Post-election turmoil within Nepalese politics
Aarushi Gupta

Nepal politics never has a dull moment. From elections to government formation to maintaining the government, each aspect of Nepal politics is nothing short of a thriller. In 2022, Nepal held its second local, provincial and federal elections since the 2015 implementation of its Constitution. The results were an incredible amalgamation of the unlikeliest of alliances and fierce power struggle within the Parliament.

Nepal became a federal, democratic, multiparty republic in 2008. Since then, the politics in Nepal has become more chaotic and unpredictable than following the expected course of gradual stabilisation. This is considered to be the direct consequence of the poor implementation of federalism and the mixed voting system followed in the country.

Nepal Elections

Federal elections in Nepal were held in November 2022. The elections had two pre-election alliances. The first was the democratic-left alliance, led by Nepali Congress. It constituted of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) (CPN-MC), Communist Party of Nepal (United Socialist), Loktantrik Samajwadi Party, and Rastriya Janamorcha. The second pre-election alliance was led by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist–Leninist) (CPN-UML). It was joined by Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and Janata SamajbadiParty (JSP).

Interestingly, both alliances were a classic case of political opportunism than the usual ideology-based alliances. Out of 275 seats, Nepali Congress bagged the maximum number of seats in the general election with 89 seats, CPN-UML came in second with 78 seats, and CPN-MC secured 32 seats. A new party also emerged in the 2022 elections. The Rashtriya Swatantra Party (RSP), led by journalist Rabi Lamichhane, secured the fourth-highest number of seats. The party won 20 seats in the House of Representatives (HoR) and simultaneously became a national party of Nepal.

Subsequently, neither of the pre-election alliances could acquire a majority in the Parliament which led to a hung Parliament. However, the Nepali Congress alliance was closer to the majority and was expected to form the government. Owing to the disagreement between Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) of CPN-MC and Sher Bahadur Deuba of Nepali Congress regarding the power-sharing model and premiership, Prachanda left the alliance.

In a shocking turn of events, Prachanda joined hands with KP Sharma Oli of CPN-UML. Oli was already struggling and was desperate to form the government. He agreed to let Prachanda become the Prime Minister of Nepal in the first half of the five-year tenure. Following this move, more parties joined the Oli camp, including RSP, Janamat Party, and Nagarik Unmukti Party. The seven-party coalition subsequently reached a comfortable majority and formed the government.

Turmoil within the Nepali Congress post elections

Post the elections, Nepali Congress started facing dissent from within and the calls for Sher Bahadur Deuba to step down as the party president grew louder. Leaders blamed Deuba’s authoritarian power grab, that led to Prachanda breaking away from the electoral alliance. The established leaders were already facing a serious challenge from the rising young leaders within the party like Gagan Thapa, Bishwa Prakash Sharma, Pradeep Paudel, Dhanraj Gurung and Badri Pandey. Subsequently, the confrontational atmosphere towards Deuba’s leadership within the party grew thicker post the elections.

The party’s Central Working Committee meeting was to be held on 6 January 2023 to discuss the failure of government formation despite the highest number of seats. It was last held on 18 July 2022. However, the meeting has not happened, having been postponed multiple times. Deuba had instead called the Central Work Execution Committee meeting to extend the party’s support to Prachanda’s government[1].

A member of the Nepali Congress said that the meeting would only happen, post the elections of the President and Vice President. This might be the case as the party’s top leaders are trying desperately to secure both of these positions or just the President’s position in the upcoming Presidential elections in March. Deuba has picked Ram Chandra Poudel and Krishna Prasad SItaula, both senior leaders, as Presidential candidates from the party.

The new Government - Quid Pro Quo

Following the surprising results of the 2022 elections, the politics in Nepal got even more interesting. Prachanda was sworn in as the Prime Minister on 26 December 2022. Soon after, all eyes were on the President and the House Speaker’s positions. The Presidential elections are to be held on 9 March 2023, while the election of the Speaker was conducted within 15 days of the first meeting of the House of Representatives.

