By Hari Bansh Jha
After the promulgation of the Nepalese Constitution in 2015, the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) secured close to a two-thirds majority in the federal parliament in the 2017 elections and formed a government at the federal level, apart from forming governments in six out of seven provinces in the country. However, due to rivalries within the party, it split into three factions, which paved the way for the formation of the Nepali Congress-led coalition under the Premiership of Sher Bahadur Deuba on 13 July 2021. The two splintered factions of the NCP—the Maoist Centre (CPN-MC) and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Socialist (CPN-US)—apart from Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) and Samyukt Janmorcha, joined the Deuba government.
Subsequently, in the elections of federal parliament and provincial assemblies on 20 November 2022, the Nepali Congress emerged as the single largest party by securing 89 seats in the 275-member House of Representatives (HoR), the Nepalese Parliament. With 78 seats, the Communist Party of Nepal- Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML) turned out to be the second-largest political party, while the CPN-MC, with 32 seats, was the third-largest party. By securing 20 seats, the newly formed Rastriya Swatantra Party emerged as the fourth-largest party, followed by Rastriya Prajatantra Party (14 seats), Janata Samajbadi Party (12 seats), the CPN-US (10 seats), Janamat Party (6 seats), the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party (4 seats) and Nagrik Unmukti Party (3 seats). Because the ruling coalition under the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led Nepali Congress was short of only two seats to form the government, it was set to form government at the centre as well as in all seven provinces of the country with the support of the fringe parties.
Power struggle in Nepal
In a dramatic development, however, the power game turned upside down. Until the last hour, even the then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba had no idea that his ruling coalition partner, the CPN-MC leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal (68), would replace him and take the oath as Prime Minister of Nepal at the President’s office at Shital Niwas on 26 December 2022.
Dahal claimed to have the support of 169 members in the parliament, including that of the CPN-UML (78 seats), CPN-MC (32 seats), Rastriya Swatantra Party (20 seats), Rastriya Prajatantra Party (14 seats), Janata Samajbadi Party (12 seats), Janamat Party (6 seats) and Nagrik Unmukti Party (3 seats). However, Prime Minister Dahal will have to prove a majority in the Parliament within 30 days of assuming power.
On the appointment of Dahal as Prime Minister, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu congratulated him. Similarly, while congratulating Dahal, the US Embassy in Kathmandu said that the United States (US) is proud of its robust and longstanding ties with Nepal.
Dahal is regarded as pro-China, unlike his predecessor Deuba who is pro-America and pro-India. He launched the Maoist insurgency in the country between 1996 and 2006. Later, he joined mainstream politics and his Maoist party emerged as the largest one in the constituent assembly elections in 2008. It is for the third time that he has become Prime Minister of Nepal in 2022; previously, he was in this position in 2008 and 2016.
The PK Dahal government’s existence solely depends on CPN-UML leader KP Sharma Oli—who had created a territorial dispute with India when he was Prime Minister between 2018-2021. He also vehemently accused India of economic blockade in 2015-16 and later during the elections in 2017. Speculations are high that PK Dahal would tilt Nepal towards the northern neighbour given his credentials for visiting China first before visiting India during his premiership in 2008.
It is likely that the splintered faction of the NCP, the CPN-US—which is still with the Nepali Congress—would join the government led by the Maoist leader PK Dahal. With some of these developments, the communists are likely to capture power in all seven provinces in the country with the support of the fringe political parties. They might also select the president, vice-president, speaker, governors, and chief ministers in the provinces from their cadets. Such developments in the coming days might enable them to have total control over the politics of the country.
PK Dahal quit the Nepali Congress-led coalition because the then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba denied his proposal to make him Prime Minister in the first term for two-and-half years. His objective was fulfilled when the Opposition coalition leader KP Sharma Oli of CPN-UML acceded to his demand. As per the agreement between the two leaders, Dahal would be Prime Minister of Nepal for the first two-and-half years, after which KP Sharma would be made Prime Minister for the second term of the two-and-half years.
Previously, a similar agreement had been made between KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal after the elections of the federal parliament in 2017, in which Oli was expected to be Prime Minister for the first two-and-half years and Dahal for the second two-and-half years. But Oli reneged on the agreement and retained his Prime Minister position for the remaining years as well. That was the prime factor for the conflict between the two leaders, which compelled him and his colleague Madhav Kumar Nepal to split with Oli and form a government led by Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepali Congress on 13 July 2021.
Because of the extreme lust for power in most of these leaders and their mastery of the power game, most of the governments do not survive on average for more than a year or so. There have been 13 prime ministers in Nepal within 16 years.
What lies ahead
The days ahead are difficult for Dahal. It is doubtful if he would be able to satisfy the ego of his former arch-rival Oli. Doubts also prevail if he would meet the expectations of the fringe political parties that have joined his government on certain conditions that are not so easy to fulfil. Rampant corruption, unemployment, price rise, rising trade deficit, fall in foreign exchange reserves, and liquidity crisis are also some of the issues that his government cannot overlook. More importantly, bringing balance in the implementation of the Chinese Belt and Road Inititative (BRI) and American Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and resetting relations between India and China are no less challenging.
Since the multiparty coalition government of Dahal is a divided polity, chances are high for foreign powers to meddle in Nepal’s internal affairs. His survival in power depends not only on the support of the CPN-UML but also on the fringe parties. The election result shows his declining popularity in the country. And, more than this, the Nepali Congress, the largest political party, might not give up the temptation to come to power. Given this situation in which he does not have any control, the Dahal government could fall at any time and the country might plunge into political instability, which could hamper the country’s economic growth in the time to come.