Challenges for the present coalition

After many hiccups, Nepali people finally have a new Prime Minister in Puspa Kamal Dahal

‘Prachanda’. His election was made possible when the coalition of three parties led by Nepali Congress (NC) broke and another led by CPN-M emerged. Interestingly, the tired octogenarian leader of NC and his party decided to settle for the opposition. Democracy and NC have always been synonymous; it should be an honour for the ruling coalition to have NC, which has vowed to play a constructive role, in the opposition.

At present almost all the political parties that voted for three-party coalition PM are jostling to join the government. This is the general characteristic of Nepali political parties. Most of them are not in the least interested in staying in the opposition, Nepal Peasants’ and Workers’ Party (NPWP) being the sole exception. But the emerging coalition is fragile. Within a month CPN-UML and Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF) have crossed the floor twice. In the presidential election they were with the NC and but are now siding with the Maoists.

There are some common agendas in the election manifestoes of the CPN-Maoist and CPN-UML. Therefore, if the Maoists really mean business, they must work sincerely to forge an environment of confidence among the coalition partners. Both the parties should accept one another’s peculiarities, warts and all, and refrain from the urge to reform the other.

In the three-party coalition, the CPN-Maoist and the CPN-UML should work as a core. This will help maintain political equilibrium and deter MJF from making unpractical demands. It must be remembered that MJF is guided more by identity politics than by a well-defined political ideology. While some leaders in MJF have clean images, others are products of the historic Madhesh movement, who will leave no stone unturned to take advantage of their sudden rise to power.

Nepal Sadbhavana Party is a case in point. It was the issue of ministerial berths which caused the party to fracture, not once but many times. In fact, it appears that MJF will be the weakest link in the present coalition and the NC in opposition is likely to take utmost advantage by persuading it to serve its own interests. Therefore, not appeasement but clear-cut political programmes and strict discipline should be the basis of unity among the coalition partners.

The government’s Common Minimum Programme should avoid issues that would not be agreeable to the masses and instead bring mutually agreeable plans and programmes. People have already tested UML; the MJF is likely to have a large share in the new cabinet. In other words, the Maoists run the risk of inviting public wrath if it does not tread cautiously. If media reports are to be believed, MJF is demanding all its party stalwarts in the cabinet.

No doubt, running a coalition is not a cakewalk. But if one has chosen this path, one must try his best to succeed. This is the test of the Maoists and their leader Prachanda. Of course, the prestige of new UML general secretary and MJF convener are also at stake. United they will stand and divided they will fall. Let us hope they will be able to maintain their unity, though the challenges they face are undoubtedly formidable.

Pokharel is professor at Central Department of Public Administration, TU