With the official call for a majority government, Nepali Congress (NC), the largest party, is pulling strings to garner support for a majority government. NC president Sushil Koirala has been elected the parliamentary party leader, and Koirala is finally on his way to fulfill his dreams to become the prime minister.
NC has won 196 seats in the Constituent Assembly and requires additional 105 seats to achieve the total of 301. UCPN (Maoist) and RPP-Nepal have announced that they will stay in the opposition, and now NC is pushing for support of the remaining parties. NC has been in consultation with the second largest party, CPN-UML, but the bottleneck for consensus has been power-sharing issues.
CPN-UML has also been arguing that with the fresh mandate, there should be a new election for the chair of the president and the vice president. Meanwhile, even though Madhesi parties have been speaking of a NC-led government, none of the Madhesi parties have made any clear statement on joining the new government. The Madhesi parties have been busy in discussions of unification to appear as the fourth largest force in the CA and this might delay their decision to join the government. NC’s Koirala faces a tough situation to form a majority government.
Even though Koirala has become the parliamentary party leader, he does not have an all-party support. Koirala was chosen through an internal election, not consensus within the party. While the party has taken a democratic route to pick its parliamentary party leader, it means that the issues of internal disputes and power sharing remain contentious. Supporters of his rival senior leader Sher Bahadur Deuba have already commented that Koirala’s win will be reflected in the different bodies of the party. Koirala’s first challenge will be balancing the two factions as the party names the positions in the government.
Koirala’s image is that of a “clean” leader who hasn’t tasted the power of a chair yet. But the potential names within the party are of people who have previously held key positions in the government, including that of the prime minister. Koirala is in favour of giving chances to party leaders that have not held ministerial positions before. The second challenge for him is making sure that conflict does not arise when to selects his council of ministers between these two groups. If he wants the support of senior leader Sher Bahadur Deuba and vice-president Ram Chandra Poudel, he cannot simply pick the names he fancies. The reason behind the split of UCPN (Maoist) was not simply ideological conflict. Mohan Baidya had been miffed when Baburam Bhattarai chose not to hand Baidya’s close supporter CP Gajurel the Foreign Ministry and Ram Bahadur Thapa, Badal, the Home Ministry. Koirala is aware of the dangers of sidelining the senior leaders in the party.
The first challenge Koirala faces is agreeing on a power sharing deal with CPN-UML. The party has introduced the debate of electing new president and vice president according to the fresh mandate of the people. It is unlikely that the party will offer official support to NC until the issue of reelection of the president, vice president and CA speaker is sorted out. UML leader Bidhya Bhandari has publicly stated that that unless NC makes an agreement with UML on these issues, discussion will not head towards joining the government. Garnering UML’s support will not be a piece of cake for Koirala. NC’s central committee had decided that if UML does not give up its demand on reelection of president and the vice president, NC should take the alternate of seeking support form UCPN (Maoist) and other parties to form the government. If NC takes that route, Koirala will again have challenges in sorting out the positions in his council of ministers with UCPN (Maoists) and Madhesi parties.
Meanwhile, although Nepal prides in its sovereignty but the influence of international powers in our politics cannot be ignored. During the prime minister’s election in the first CA, Ram Kumar Sharma of Tarai Madhesh Loktantrik Party had openly admitted that there were threatening calls from embassies to vote. Koirala needs to take the international forces in confidence as well as he forms his majority government.
NC-UML coalition seems to be the most likely scenario next, although the party has kept the option open to join hands with the Maoists. This will not be the first time the two parties have come together, NC has worked with the UML in 2009 in the Madhav Kumar Nepal led government with division of key portfolios.
Koirala’s biggest challenge now is to find common grounds with either CPN-UML or UCPN (Maoist) to form the government. Almost three months have passed since the CA election, and if he doesn’t act soon, he might lose the new-found trust of people in him and his party.