China Triumphs In Nepal? Maoist Leader Dahal Becomes Prime Minister With Support From Beijing’s Proxy Oli

China Triumphs In Nepal? Maoist Leader Dahal Becomes Prime Minister With Support From Beijing’s Proxy Oli

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Dec 26, 2022 11:01 AM +05:30 IST
China Triumphs In Nepal? Maoist Leader Dahal Becomes Prime Minister With Support From Beijing’s Proxy OliPushpa Kamal Dahal and K P Sharma Oli. (Picture: KP Sharma Oli's secretariat)
  • The critical factor in Oli’s Beijing-dictated plans was winning Dahal over.

    Once that happened, the rest of the plan fell in place with the smaller parties openly siding with the CPN(UML).

Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal has become the Prime Minister of Nepal with support from China’s surrogate Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli. 

Dahal, known by his nom de guerre ‘Prachanda’, took Oli’s support to become the Prime Minister after protracted negotiations with his ally, the Nepali Congress (NC), failed. 

Dahal, the chairperson of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) or CPN(MC), walked away from the NC-led five-party alliance which fought the 20 November polls as a bloc after the NC turned down his demand for the Prime Minister’s post. 

No party had won a majority in the 20 November elections in the Himalayan country. The NC emerged as the single largest party with 89 seats, well short of the majority mark of 138 in the 275-member house. 

The NC-led alliance, which included the Maoists, won 136 seats. The Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) or CPN(UML), of which Oli is the chairperson, emerged as the second largest party with 78 seats. 

The Maoist party [Dahal’s CPN(MC)] came a distant third with 32 seats. But Dahal, who had two stints in the PM’s post in the past (August 2008 to May 2009 and August 2016 to June 2017), was desperate to become the Prime Minister. 

Why Dahal Walked Away From Alliance With Nepali Congress

Dahal and NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba had reached a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to share the PM’s post by turns. Dahal wanted the first shot at the post for the initial 2.5 years of the five-year term. 

But Deuba, who was the incumbent Prime Minister, repeatedly turned down Dahal’s demand citing pressure from within his party. 

The two sides were locked in intense negotiations till even Sunday (25 December) morning at Baluwatar, the Prime Minister’s official residence.

According to top NC leaders, Deuba offered the Maoists the powerful post of Speaker of the Pratinidhi Sabha (the Lower House of Nepal’s Parliament) and other plum portfolios in the cabinet, and promised to step down in Dahal’s favour in the middle of 2025. 

But Dahal argued that Deuba had occupied the Prime Minister’s post for the past one-and-half years with the Maoist party’s support after Oli had to step down in May last year. 

Dahal and Deuba, as well as their close confidantes, held many rounds of talks over the past couple of weeks. But the talks were stuck on one point: Dahal’s insistence on the first shot at the Prime Minister’s post. 

The other members of the NC-led alliance wanted Deuba to accommodate Dahal’s demand for the sake of keeping the alliance intact and keeping Oli out of power. 

But Deuba, inexplicably, remained intransigent and asserted that he would become the Prime Minister for the first 2.5 years. His offer of plum posts to the Maoists was rejected by the latter. 

Even when the NC’s other allies warned Deuba that his obstinacy could lead to NC’s political isolation and they would be forced to part ways with the NC, Deuba did not budge. 

On Sunday morning, the final round of negotiations between Deuba and Dahal failed. Dahal turned down Deuba’s ‘last request’ to reconsider his demand for becoming the Prime Minister immediately. 

How The Alliance With Oli Shaped Up

After negotiations with Deuba broke down on Sunday morning, Dahal drove to Oli’s residence and accepted the latter’s earlier offer of forming an alliance. The wily Oli, who is widely perceived to be Beijing’s proxy in Kathmandu, had offered a power-sharing deal to Dahal. 

Under this deal, Oli offered to make Dahal the Prime Minister for the first half of the five-year term while his party would get its nominee elected as President of the country (incumbent President Bidya Devi Bhandari’s term ends in January next year). The CPN(UML) would also get its nominee elected as Speaker of the Lower House.

In mid-2025, after Dahal stepped down from the PM’s post in favour of Oli, the Speaker of the Pratinidhi Sabha would also step down and a nominee of the Maoists would be elected to the Speaker’s post.  

But Dahal was reluctant to accept the offer due to his bitter parting with Oli last year and also because he does not fully trust Oli. 

However, Dahal’s ambition triumphed and he buried his past misgivings about Oli to join hands with him once again. 

Past Bitterness Between Oli And Dahal

The CPN(MC) was an ally of the CPN(UML) and the two had fought the 2017 polls together before merging and forming the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in May 2018. Oli became the Prime Minister while Dahal became the chairperson of the newly-formed NCP. 

The alliance between the two communist parties — the CPN(UML) and the CPN(MC) — was announced suddenly in October 2017 and took everyone in Nepal by surprise. The alliance between the two, and their subsequent merger, was firmly guided by Beijing. 

