Untangling the knots

There are just so many layers of party and factional interests, alliances and dalliances, marriages of convenience and messy divorces, egos, ambitions, and personal vendetta involved, that it is difficult to delve beyond daily headlines about who stabbed whom in the back today.

We must start with the central protagonist, the man everyone seems to love to hate, Prime Minister K P Oli. He has proved all pundits wrong by surviving both medically and politically. This does not look like a man who has two kidney transplants—he appears stronger than ever.  

He has outlasted relentless pressure from the combined strength of rivals within the NCP and a constant media broadside, to unseat him. When cornered, he has used nationalism,  divided and ruled, used and discarded former comrades, and even dissolved the House and threatened elections to get his way.

Oli is wily, but a statesman he is not. Had he been, he would have found other ways than full-frontal attacks on rivals, concentrating instead on providing leadership on issues that really matter to Nepalis – jobs, inflation, education, health and Covid impact. He has spent all his time and energy running circles around Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal.

If anyone wanted to dismantle Nepal’s Communist movement, no one would have done a better job than Prime Minister Oli. He cracked open the NCP, then he got to work on his own UML, weeding out the disgruntled Nepal faction. Oli might have been seeking revenge on Nepal, but by sidelining him, he has effectively splintered the UML as well.

Efforts to cobble back the UML, Mukesh Pokhrel

Oli has become such a central figure that as factions of the four main parties jostle to find coalition partnerships, they are all divided depending on whether they support the prime minister or not. 

First, his UML itself is divided, with the Nepal faction behaving like an opposition party. Oli’s strategy now is to woo away Nepal loyalists like Jhalnath Khanal, whom President Bidya Devi Bhandari went to meet at his home last week.

The Maoist Centre has also lost its senior comrades to Oli’s Cabinet: Ram Bahadur Thapa, Top Bahadur Ryamajhi and others. The party removed them from MP-hood on Tuesday, but cannot seem to decide what to do next. 

A Nepali Congress (NC) Central Committee meeting this week called for the resignation of Prime Minister Oli. But the meeting started five hours late because of a disagreement between Sher Bahadur Deuba and Ram Chandra Poudel on whether or not to join a coalition government led by Oli.

A crucible of fragile coalitions, Shekhar Kharel

This indecision in the main opposition NC has put the third and fourth parties, the Maoist Centre and the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP), in a bind. They do not have the numbers by themselves to challenge Oli. 

However, there is discord within the JSP also. And the cause is, once again, whether to support Oli or not. Party chair Mahantha Thakur and Rajendra Mahato have publicly stated that they are inclined to work with Oli’s UML. But the JSP’s other leaders Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai are vehemently opposed.

Because of the JSP’s swing vote in the House, Thakur has emerged as the kingmaker in coalition negotiations. The Maoist Centre and the NC need the JSP to unseat Oli, and Oli himself needs the JSP to form the next government if the UML loses the support of the Maoist Centre.  

However, even though Dahal threatened last week to pull the rug from under the UML, his Maoist Centre’s Standing committee meeting decided that time was not ripe to do so. The Maoists have 54 MPs, and if they withdraw support for the UML, which has 121 seats, Prime Minister Oli will have to seek a vote of confidence in the House. 

Oli will need 138 MPs on his side to win the vote, and will court the JSP with 34 seats or the NC with 63 seats. Dahal knows that if he withdraws support there is every likelihood that either Deuba or Thakur will side with Oli to form an election government. And Maoist leaders know that early elections will be disastrous for them.

With all four parties tangled over their support and opposition to Prime Minister Oli, therefore, Nepali politics is hopelessly knotted up.

Read also: House of cards, Editorial