The Reign God

The Maoists may have thought they were kingmakers, but now it is the RSP that has the role

ALL LIT UP: The Machindranath chariot undergoing final touches during a thunderstorm on Monday. The chariot of the rain god needed structural repairs after leaning on homes in Na Tole during the first day of its month-long journey. Photo: DINESH SHRESTHA

When the chariot of Machindranath, the rain god, got stuck at Na Tole in Patan this week, it became symbolic of Nepal’s shambolic politics.

But there was hope from Tanahu and Chitwan, where citizens disenchanted with the corrupt gerontocracy voted for change. RSP Chair Rabi Lamichhane was re-elected by an even bigger margin than November despite scandals. Swarnim Wagle, who defected from the Nepali Congress (NC) to contest as RSP in Tanahu won in the Congress stronghold.

In Bara-2, JSP Chair Upendra Yadav was the only coalition candidate to win, after having lost from Saptari last November.

While the RSP and the JSP were able to retain seats they won in federal polls, the NC lost one seat to the RSP, which is the fourth-largest party in Parliament.

And while a single House seat may not matter in the grand scheme of politics, the by-elections were a barometer of the public mood, and could alter the dynamics in the coalition led by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

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“Two out of three coalition candidates lost seats despite the prime minister himself campaigning on their behalf. This sends a clear message that this coalition does not have the mandate to rule,” states political analyst and former Nepali ambassador to India, Nilamber Acharya. “These results will likely affect the arithmetics of the House and government.”

Lamichhane has said it was “no longer reasonable” for the RSP to support the government, which means it could quit the 10-party coalition. “It is now pointless for us to remain in the alliance and the consensus within the party is that we should stay in the opposition,” RSP spokesperson Mukul Dhakal told Nepali Times.

We will know soon enough if the RSP really means it or if this is just a bargaining ploy by Lamichhane who was angling to be Home Minister again to clear his citizenship case.

One RSP leader admitted to us that the party would only participate in the government if given “respectable portfolios” like the Home Ministry and the Deputy Prime Minister once again. Spoken truly like one of the big parties that the RSP has vowed to be different from.

Lamichhane is said also to be having backroom meetings with K P Oli of the UML, and political analyst Indra Adhikari thinks it is possible for the two to form a partnership in the opposition.

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She added: “Still, Rabi Lamichhane may ultimately decide to stay in government or hover nearby because of controversies, including the legal case about his dual passport.”

If the RSP withdraws support for the coalition, Prime Minister Dahal would need a simple majority of 138 to remain in charge of the government, failing which he will have to take another floor test.

On 20 March, Dahal received 172 votes of confidence. Since then, CK Raut’s Janamat which has 6 MPs has exited his government after disagreement over Cabinet slots. A RSP withdrawal would subtract another 21, leaving Dahal with 145.

Given the volatile dynamics between Dahal and coalition partners like the JSP, the Nagarik Unmukti and the LSP, the prime minister could have the rug pulled from under him. He will therefore have to dangle Cabinet positions to keep his coalition intact.

The Maoists may have thought they were kingmakers, but now it is the RSP that has the role.

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