Will the CPN-UML and the United Democratic Madheshi Front (UDMF) give the country a new prime minister by changing their stance in the sixth round of election slated on Sunday? The UML, due to its own restriction, can play the role of a spoiler but not that of a facilitator.
The key will be the UDMF comprising the Madhesi People´s Rights Forum (MPRF), the MPRF (Democratic), the Tarai Madhes Democratic Party (TMDP), and the Sadbhawana Party who, too, have made their voting conditional for either candidate.
The Unified CPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal can win the election if either the UML or the UDMF vote for him. The Nepali Congress Vice President Ram Chandra Poudel needs the support of both. Unless there is a last-minute deal between the political parties, Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who resigned on June 30, will continue in his caretaker capacity.
The UML is insisting on a consensus on the prime minister´s candidacy before it changes its stance. Its official position is that it won’t participate in the process that will merely give a prime minister commanding just a simple majority in the Parliament. After initial rounds of the election, the party, and its chairman, Jhalanath Khanal, have demanded the withdrawal of the candidates.
Khanal, according to senior UML leaders, is hoping that once Dahal and Poudel withdraw, his bid to become prime minister will succeed. With NC´s Poudel insisting on exercising his democratic right to contest the election, irrespective of the frequency of it, Khanal´s chances are slim.
For Khanal to become prime minister, several things need to be put in place. Both Dahal and Poudel have to withdraw, which they have refused to do so far. If Dahal withdraws, then the parliamentary rules on electing the prime minister need to be amended to force Poudel out.
And at least, the UCPN (Maoist) will have to vote for Khanal, provided the UML Central Committee changes its existing controversial and differently interpreted decision to stay neutral unless a consensus candidate is guaranteed. So long as the UML chief sees himself as a realistic prospect, he – and the faction led by him – would not allow the change in the party´s position in the election for prime minister.
There is another equally, perhaps bigger, factor that is guiding the UML´s position: The fear of vertical split in the party if its Central Committee changes its position and decides to vote for either of the candidates. The 86 of the 116-member CC who have voting rights in the party´s most powerful body are now almost evenly divided between Khanal and the MK Nepal-KP Oli camps, with the latter having a thin majority. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the party´s parliamentarians would vote as per the CC directive.
Hence, for its own survival, the UML would not dare vote for either Dahal or Poudel unless there is a significant change in the current situation, or there is agreement between the parties.
What the party leaders do not realize is that they may be rendered useless in the voting – as early as during the sixth round on Sept 5 – and possibly even later, during talks on the peace and constitution-related issues. After the NC Acting President Sushil Koirala demanded that the UML either vote for its candidate, or Dahal, the UML has come under more pressure. Khanal´s ambition and party´s indecisiveness could prove very costly for both.
The four Madhesi parties in the UDMF also cut a sorry figure. The differences and clash of personalities and egos among their leaders is as intense as one could find. This is an unnatural alliance, despite the parties’ avowed agenda to fight for the Madhesi agenda that includes a single east-to-west autonomous Madhes state and bigger quota of jobs for Madhesis in government organs.
The MPRF had a nasty split last year; all the four parties are rivals in their territory of influence – the Tarai. During the third round of voting in the Parliament on August 2, at least 11 MPRF members “crossed the floor” and voted for Maoist Chairman Dahal, thus rupturing the “unity” among the parties. To no one´s surprise, no action has been taken against the errant parliamentarians, who claimed that they defied the whip in full knowledge and confidence of their party chief, Upendra Yadav.
The Madhesi parties have revived their loose alliance for a very simple reason: garnering concessions for themselves. If alone, none of these four parties can play the role of kingmaker in national politics, given their present-day strength in the Parliament. But as UDMF, they can dictate their agenda (read, plum ministerial posts).
The Nagarik daily reported on Thursday that the two Forums may vote for Dahal. The report said that the Maoists, the MPRF and the MPRF (Democratic) have agreed on three contentious issues: Integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants living in UN-monitored cantonments, de-barracking of the YCL, and returning of the property seized by Maoists. [The UCPN (Maoist) has repeatedly violated agreements – written and verbal – on these three issues for over two years.] They also agreed to keep at bay controversial Madhesi demands.
If the two sides have really struck a deal, we can have a new prime minister on Sunday. Moreover, a believable and workable timetable on the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants and dismantling of YCL´s military structure – the biggest stumbling blocks on the road to peace – could well be put in place.
But has the agreement really been reached? There is room for doubt since many such talks and "agreements" have proved to be deliberate misleading by political parties in the past. The doubt was sown by none other than the Maoist chairman. On Wednesday, Dahal said that his party may take a new decision vis-à-vis voting. He spoke about the "sacrifice," hinting at his withdrawal of candidacy if the party failed to get enough votes to get him elected.
Moreover, the India factor cannot be ruled out. Two days after the 11 MPRF parliamentarians voted for Dahal, India sent its “special envoy” Shyam Saran to keep them in check. Despite some MPRF leaders saying they would repeat the feat, no one has dared to defy the official whip in the following two rounds. The exact details of Saran´s parleys with the political parties are still sketchy, but his visit has been able to send a very clear message to the Maoists: No government under their leadership under the status quo.
The UCPN (Maoist) still holds the key to break the deadlock over the prime minister´s election as well as on constitution-writing and concluding the peace process. A desperate Dahal may yet miss the bigger picture, or the larger goal. The deal with the two MPRFs (or for that matter, the entire UDMF) would lead to a new government but will not ensure the writing and passage of the Constitution which requires two thirds majority in the current 599-member Constituent Assembly. For that, at least the NC or the UML will have to be on board.
The Maoist-UML alliance is unlikely now, given the tricky situation the UML is in due to its CC decision. The party cannot afford to vote for Dahal, and will remain neutral again in the sixth round as well.
Therefore, the best guarantor for the promulgation of the Constitution and concluding the Peace Process is an agreement between the UCPN (Maoist) and the Nepali Congress. It will do away with the Maoists´ need to court the royalist brigade in the Parliament and outside, and not having to seesaw on "cultural" king(ship), help bring the Madhesi front on board, and above all, present a more acceptable face of unity to people fed up with the action (or inaction, if you may) of the political parties. Influential NC leaders are ready to convince Poudel to withdraw his candidacy if Dahal agrees to deliver.
I agree with DJ´s analysis. I feel it would be in the long term interest of the Nepali Congress to identify with forces of change rather than the status quo. The NC needs to revitalize itself. That can best be done if it is out of the power game in Kathmandu. This generatiomn of leadership played its innings. It´s time they let others bat.