The vote of confidence was held on 10 January 2023. In an astonishing turn of events, Prime Minister Dahal received 99 per cent support in the 275-member Parliament, garnering 268 votes out of the 270 members present in the House. The Rastriya Janamorcha and the Nepal Majdoor Kisan Party, with one member each, were the only two parties that voted against the motion of confidence for the Dahal Government.

Surprisingly, Nepali Congress also extended its support to the Dahal Government. This move was severely criticised within the party. It not only created confusion within the party but also in the Parliament. Nepali Congress could have presented itself as a strong and effective opposition to the current government. However, extending support to Dahal’s government only made the party’s position unclear in the Parliament. The party’s status as an opposition party or a ruling one is still unknown in the House of Representatives[2]. According to a constitutional provision, only a party leader who does not support the government can be the main opposition leader[3]. The reasons for Deuba to take such a decision were three-fold.

One, Deuba is well aware of the existing distrust between Dahal and Oli. The last time the two of them had formed the government, it had ended in a disastrous falling out. Deuba hopes to turn that existing crack into a chasm between the two and break the coalition before its full term. Two, the race for the position of President is on. Extending support to Dahal would mean normalising terms and trust-building between the two parties. Owing to the tumultuous past between Dahal and Oli, and Dahal’s suspicions regarding Oli’s intentions, Dahal might extend his support for a Nepali Congress candidate as a President to balance out the threat perception with Oli. Third, since Deuba is facing strong opposition and dissident voices within the party, getting a Nepali Congress candidate member elected will prove beneficial for Deuba within the party. It will help tip the scales in Deuba’s favour to quash the dissent within the party. In addition, it will also crush the doubts regarding his leadership of the party, softening the blow of his blunder of denying the premiership to Dahal in the elections, in the upcoming Central Working Committee meeting.

Nepali Congress and the CPN (Unified Socialist) reiterated that they would still sit in opposition to the ruling coalition. However, that might not be entirely permissible as the parties have lost their moral and ethical ground to hold the ruling coalition accountable in their decision-making by extending their support to the coalition.

Soon after the confidence vote, the ruling coalition agreed on the ministerial allocations. Four out of the seven coalition partners reached a power-sharing deal. CPN-UML secured eight minister positions, CPN-MC secured five positions, including the Prime Minister’s spot, while RSP and RPP got two ministries each, and Janamat Party got one. Rabi Lamichhane of RSP became the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Minister. From RPP, Rajendra Lingden also joined as the deputy Prime minister and Energy, Water Resources and Irrigation minister. The Janata Samajwadi Party, Nagarik Unmukti Party and Loktantrik Samajwadi Party will join the government at a later date.

The electionsfor the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the House were conducted on 19 January and 21 January, respectively. Dev Raj Ghimire of CPN-UML was elected as the Speaker of the House. While Indira Rana Magar of RSP became the Deputy Speaker of the House.

Changing dynamics of RSP

In this whole ordeal that ensued, the role of RSP in the government was closely observed and followed. The party was less than a year old when it rose to prominence in the 2022 elections. They garnered support from the voters on their anti-establishment and anti-corruption campaign. They promoted and propagated anti-federalist views and favoured national interest over alignment with either of the neighbouring countries. This youth base party came in as a beacon of change that appeased the disenchanted youth and the urban population of Nepal. They campaigned through social media and door-to-door campaigning with their modern, educated and tech-savvy leaders. They essentially tapped into the vast vacuum between the disenchanted youth and the regressive politics.

They had decided to join the government at the very last minute. In the final government formation, RSP secured two ministries, one deputy prime minister post and a state ministry. This power distribution disregarded and directly contradicted their own manifesto and their campaign’s foundation. It had projected itself as a wave of change and then went ahead to join the government at both state and federal levels.

Rabi Lamichhane, party President of RSP, became the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Minister. However, his appointment was already controversial as the investigation over his citizenship was still ongoing. Lamichhane acquired his American citizenship in 2014, leading to his Nepali citizenship becoming invalid. In 2018, he dropped his American citizenship but never applied for Nepali citizenship again with due procedure.

