China’s proxy politician in Nepal, Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli, seems to have been hoisted by his own petard.
Oli, a former prime minister who has earned notoriety in the Himalayan country for his lust for power, has faced a setback in the just-concluded elections.
His party — the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) or CPN(UML) — won just 44 seats in the Pratinidhi Sabha (the lower house of Nepal's Parliament) through the ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) system.
The CPN(UML) is slated to bag another 33 seats through the ‘proportional representation’ (PR) system, bringing its total tally in the 275-member house to 77.
The CPN(UML)’s allies — the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) — have won 14 seats each (with seven FPTP and seven PR seats). That takes the CPN(UML)-led alliance’s tally to 105.
That is far short of the majority mark of 138 required for a party to form the government.
The five-party alliance led by Nepali Congress (NC), on the other hand, has bagged 136 seats and is just two seats short of a majority.
But that has not deterred Oli from resorting to trickery and various unscrupulous methods to grab power.
Oli, who boldly asserted before the results of the 20 November elections started trickling in last week that his party would get at least 150 seats, has been trying to play off the partners of the NC-led alliance, which was in power when the nation went to the polls, against one another.
The partners of the NC-led alliance have just got to know about Oli’s chicanery and have strengthened their bonds, thus defeating the wily Oli.
The NC has won 57 seats under the FPTP system and another 32 PR seats, making it the largest party with 89 seats. NC ally — the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), or the CPN(MC) — bagged 18 FPTP seats and another 14 PR seats, making it the third largest party with 32 seats.
The other partners of the NC-led alliance — the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Socialist) or the CPN(US), the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party (LSP) and the Rashtriya Janamorcha (RJ) — won ten, four and one seat, respectively, under the FPTP system.
But the CPN(US), LSP and RJ did not bag the over three per cent votes nationally to qualify for the ‘national party’ tag and thus, are ineligible for PR seats.
The ruling alliance’s tally is thus 136.
Soon after the results of the elections started coming in, Oli realised that his party and the alliance it leads would fall much short of the majority mark.
So he launched moves to cause fissures in the NC-led alliance in the hope that he could woo away the communist parties of the rival alliance.
Oli, reportedly egged on by Beijing which is desperate to install its proxy in power in Kathmandu, called up his bete noire Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the chairperson of the CPN(MC) on 24 November. Oli invited Dahal to join his alliance and form the government.
It would have taken Oli considerable effort to make that call to Dahal. There has been a lot of bad blood between Oli and Dahal and the latter despises Oli for breaking a power-sharing arrangement when the two communist parties were sharing power twice (from October 2015 to August 2016 and then again from February 2018 to May 2021).
Dahal accuses Oli of violating a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ that existed between the two to share the Prime Minister's post by turns. Oli, after ascending the top post twice (in 2015 and 2018), rejected the agreement, forcing Dahal to snap ties with the CPN(UML).
According to CPN(MC) leaders, Oli renewed the power-sharing offer during his conversation with Dahal.
“But he offered to make Dahal the Prime Minister right away so that Dahal harbours no misgivings about Oli reneging on the agreement. Oli also offered to offer a fair share of posts and ministerial berths to our party,” CPN(MC) deputy general secretary Haribol Gajurel told Swarajya.
“Oli was very nice and respectful while speaking to Dahal. He (Oli) asked Dahal to forget the past and also apologised for any mistakes he ‘may have committed’ in the past. He told Dahal that he was willing to offer Dahal the Prime Ministership of the new government right away and make Dahal’s nominee the Speaker of the Pratinidhi Sabha. He also offered more than a fair share of ministerial berths to our party,” CPN(MC) spokesperson Krishna Bahadur Mahara told Swarajya.
Dahal, however, remained non-committal. “Our party chairperson (Dahal) told Oli that he (Oli) should wait for the final results to be out. Once a clear picture emerges, talks can be held. Holding talks about government formation at that time (24 November) when the results had just started coming in was premature, our chair told Oli,” revealed Mahara.
Oli also deployed his trusted aides to reach out to CPN(MC) leaders who were not happy with the alliance with NC.
“Many Maoist leaders were unhappy over the non-transfer of NC votes to their party. NC voters did not support CPN(MC) candidates in the seats they contested from and the defeated candidates as well as a powerful section of leaders of that party blamed NC leaders for not making it clear to the NC supporters to vote for the CPN(MC) candidates,” said political analyst Kamal Shrestha.
Senior CPN(UML) leader Bishnu Rijal underlined this while telling Swarajya: “The CPN(MC)’s partnership with the Nepali Congress didn’t work. The CPN(US) also fared very poorly. So there is the need for all the communist parties to come together to form the government and keep the Nepali Congress out of power”.
The CPN(MC) then tried to leverage Oli’s offer and use it to extract more than its due from the NC.
Dahal and NC president as well as incumbent Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba have an informal ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to share the Prime Minister’s post by turns.
Dahal conveyed to Deuba through his trusted aides that he wants to be the Prime Minister for the first 2.5 years of the five year term. Dahal also wanted the post of President (of Nepal), the home portfolio and some other important ministries for his party colleagues.
But the NC leadership was reluctant to give many concessions to its ally. Sensing this reluctance, the CPN(MC) started making discordant noises and suggesting that it is “weighing all options”.
At the first meeting of its senior office-bearers after the elections Saturday (3 December), the CPN(MC) “decided to keep all options on government-formation open”.
Party spokesperson Mahara said: “We will talk to the CPN(UML), but will take a final decision only after our party evaluates the final electoral outcome”.
Oli, however, overplayed his hand and tried to be too clever by half. He also reached out to the Nepali Congress (NC) and told the NC leadership that he will be willing to join forces with Nepal’s grand old party (NC).
“A trusted aide of Oli who was acting as his emissary told our party leadership that Oli wants to partner us in government-formation. And even if that is not possible, Oli said that he would be willing to extend outside support to a Nepali Congress government provided the Maoists are kept out of it,” a senior NC leader told Swarajya.
Word of it got out and reached Dahal’s ears. Alarmed that the NC may well accept Oli’s offer if he pushes the NC leadership too much with his demands, Dahal quickly backtracked and proclaimed that the alliance with the NC remains.
CPN(MC) general secretary Dev Gurung asserted Monday (5 December) that his party’s partnership with the NC is “rock solid”. And a meeting of the NC-led alliance partners on Monday (5 December) reiterated that “it is necessary to continue the present coalition to face the challenges before the country”.
It now appears that the CPN(MC) has given up its intention to “explore all options” and is firmly back in the NC-led alliance. And Oli has only himself to blame for alienating both the Maoists and the NC and driving them back into each others’ tight embrace.
The Machiavellian Oli, with his insatiable lust for power, has been done in by his own machinations and ambition.
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