Ringing in the newThe 23 April polls will be a referendum on which among the RSP, NC, UML or JSP has more support
Economist Swarnim Wagle’s resignation from the Nepali Congress (NC), accusing its conjugal leadership of “bullying” has been the talk of Twitter for the past week. Now, it is disagreement with the non-Deuba faction of the NC that is holding up Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s attempts to complete his Cabinet.
Even after the 31 March appointment of new ministers, Dahal still holds six portfolios: Foreign, Law and Federal Affairs, Health and Population, Youth and Sports, Forest and Environment and Water Supply. The NC faction led by Gagan Thapa and Shekhar Koirala is understood to be demanding at least three of the vacant ministries.
It was PM Dahal is under pressure to balance demands from his 10 coalition partners, but it is now Deuba who has to deal with the insistence of dissident factions within his own party. As a result, NC leaders like Gagan Thapa are getting impatient with the Deuba-Dahal leadership of the coalition.
“We are walking when we need to be running to ensure good governance and delivery,” Thapa said on Wednesday. “This will not do.”
Deuba and Dahal do not just have to deal with the NC but also the need to placate the independent RSP, which is fielding three prominent candidates in by-elections on 23 April – Wagle in Tanahu-1, Chair Rabi Lamichhane in Chitwan-2 and former police chief Ramesh Kharel in Bara-2.
Coalitions insiders told Nepali Times the prime minister is in no hurry to fill Cabinet positions just yet and may want to wait till the by-election results are in. That would essentially mean waiting to see how well the RSP does.
Swarnim Wagle created a political tidal wave when it emerged that he was resigning from the NC because of his differences with Sher Bahadur Deuba and his powerful wife, Arzoo Rana Deuba.
In a WhatsApp resignation message sent to NC General Secretaries Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma as well as dissident leaders Shekhar Koirala and Govinda Pokharel Wagle apparently said: ‘I am stepping down because of constant insults and bullying from the Deuba-Arzoo gang…I would now like to deliver to the public while my age, knowledge, and energy are still relevant, rather than simply wait and watch.’
Soon after, the NC decided to field Govinda Bhattarai against Wagle in Tanahu-1, the constituency vacated by Ram Chandra Paudel after he became president.
Wagle was heavily involved in drafting the NC’s 2022 election manifesto, and had previously also been denied a ticket in November’s federal polls.
‘The party’s activities and state over the last few years would cause any self-respecting member of the Nepali Congress to hang their head in shame,’ wrote Wagle on social media announcing his departure. ‘The historic party of BP Koirala, Ganesh Man Singh, Subarna Shamsher, and Kishunji (Krishna Prasad Bhattarai) has turned into a dysfunctional nepotistic gang.’
The RSP immediately offered Wagle the Tanahu ticket, even while Rabi Lamichhane is still tangled in a legal case involving his citizenship. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court asked Lamichhane to furnish proof that he had renounced his US citizenship even though Attorney General Dinmani Pokhrel earlier decided not to file a case against him.
The Chitwan-2 seat became vacant after Lamichhane had to resign from his MP seat after an earlier Supreme Court ruling on his citizenship, and also had to give up his home ministership. It does not look to be smooth sailing for the RSP chair this time amid persisting questions about his US passport.
By-elections on 23 April will also be held in the Bara-2 constituency vacated by vice-president Ram Sahaya Prasad Yadav, and here the arithmetic is even more complex. Yadav was with the JSP and lost in Saptari to Janamat Party founder CK Raut in November. This time, Raut is fielding Shiva Chandra Kushwaha after getting him to defect from the Maoists. Essentially, the Bara polls will be a contest between Raut and the JSP’s Upendra Yadav.
There are a total of 69 by-election candidates in the three constituencies, 33 of which are from political parties. 36 people have filed to run as independents.
Nepal’s Election Commission published the final list of by-election candidates and their election symbols on Thursday.
Interestingly. there are no by-election candidates from the Maoist Centre, which heads the coalition government. So 23 April will be a kind of referendum on which among the RSP, NC, UML or JSP has more public support.