February 2023 Analysis - Domestic Politics & Governance

Posted by : Sourav Dahal


Date : 2023-02-28

The ruling coalition of the CPN (Maoist Center) and the CPN-UML and four other parties collapsed having failed to reach a consensus on the presidential candidate for the poll. The CPN-UML left the government, and the Rastriya Prajatantra party followed suit. The Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP)s too exited the government over PM Dahal’s refusal to reinstate the RSP’s top leader Mr Rabi Lamichhane as the Home Minister. The Nepali Congress has nominated its senior leader Mr. Ram Chandra Poudel, and the CPN-UML has nominated its vice president Mr. Subash Chandra Nemwang as contestants for the presidential poll. With the support of the CPN (Maoist Center), CPN (Unified Socialist) and other smaller parties, the NC’s candidate Poudel is likely to get elected as the next President of Nepal. The Nepali Congress and the CPN (Unified Socialist) are expected to join the Dahal-led government after the presidential poll, and PM Dahal is likely to gain confidence of the parliament.

Timeline of Major Events

Date Events
5 February Ministers from Rastriya Swantantra Party quit the government en masse.
25 February Ministers representing Rastriya Prajatantra Party quit the government en masse.
25 February Mr. Ram Chandra Poudel from the Nepali Congress, and Mr. Subas Kumar Nemwang from the CPN-UML filed candidacy for the President.
27 February CPN-UML withdrew support to the Dahal government, ministers resigned en masse.

Ruling Coalition Collapses

The ruling coalition of the CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Center), with four other parties collapsed failing to strike a deal on the post of presidency – the election is slated for 9th March. The two main parties, CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Center), apparently had agreed on a power-sharing such that the CPN-UML would get speaker of the lower house and the president. However, the CPN (Maoist Center) refused to support the CPN-UML’s candidate for president – and this led to the coalition’s undoing in just three months.

Factors Behind Coalition’s Undoing

The fissures within the ruling coalition had surfaced right from the start. There are quite a few reasons behind coalition’s rocky ride. First, the coalition was hastily hatched in the last-minute drama when the CPN (Maoist Center) switched its side and joined hands with the CPN-UML to form a government under the leadership of its top leader, Mr. Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda. In the federal and provincial polls held last November, the CPN (Maoist Center) had forayed into the election in a five-party electoral alliance led by the Nepali Congress. While the electoral alliance had enough numbers to form the government, the Nepali Congress and the CPN (Maoist Center) both refused the let the next party lead the government for the first two and half years. Then, the CPN-UML backed Pushpa Kamal Dahal in his bid for premiership, however, the two top leaders of these parties – PM Prachanda and CPN-UML’s chief KP Sharma Oli – have had quite a difficult relationship over the years. The coalition was a marriage of convenience but it failed to take even a smooth start, and problems were visible right from the beginning.
The CPN-UML’s top leader KP Sharma Oli reportedly attempted to influence and even control functioning of the government, portraying himself as the leader at the helm of the coalition, which had put PM Dahal in a difficult position. The CPN-UML had secured the speaker of the lower house, and sought-after ministries like the Ministry of Finance, Foreign Affairs among others – and had the CPN (Maoist Center) conceded the post of President to the CPN-UML, Mr Oli would have further consolidated power within the system. Although the President is non-partisan head of the state, the institution of presidency has been used by political parties in their favor. The sitting President Bidya Devi Bhandari had even resorted to unconstitutional measures during her two-time tenure to favor her erstwhile party CPN-UML, and Mr Oli. CPN-UML’s candidate being elected as the President could have enabled Mr Oli and the CPN-UML to pull leverages against PM Dahal. Thus, it was in the interest of CPN (Maoist Center), to rather support the Nepali Congress’s president, rather than choose someone close to Mr. Oli.

The CPN-UML had also attempted at forming a sub-alliance with the Rastriya Swatantra Party and Rastriya Prajatnatra Party which were heading other sought-after ministries like Ministry of Home Affairs and Urban Planning (full name). Oli’s push to reinstate Mr Lamichhane as the Home Minister again after his resignation from the post following the Supreme Court verdict on the status of the citizenship certificate, irked PM Dahal. Added, Mr Oli’s defense of his unconstitutional moves twice to dissolve the lower house in 2020 and 2021, in parliamentary hearings, had further irked PM Dahal.

While Mr Oli had remained PM Dahal’s bete noire for years, on the other side, PM Dahal has had good rapport with the top leader of the Nepali Congress, Mr. Sher Bahadur Deuba. Despite having failed to continue with the electoral coalition, Deuba and Dahal share amicable relationship, and the Nepali Congress had even voted for the confidence motion of PM Dahal in January. Given Oli’s proclivity to be at the helm of government affairs, even the second-rung leaders of the Maoist Centre had felt that it was easier to run a government in partnership with the Nepali Congress.