Chinese envoys and interlocutors held many rounds of negotiations between the two parties and firmly nudged them to bury their differences and join hands.

While entering into an alliance in 2017, Dahal and Oli had reportedly reached a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ to switch posts in the middle of the five-year term with Dahal taking over as Prime Minister from Oli and the latter becoming the NCP chair. 

But as the time for this switch of posts approached in mid-2020, Oli flatly denied the existence of any such agreement with Dahal and refused to vacate the Prime Minister’s post in Dahal’s favour. This led to a lot of acrimony between the two with Dahal repeatedly threatening to part ways over the next few months. 

In March 2021, the Supreme Court of Nepal ruled the merger between the CPN(UML) and CPN(MC) invalid since the ‘NCP’ name had already been allotted to another (little-known) party. 

But by that time, ties between the CPN(UML) and CPN(MC) had already gone beyond the point of no return and the two parties happily reverted to their old identities. That was followed by Dahal withdrawing support to the ruling coalition led by Oli. 

China tried its best to keep Dahal and Oli together. The then Chinese envoy to Nepal, Hou Yanqi, drew widespread attention and censure for her open and blatant interference in Nepal’s internal affairs. She met the two communist leaders repeatedly in order to negotiate a rapprochement between the two. 

But all those efforts failed. Oli’s machinations to stay on in power after his government was reduced to a minority also failed. His attempts to hold early elections were foiled by the Supreme Court, and Oli was forced to step down in May 2021. 

After Oli’s resignation, Dahal offered support to the NC. Oli’s CPN(UML) had, by then, suffered a split with a group of leaders walking out and forming the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Socialist)

How Oli Outfoxed His Rivals

As soon as the results of the 20 November elections started coming out, and it appeared that no party would secure a majority, Oli got into the act. 

His masters in Beijing told Oli clearly that this time, he would have to keep his personal ambition (of occupying the PM’s post again) aside and act as the kingmaker. Beijing told him that he would have to be flexible and not lose sight of the ultimate goal of forming a communist government to keep the Nepali Congress, which is considered to be close to New Delhi, out of power. 

Oli played the script penned by Beijing. Even before the final results were out, he reached out to Dahal and offered the power-sharing deal to the Maoist leader. His close confidantes kept on meeting Dahal’s close aides and other leaders, including second-rung functionaries of the Maoist party. 

And in a very smart move, Oli also offered a power-sharing deal to the Nepali Congress. Oli’s aides spoke to Sher Bahadur Deuba and held a few rounds of talks with him. The deal offered by Oli was another power-sharing deal on the lines that he had offered to Dahal. 

Alarmed over the CPN(UML) having reached out to the NC and the possibility of the two arriving at an agreement that would leave him out in the cold, Dahal stepped up his engagement with the NC and offered to forego most other posts if he is allowed to become the Prime Minister immediately. 

But the NC held firm because it was convinced that if talks with Dahal failed and he walked out of the alliance, it had a back-up and would accept the power-sharing deal offered by Oli. 

But Oli’s offer to the NC was a mere eyewash designed to keep the NC complacent in the false belief that it could afford to turn down Dahal’s demand because it could then enter into an alliance with Oli’s party and form the next government. 

As soon as the Nepali Congress turned down Dahal’s demand for the final time, Beijing’s plan executed through Oli fell into place. Dahal went to Oli and Oli made him the Prime Minister. The Nepali Congress was outfoxed and left out in the cold. 

Even while keeping up its engagements with the Nepali Congress and the Moaists, Oli kept on negotiating with the smaller parties in order to shore up an absolute majority to form the next government. 

That ultimately bore fruit and on Sunday, immediately after Dahal and Oli joined hands, five smaller parties announced they would join the CPN(UML)-led new alliance. 

The Rashtriya Swatantra Party (RSP) with its 20 MPs, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) with 14 MPs, the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) with its 12 MPs, the Janamat Party (six MPs) and Nagarik Unmukti Party (four MPs) announced they would join the CPN(UML)-led alliance. 

Three Independent MPs (Prabhu Sah, Kiran Kumar Sah and Amresh Kumar Singh) also announced their support for the new alliance. The new alliance has the support of 169 members, including 78 from the CPN(UML) and the 32 MPs of the Maoist party. 

Incidentally, the Nepali Congress was also holding talks with these smaller parties and NC leaders had claimed that the RSP, RPP, Janamat Party and the Nagarik Unmukti Party had pledged support to its bid to form the next government. 

But unknown to the NC, all these parties had already firmed up a deal with the CPN(UML) to form the next government. Their talks with the Nepali Congress were just an eyewash to make the NC leadership complacent.

The critical factor in Oli’s Beijing-dictated plans was winning Dahal over. Once that happened, the rest of the plan fell in place with the smaller parties openly siding with the CPN(UML). 

The Nepali Congress is now left with just two allies — the CPN(US) which has 10 MPs and the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party with its four MPs. 

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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