On 27 January 2023, the Supreme Court of Nepal gave the verdict that Rabi Lamichhane was not a Nepali citizen, thereby removing him as a Parliament member. Within a day, he went through the entire citizenship procedure and asked for his ministerial portfolio back. However, since he was now ineligible to be counted as a parliament member, Dahal kept the Home Ministry portfolio under himself.

Under these circumstances, RSP held a press conference, where Lamichhane had a dramatic outburst and went on a rant about exposing the truth about the media and him being the victim of the press. He claimed that the media had blown his case out of proportion and called the media houses corrupt. His outburst was not taken well by the people or by the leaders within the RSP. There were dissenting voices regarding Lamichhane being an unfit leader of the party. However, on 6 February, he issued a diktat that RSP would withdraw from the ruling government. Even though RSP pulled out of the ruling coalition and its ministers resigned from their posts, it said it would continue to support the government. This move also ensured a way back for the party to join the ruling coalition eventually.

The Rabi Lamichhane ordeal has brought forward a few critical elements of populism within the party to the forefront. One, the party’s rapid rise is based on an anti-establishment and national interest agenda. Two, Rabi Lamichhane is the face of the party and calls all the shots unilaterally. Three, Lamichhane’s outburst in the press conference tried to create an ‘us versus them’ narrative, scapegoating the media. Fourth, Lamichhane played the victim card over the legal verdict of his case. Fifth, despite projecting itself to be different from other established and conventional political parties, RSP used similar power-grab tactics as any other political party. These signs are often considered to be signalling towards a populist leader in the making. It is yet to be seen if these developments are coincidental in nature or if they might potentially have long-term consequences in the Nepalese politics.

Conclusion

Nepal successfully held its second election since the enactment of the Nepali Constitution in 2015. The elections proved to be more thrilling than expected. The last-minute swerving to the rival camp of KP Sharma Oli by Prachanda took everyone by surprise. Subsequently, seven parties formed a coalition to achieve a majority and form the government, leaving Nepali Congress in turmoil.

Nepali Congress faced deep divisions within the party. Party president Deuba faced dissent and criticism from within and outside the party for being unable to hold on to the electoral alliance due to his power-grab tactics. The young leaders within the party are trying to hold Deuba accountable. However, Deuba has skilfully avoided the confrontation within the party by postponing the party’s Central Working Committee meeting. He hopes to get the President of Nepal elected from the Nepali Congress to secure his position as an effective party leader.

While on the other hand, the political manoeuvrings of the new Prime Minister Dahal have been a tough act to pull off. Being busy with the government formulation duties and formulating a reliable power-sharing model between the coalition’s parties has proved challenging. Having partnered with KP Sharma Oli, his former rival, the deep distrust between the two leaders is here to stay. Factoring in Deuba’s attempts to portray himself as a reliable partner to PM Dahal, it may eventually cause a rift between the coalition partners.

The most striking of the coalition partners of the government was RSP. RSP emerged as a beacon of hope for the youth of Nepal. It is a new party without a well-defined ideology or a party structure. It gained the support of the people solely due to dissatisfaction with the established Nepalese politics. However, it contradicted its own manifesto and campaign promises. Rabi Lamichhane is not an expert politician. Despite having the traits of a classic populist leader, he is a novice political leader with limited experience. RSP will play a significant role in the current government owing to its vote distribution. However, in the long run, if the party does not organise and creates a structural balance within, it may cease to exist altogether.

Ultimately, the race for the position of President is on. All the parties will attempt to garner as much support as possible to have their own candidate as the President. Nepali Congress has the highest stakes in the Presidential elections, as it will inevitably affect the career of Deuba within and outside the party. The elections are expected to be held on 9 March 2023. It would be interesting to see how Nepali politics unfold post the Presidential elections.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

Endnotes :

[1]https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2023/01/11/plot-thickens-as-nepali-congress-gives-dahal-vote-of-confidence
[2]https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2023/01/11/plot-thickens-as-nepali-congress-gives-dahal-vote-of-confidence
[3]https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2023/01/23/is-congress-the-main-opposition-it-s-speaker-s-call


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