Nepal's PM 'Prachanda', allies agree on power-sharing deal

Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda'.
Nepal Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda'.

Kathmandu | Nepal's Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' and his allies on Tuesday struck a power-sharing deal that includes sharing of the premier's position, reviving the left alliance in the politically fragile country following his dramatic move to terminate an alliance with the Nepali Congress.

Prachanda, a former guerilla leader, forged a new alliance with the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) - the second-biggest party - led by former premier KP Sharma Oli on Monday following which three ministers took the oath of office.

A meeting of the top leaders of the Maoist Centre, UML, the Rashtriya Swatantra Party and the Janata Samajbadi Party agreed on an eight-point deal signed by Prachanda along with UML chair Oli, RSP chairperson Rabi Lamichhane and Samajbadi Party chief Upendra Yadav, the Kathmandu Post newspaper reported.

"The [new] coalition has been formed among like-minded parties for good governance, development, social justice and prosperity. The government will be led by Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal,” reads the first point of the agreement.

The prime minister’s post would be divided between Prachanda and Oli, the paper said.

The four parties have agreed to support the Maoist Centre in the election of National Assembly chair while they will back a UML candidate for vice-chair of the upper house, the paper said.

The position of upper house chair has fallen vacant after Ganesh Timilsina, who was elected from the UML, completed his six-year term on Sunday. The election for the chair has been slated for March 12.

Urmila Aryal, elected from the Maoist Centre, holds the vice-chair position. As the constitution doesn’t allow lawmakers from the same party to hold both positions, Aryal will have to quit before the Maoist Centre fields its candidate for chairperson, the paper said.

They have also agreed on sharing the ministries based on the specialities.

"Ministerial portfolios will be distributed after ascertaining the number of parties joining the government. That will also determine the ministries the ruling parties get,” Santosh Pariyar, RSP chief whip, was quoted as saying by the paper.

The four parties want the Madhav Kumar Nepal-led CPN (Unified Socialist) to join them, but it remains noncommittal.

Janamat Party and Nagarik Unmukti Party are also in negotiations to join the government.

While there has been a tentative agreement that the Maoist Centre will get the Ministry of Finance, both the UML and the RSP have staked claim over the Home Ministry.

Prime Minister Prachanda has kept 25 ministerial portfolios including those of Home, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Finance with himself as he hurriedly reshuffled the cabinet with the support of CPN-UML and appointed three ministers without portfolio.

Padam Giri from the CPN-UML, Hit Bahadur Tamang from CPN (Maoist Center) and Dol Prasad Aryal from Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) took the oath of office and secrecy on Monday.

The cabinet expansion is expected to be completed by Wednesday, Bishnu Rijal, a central member of CPN-UML, told PTI.

The four parties have a combined strength of 142 seats, which is sufficient to show a simple majority, said Rijal.

“However, we are also trying to include other smaller parties including CPN-Unified Socialist (10) led by Madhav Nepal, Loktantrik Samajwadi Party (4) led by Mahantha Thakur and Janamat Party (6) led by C.K Raut, in the alliance to get a comfortable majority,” he said.

The CPN-US, LSP and Janamat have a combined strength of 20 seats.

Meanwhile, the Nepali Congress has decided to withdraw its support to the Prachanda-led government, party vice-president Dhanraj Gurung said after a meeting of the NC’s central work execution committee on Tuesday.

“The meeting concluded that the party will play the role of constructive opposition,” said Gurung.

“As a key member of the previous ruling alliance, NC withdrew its support to the Prime Minister. Now he must take a vote of confidence to prove his majority in the 275-member lower house,” said senior advocate Dinesh Tripathi.

After the change in coalition, the prime minister must take a vote of confidence in the parliament within 30 days.

The Maoist Centre led by Prachanda and the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led Nepali Congress was terminated as the growing differences between the two top leaders reached a climax, a CPN-Maoist Centre party leader said.

Prachanda became the prime minister for the third term with the support of the Nepali Congress on December 25, 2022. His party is the third-largest group in the House of Representatives.

After breaking a nearly 15-month alliance with the Nepali Congress --the largest party in the House of Representatives-- Prachanda joined hands with Oli, who was regarded as Prachanda's top critic.

Last year, the CPN-UML withdrew its support to the Prachanda-led government following a rift over backing the main opposition party's candidate for the presidential poll.

The new political equation formed by keeping the largest party and the strongest democratic force - Nepali Congress - out of power and bringing together the two largest communist forces may not be in the interest of India, according to senior journalist and political analyst Dhruva Hari Adhikary.

The frequent changes in coalition government lead to political instability, which is not in favour of the neighbouring countries, Adhikary said.

Nepal has witnessed 13 governments in the last 16 years.

Nepali Congress emerged as the largest party in the House of Representatives during the November 2022 general election, securing 89 seats out of a total of 275.

The CPN-UML secured 78 seats, followed by the Maoist Centre, which got 32 seats.

The RSP, Rastriya Prajatantra Party, Janata Samajwadi Party and CPN-Unified Socialist won 20, 14, 12 and 10 seats respectively. A party must win the support of at least 138 members of the House of Representatives to form the government.

In the 2017 election, Prachanda and Oli merged their parties and secured the majority. Oli became the prime minister, but their partnership ended halfway following differences between them.

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