is expecting support of the CPN Maoist Center and other parties of the ruling alliance in the forthcoming presidential poll slated for 9th March in which a member-party of the ruling alliance CPN UML is also likely to field a candidate. PM Dahal together with a few second-rung leaders of the Maoist Center, after the confidence motion, have argued for selecting a president in consensus of all major parties. This is, perhaps, an admission in a euphemized tone that the Maoist Center could indeed support the NC’s candidate. While the government was formed, the UML and the Maoist Center had reportedly agreed to on power-sharing such that the CPN UML would get the President and the speaker of the lower house. The CPN UML’s candidate, Mr Devraj Ghimire, was appointed as the speaker of the lower house on 19 January but these new developments over the month have put the ruling coalition in test. The CPN Maoist Center has now denied any such arrangements for power-sharing between the two.

Even though the president serves as the ceremonial non-partisan state-head, the post of president is of major interest to the parties. In the past, the institution of presidency has been occasionally used by political parties and leaders to serve their interests. For instance, presidents too have, at times, resorted to partisan proclivities to favor their erstwhile parties. The current President Bidya Devi Bhandari has got embroiled in one controversy after another during her two-time tenure – and was even complicit in the unconstitutional dissolution of the lower house twice by the leader of her erstwhile party, then PM KP Sharma Oli. It is, therefore, to check the influence of CPN UML within the system which has already bagged the speaker of the lower house, supporting the Nepali Congress’s Presidential candidate could be the Maoist Center’s strategic move.
If the CPN Maoist Center chooses to do so, there could yet another major realignment between parties. The possibility of the Nepali Congress joining, and the CPN UML exiting from the government, can’t be ruled out. As the last resort, the Maoist Center could support the CPN UML in the presidential poll, given that the candidate isn’t someone close to the CPN UML’s top leader KP Sharma Oli – and parties could also reach a consensus on a non-political candidate. Regardless, the political scenario is bound to remain volatile until the presidential election.

Meanwhile, the Maoist Center is also seeking to form a sub-alliance in partnership with the two parties in the opposition, Janata Samajwadi Party and the CPN Unified Socialist. These parties, together with the Nepal Samajwadi Party, have decided to explore grounds for cooperation, alliance or even unification. This could also be read as an early preparation on the part of the Maoist Center for the possible realignment between parties.
On the other side, the CPN UML has sought to build up and strengthen its relationship with two parties, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and Rastriya Swantantra Party (RSP) – to the dismay of the CPN Maoist Center. The close ties between these three was seen in the first month which could have irked PM Dahal and his party. These two unofficial sub-alliances led by two main partners of the ruling coalition, CPN UML and CPN Maoist Center, have further complicated the matter.

To add to this, the current ruling coalition formed in collaboration of two major communist parties is perceived as closer to China, even though PM Dahal has sought to establish equally amicable relationship with both neighbors. This perception, if it holds true for India as well, could induce instability as India could try to facilitate the formation of a “friendly government”. Likewise, China could put its efforts to keep the collaboration between two main communist parties intact like it had done in the past. In 2020-2021, China had gone to lengths to prevent the split of the Nepal Communist Party, formed after the unification of the CPN UML and CPN Maoist Center. This time round, the hung parliament elected after the November polls has provided space for foreign actors to influence coalition-politics which doesn’t portend well for stability and good governance. The parties are occupied with matters of coalition politics while good governance has taken backseat.

Intra-party feuds within the Nepali Congress

The opposition faction of the Nepali Congress was against the decision to vote for the PM Dahal’s confidence motion. Both general secretaries, Gagan Thapa and Biswo Prakash Sharma, along with a few other second-rung leaders criticized the move, however, they eventually fell in the line after the whip was issued to abide by the decision. The establishment faction attempted to portray the move as strategic one to ensure success in the forthcoming presidential poll, and the party has also been putting efforts towards the same end. However, as the uncertainty looms, the dissatisfaction with the top leadership has soared. On 30th January, more than two dozen leaders of the Deuba camp held a meeting criticizing role of the party president for indecisiveness, continued deferral of the central committee meeting after the November polls, and for the failure of party to keep the electoral alliance intact. The party has long been plagued by factional politics, and the Deuba camp so far has been formidable. However, if the party fails to secure the post of presidency, party’s top leader Sher Bahadur Deuba is likely to face stiff opposition from within and outside his faction.

House Minister Rabi Lamichhane and His Citizenship Controversy

On 27 January, deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs Rabi Lamichhane resigned after the Supreme Court found him guilty for producing invalid citizenship certificate to contest the parliamentary election. Lamichhane resigned as the President of the Rastriya Swatantra Party, while the Supreme Court also annulled his status as the lawmaker. Lamichhane had chosen not to re-acquire Nepali citizenship after renouncing his United States citizenship, and had used the same old citizenship ceritificate to contest the November polls. According to Nepal’s law, once a Nepali citizen acquires citizenship of the next country, their Nepali citizenship is rendered obsolete. On 29 January, Lamichhane acquired a new citizenship certificate completing the due legal process. The Rastriya Swantra Party (RSP) then asked the PM to restore him as the Home Minister. The CPN UML backed the claim, however, PM Dahal has decided to keep the home ministry with himself until the Supreme Court releases full verdict of the case.

The case of Mr Lamichhane has exposed the loopholes within the system with some pertinent questions over national security. That someone with no valid citizenship certificate could contest the election, and then become the minister of the nation is telling in itself. Further, questions were raised if Mr Lamichhane as a home minister could influence the investigation over his citizenship controversy, and a case was filed in Supreme Court asking for an interim order regarding the same. On 6th January, the Supreme Court however denied to issue an interim order, allowing minister Lamichhane to continue his duty. While almost half a million eligible people, representing historically marginalized communities are denied of their citizenship rights, a foreign national representing the dominant Khas-Arya community could easily bypass legal mechanisms into becoming a minister is also reflective of the systemic discrimination that prevails.