It is also reported that the CPN-UML, unlike the Nepali Congress, hadn’t shown interest to put an end to issues surrounding transitional justice which is of the utmost importance to the CPN (Maoist Center)’s leaders, as some are accused of committing serious crimes during the ten-years long Maoist insurgency.

All these led to the undoing of the collaboration between the CPN (Maoist Center) and the CPN-UML. For the upcoming presidential polls, the CPN (Maoist Center) together with the CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajwadi Party, and Janamat Party have supported the Nepali Congress candidate, Mr Ram Chandra Poudel for the post of presidency, while the CPN-UML has fielded its vice-president Mr. Subash Chandra Nemwang. If nothing out of the ordinary political development occurs, Mr Poudel is likely to be elected as the next President of Nepal, and following that, the Nepali Congress is expected to join the government. Once the CPN (Maoist Center) decided to not support the CPN-UML’s candidate for President, the CPN-UML’s ministers resigned en masse on 27 February. The ministers representing the Rastriya Prajatantra Party had resigned on 25 February. Both of these parties have also retracted the support for the Dahal government, while the Rastriya Swatantra Party hasn’t yet done so.

Geopolitical Dimensions of the Realignment

When the two major communist parties collaborated to form the government, Beijing was upbeat about the development– this was reflected in heightened engagement of Beijing as soon as PM Dahal took over the office. PM Dahal has sought to maintain amicable ties with both the neighbors even though the collaboration between two communist parties was perceived to be in the interest of China. Despite PM Dahal’s reassuring attempts, New Delhi felt that the communist collaboration could be a challenge in the long run – and therefore, the new realignment in coalition is in the interest of India. Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra arrived Nepal on 10th February for a three days visit. During the visit, Mr. Kwatra met with top-level political leadership, and is reported to have shown interest over the forthcoming presidential election. Whether or not, Mr. Kwatra’s visit influenced the political development post his visit aren’t known. However, conflicting interest of neighbors, and political parties’ proclivity to tilt towards either China or India has been influencing the course of Nepal’s politics over the years, for worse. This is one major challenge that needs to be tackled to safeguard our national interest.

Perils of the Hung Parliament and Politicization of the Institution of Presidency

This realignment in coalition marks the continuation of trend in which the coalition politics has overshadowed good governance. The hung parliament after the November polls has left ample room for all sorts of possible coalitions to form governments, and if these four months are anything to go by, this tenure of the parliament is also likely to be spent on coalition politics. The worry is that, good governance, economy, development and issues of inclusion could continue to remain away from political parties’ priorities.

Even worse is that the non-partisan institution of presidency is politicized to the extent that the Presidential election has led to the major reshuffle in alliances. The constitution has envisioned the post of presidency as the ceremonial non-partisan state head but presidents have often resorted to partisan proclivities. In an ideal case, the presidential election shouldn’t have led to or even catalyzed the realignment between parties.

Rastriya Swatantra Party quits the government

On 6th February, three minister of Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) resigned in en masse over the issue of home ministry. The RSP had got the most sought-after Ministry of Home Affairs, and party’s top leader Rabi Lamichhane had assumed the portfolio. However, Mr. Lamichhane’s citizenship certificate was declared invalid by the Supreme Court, following which he lost both the post of parliamentarian, and the home minister.  Mr Lamichhane then acquired the citizenship following due legal process, and then the party lobbied to reinstate its top leader as the Home Minister again. The CPN-UML too was for reinstating him as the home minister. However, as PM Dahal was in preparation for a while to switch sides, and form an alliance with the Nepali Congress again, he refused to do so. In response, the RSP ministers left the government, but the party hasn’t yet withdrawn the support for the Dahal-led government. On 5th February, the RSP organized a “special press conference”, and Mr. Lamichhane labelled serious charges against mainstream media and media personalities and accused them of conspiring against him and his party. Mr. Lamichhane’s remarks against media were against the spirit of press freedom, and therefore, drew flak from across the spectrum. Mr Lamichhane’s demagogic rhetoric is indicative of self-proclaimed alternative parties’ demagogic and populist proclivities.

In the first place, PM Dahal shouldn’t have appointed Mr. Lamichhane as the home minister, as the status of his citizenship certificate was under question and was being investigated by the home ministry itself.  This episode of RSP quitting the government is also reflective of the challenges associated with the hung parliament. Since the parliament is hung with all sorts of alignments between parties, it is only likely that joining and quitting the government by these smaller parties would continue while good governance, development and other pertinent issues are likely to be overshadowed by coalition affairs.