A sense of distrust has begun to afflict the partners of ruling alliance just 41 days after it was formed. The alliance between the CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre was not only dramatic but also abrupt. It was made at the eleventh hour of the deadline that the President had given to the political parties to claim for the government with a majority vote of the federal parliament. Maoist Centre chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda rushed to the residence of UML chair KP Sharma Oli at Balkot to create a new alliance after the Nepali Congress backtracked from its promise to let him lead the government first. But the UML-Maoist Centre’s marriage of convenience is now experiencing a bumpy ride with some nasty political developments of late.
The citizenship scam involving president of Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP) and former deputy prime minister and home minister Rabi Lamichhane sent shockwaves in the political spectrum. A Constitutional Bench of Supreme Court has stripped Lamichhane’s status as lawmaker and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home for holding an illegal citizenship certificate. After reacquiring the citizenship through due process, Lamichhane was restored to the party’s president and he is determined to be reappointed as the Home Minster at all cost, which has become a sticking point for Prime Minister Prachanda, who is not in a mood to grant this portfolio to Rabi until the full text of SC’s verdict is made public.
The row over the home ministry has taken a new twist. The RSP has made it a bottom line of its participation in the government. The other day, its joint meeting of party central committee and parliamentary wing has given a two-day ultimatum to PM Prachanda and Oli, who is the coordinator of high level political mechanism, to decide on whether they are ready to give the home portfolio to it. As the media reports go, the RSP was on the verge of quitting the government after it was denied the powerful ministry. PM Prachanda and Oli had talked with Rabi over the phone, requesting him not to pull out of the government. Although Rabi’s exit from the government does not cause immediate collapse of the government, it can put the national politics on a slippery slope.
Rabi is still under investigation over his Nepali passport that he obtained in 2015 on the basis of his scrapped citizenship. As per Section 21 (a) of the Passport Act 2076 BS, a person is subject to a fine ranging from Rs. 200,000 to Rs. 500,000 or an imprisonment of one to three years or both if s/he obtains a passport or travel permit by furnishing false information to the concerned offices. Rabi has come under fire from different quarters over his irrational claim for the home ministry portfolio, which has weakened his moral ground. This has tarnished his image as a change agent intent on rooting out all anomalies attributed to misrule and corruption over the years.
Rabi is no longer a lawmaker but wants to head the home ministry so as to influence or abort the investigation process on his passport, claim his detractors. This, of course, invites a conflict of interest and mocks our legal and investigation system. As a popular youth leader, he should not join the government until the investigation into his passport is over. Rather he should support the probe committee to come to its findings. It is the duty of all citizens to respect the rule of law, the basis of a democratic society. Rabi’s party has the right to stake claim to the home ministry portfolio as per consensus reached among the ruling allies prior to the formation of this government but it should rather send another lawmaker, not Rabi, to lead this ministry.
However, voice is louder within the Maoist Centre that it should retain the home ministry for the PM’s party does not have powerful ministries such as home, finance, foreign affairs and law. Without the vital ministries, the Maoist Centre is unlikely to successfully execute pro-people programmes. Nonetheless, given the nature of coalition government, Prachanda is not in a position to decide on his own. Oli, who leads the largest constituent of the alliance, has pressed Prachanda to appoint Rabi as home minister. Prior to the formation of the government, the allies had agreed to allot the home ministry to the Maoist Centre but it had to give its claim on it after the RSP stuck to it with Oli’s backing. The Maoist Centre thinks Oli wants to flex his political muscle by bringing RSP and Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) into his fold. RSP and RPP are said to be ‘satellite’ forces of UML that it uses to keep a firm grip on Prachanda’s activities.
In the party’s Standing Committee meeting, Prachanda has lamented that he was fed up with Oli’s continuous manoeuvring to ‘encircle’ his government and obstacles on its way to effective delivery from the day it was formed. This is a reason why he approached Nepali Congress to secure its support during the vote of confidence. Buoyed by the NC’s backing to his government, Prachanda and his colleagues began to emphasise on electing new president on the basis of national consensus. They have claimed that there was no deal on giving the presidential post to the UML. Now Oli has reasons to harbour suspicion whether the Maoist Centre will back down from its verbal agreement on awarding the post of president to his party.
On the other hand, main opposition NC is elated by the widening distance among the ruling allies. It is fancying the breakdown of the current coalition and victory of its candidate in the presidential post. The NC’s wishful thinking may turn into a reality if the UML and Maoist Centre suffer from mutual suspicion and non-cooperation. The coalition government can sail smoothly if its partners rise above the parochial interests and demonstrate a true coalition culture. Internecine feud for post and power, monopoly and domination shall lead them to eventual downfall.
(The author is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)