Rabi Lamichhane is Home-lessPrime Minister Dahal’s refusal to hand back the Home Ministry to the RSP may be the tipping point for his fragile coalition
On 27 January, hours after Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that Rabi Lamichhane was not eligible to hold his political positions because he had failed to reacquire his Nepali citizenship after renouncing his American one, he walked out of his offices at the Home Ministry and declared dramatically: “I am stateless.”
The tv anchor-turned-politician was using irony to depict his predicament, but also a determination to get back his job as Home Minister and put the whole thing behind him.
It may not be so easy.
The Lamichhane affair has sparked debate about Nepali citizenship, with people drawing attention to the estimated 1.5 million Nepalis who still do not have citizenship papers, the discriminatory laws about children getting citizenship by descent through their Nepali mothers, but also Lamichhane’s own human right to citizenship.
Within two days, it was easy for Lamichhane to restore his citizenship from the Kathmandu District Administration, unlike many stateless Nepalis. He was then quickly reinstated as chair of the RSP, the fourth-largest party in Parliament.
‘Those who are speaking so casually about statelessness should ask someone who is stateless about the pain they have to endure,’ Mohna Ansari, former commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission wrote on Twitter, alluding to Lamichhane’s remark. ‘They are unable to get a driving license, pursue higher education, open a bank account, obtain loans, or get paid what they are owed at work.’
Lamichhane may also have to face a criminal investigation into his Nepali passport, which he is understood to have obtained in 2015 through his old papers despite having been granted US citizenship in 2014.
And while Nepal’s civil society is paying close attention to upcoming developments vis-a-vis Lamichhane, so is Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Lamichhane has been busy all week lobbying with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahaland the UML’s K P Oli to have his powerful Home Ministry job back. Oli and another coalition partner, Rajendra Lingden of the RPP are for reinstating Lamichhane, but the prime minister has kept the home ministry portfolio for himself and appears reluctant to give it up.
If granted the Home Ministry once again, Lamichhane can hold the position for six months without being an MP, but has to contest by-elections in his constituency in Chitwan-2 to get back his House seat.
Lamichhane for his part has made it clear to Dahal that his party’s support of the government will depend upon whether RSP gets back the Home Ministry as per its deal to endorse Dahal for Prime Minister. The UML, for its part, has hinted at a compromise solution: someone from the RSP other than Lamichhane as Home Minister.
All the bargaining over Lamichhane’s future has put the already fragile seven-party coalition in an even more precarious position. The royalist Hindu-right RPP, despite being in government, has of late openly challenged Nepal’s federal and secular Constitution in Parliament, prompting the PM to warn that he may have to take action against members of his government who voice such opinions.
Meanwhile, the JSP has still not joined the government because it is not satisfied with the ministry it was given. CK Raut’s Janamat Party had also refused to accept the Ministry of Water Supply after the party did not get the promised Ministry of Industry, but changed its mind later on.
The Nagarik Unmukti Party’s unmet demands to release its leader Resham Chaudhary, who is serving a prison sentence for the murder of policemen in Tikapur in 2015, has brought even provincial politics in the Sudurpaschim to a standstill.
But while one or two fringe parties pulling out of the coalition may not dent Dahal’s government, the RSP and RPP both withdrawing its support certainly would. Even more damaging would be the UML leaving the coalition, which looks increasingly likely given the distrust between Dahal and UML chair Oli regarding who will get to be the next President.
Nepali Congress (NC) chair Sher Bahadur Deuba wants the president’s position to go to his party, which is the biggest in Parliament, in exchange for giving Dahal’s government the vote of confidence.
But while PM Dahal is receptive to the idea, the UML does not want the Maoists to renege on the deal that granted the UML the positions of Speaker, Presidency, and premiership after two-and-a-half years in return for Dahal becoming PM. Dahal is therefore juggling the demands of seven parties, factions within them and the opposition NC all at once.
On Monday, UML General Secretary Shankar Pokharel said that the Nepali Congress cannot claim the presidency as the party is in opposition.Dahal has met Oli and Deuba to try to find a way out.
“Establishing national consensus for the presidency should mean building a consensus within the governing coalition,” said Pokharel, speaking to the media from Biratnagar airport. “Since the coalition has a majority in the provinces as well as Parliament, our candidate will undoubtedly win the Presidency.”
Meanwhile, CPN-Unified Socialist chair Madhav Kumar Nepal—who is also not part of Dahal’s government— warned that the UML would become too authoritarian if it also got the presidency. “The question is whether the Maoists understand this,” Nepal added.
But even if the Maoist-UML coalition breaks over the election of the president due on 9 March, a Maoist-NC coalition would be unable to form a majority through the strength of their two parties alone. To achieve that, support from the RSP and RPP will be crucial to both the UML and NC.
The Election Commission has set the presidential election for 9 March, and the vice-president’s election for 17 March. Candidates must register their candidacy by 25 February.