December 2022 Analysis: Domestic Politics and Governance

Posted by : Sourav Dahal


Date : 2022-12-30

Domestic Politics and Governance

Throughout the month of December, the political parties were occupied with attempts at forming a new government. On 19 December, President Bidya Devi Bhandari called on political parties to form the government within seven days. In the last-minute drama that unfolded on 25 December, CPN Maoist Center left the Nepali Congress-led alliance and joined hands with the CPN UML and other four parties to form the government under the leadership of its top leader Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda). The newly elected Prime Minister Dahal introduced an eight-member cabinet with three deputy prime ministers, but is yet to form a full-fledged cabinet. The CPN Unified Socialist, which is yet to decide on PM Dahal’s government, however has sought the leftist unity, and has also begun early talks to unify with the Janata Samajwadi Party. With realignments in coalitions, the Nepali Congress is now pushed to the opposition bench in the federal parliament, and seemingly in all seven provinces as well. Following this, the opposition faction of the Nepali Congress has upped its ante against the establishment faction.  

Timeline of Major Events

         Date                                                 Events
19 December   President called political parties to form a new government within seven days.
21 December   Sher Bahadur Deuba elected as the parliamentary leader of the Nepali Congress.
23 December   Newly elected lawmakers of the Lower House were sworn in.
25 December   CPN UML and CPN Maoist Center agreed to form a coalition government under the leadership of Pushpa Kamal Dahal                 (Prachanda).
26 December  CPN Maoist Center’s top leader Prachanda took oath as the new PM.

Realignment in Coalitions Post the November Polls

Collapse of the Nepali Congress-led Democratic Left Alliance

On 19 December, President Bidya Devi Bhandari called on political parties to form a new government within seven days. The November polls had elected a hung parliament giving a way to different possibilities of realignments between parties. Up until the deadline to submit the name of Prime Minister, the five-party electoral alliance led by the Nepali Congress held a series of meetings to decide upon the consensus candidate. The two main parties of the alliance, the Nepali Congress and the CPN Maoist Center were said to have agreed informally on heading the government approximately for 2.5 years each in the five year term of the HoR. However, both parties remained adamant on their wish to secure the first term of premiership which ultimately led to the coalition’s undoing.

Formation of the Federal Government

Right after the November polls, second-rung leaders of both the CPN UML and CPN Maoist Center were seeking to form a new coalition. In the last minute drama that unfolded on 25 December, CPN UML agreed to propose CPN Maoist Center’s top leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) as the Prime Minister. Apart from these two communist parties, four other parties - the Rashtriya Swatantra Party, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party, the Janamat Party, the Janata Samajwadi Party, and the Rastriya Unmukti Party joined the alliance. It is reported that PM Dahal has agreed to support the CPN UML’s candidate for the posts of the President and the speaker of the Lower House. While CPN Maoist Center has staked a claim for vice-presidency, the Janata Samajada too has claimed for the post.
On 26 December, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) was sworn in as the new Prime Minister. PM Dahal then unveiled an eight-member cabinet with three deputy prime ministers and four other ministers. Mr. Bishnu Poudel, the vice chair of the UML was appointed as the Deputy PM and Finance Minister, senior vice-chair of the Maoist Center Narayan Kaji Shrestha as Deputy Prime Minister and Physical Infrastructure and Transport Minister, and the RSP Chief Rabi Lamichhane as the Deputy PM and Home Minister. The Janamat Party sent Abdul Khan, and Damodar Bhandari, Jwala Singh Sah and Rajendra Rai as ministers representing CPN UML. These four ministers are yet to be assigned with ministries. The Janata Samajwadi Party hasn’t sent any ministers yet while the Rastriya Prajatantra Party has decided to not join the government despite lending support for it. PM Dahal is expected to go on a floor test on 10 January.

Fragile Coalition, Low Expectations

The coalition governments have been a constant in Nepali politics ever since the 1990s. But this has led to political instability. Even the last time round, the CPN UML and the CPN Maoist Center had first formed an electoral coalition for the 2017 federal and provincial polls, and then later merged to form the united communist party, namely Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The NCP was embroiled in endless intraparty feuds which gave a way to unconstitutional dissolution of the lower house twice by the erstwhile Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. Our past experiences with the hung parliaments, and coalition governments have raised doubts if this fragile coalition of as many as six parties with differing ideologies and policies could ensure political stability. Further, it is also difficult for a coalition government to deliver - and if the early days of this newly formed coalition are anything to go by, management of coalition members and leaders is likely to be a daunting task. Good governance and delivery inevitably take a backseat, when the ruling coalition is occupied with internal management.
To add to that, a wrong precedent has been set, this time round, by the CPN Maoist Center which chose to immediately switch sides after the polls. The CPN Maoist Center had fought elections with parties of the Democratic Left Alliance led by the Nepali Congress, with common electoral agendas and a commitment to keep the coalition intact even after the polls. It reflects poorly upon the Maoist Center and as well the Nepali Congress for refusing to budge from their stances of premiership. In doing so, those parties failed to abide by the spirit of coalition politics. This drama is further reflective of the fact that coalition politics has played its part in reducing elections to arithmetic games.

Intra-party feud within the Nepali Congress

The Nepali Congress’s President Sher Bahadur Deuba was elected as the parliamentary leader of the party on 21st December. While Deuba secured sixty-four votes, party’s secretary Mr. Gagan Kumar Thapa garnered twenty five votes. Up until 24th December, the odds were in Nepali Congress’s favor to lead the new coalition government. The party had secured the highest number of seats in the federal parliament, 89 out of a total 275. However, the Nepali Congress failed to keep the electoral coalition intact - and is now pushed to the opposition bench not just in the federal parliament but likely in all seven provinces. Following this development, calls for soul-searching grew within the party, and the opposition faction led by Shekhar Koirala and Gagan Thapa upped its ante against the establishment faction led by the ex-PM Sher Bahadur Deuba. Some leaders even called for the resignation of the leader Deuba while others called for early special convention so as to oust Deuba from the top position. The party, for long, has been mired in intra-party factional conflicts which have further intensified following the post-election fiasco.

Early Talks for the Communist Unification and Formation of the Socialist Forum

The CPN Unified Socialist formed in 2021 by a dissident faction of the CPN UML couldn't get the status of a “national party” having failed to cross the three percent threshold of total votes cast under the Party-List Proportional Representation System. The party is yet to decide on whether or not to join the government. However, the party has decided to seek unity of all leftist forces - particularly with the CPN Maoist Center and CPN UML. The CPN Unified Socialist is also reported to be in early talks for unification with the Janata Samajwadi Party; and buzz of a Socialist Forum - an alliance of all these parties - is also making rounds. The chief of the CPN UML, the largest communist party, Mr. KP Sharma Oli, is now a bete noire of two top leaders of the CPN Unified Socialist, Mr. Madhav Kumar Nepal and Mr. Jhala Nath Khanal. Thus, whether or not the initiative of the CPN Unified Socialist to unify all leftist forces gains traction is largely contingent on how the relationship between the top leaders of those parties unfolds in the future.