Left alliance: For mere electoral gains or for betterment of country?
Two major communist parties of Nepal, CPN-UML and CPN Maoist Centre (MC), have caused a political earthquake by announcing electoral alliance. Bigwigs of these two parties have announced this week that this electoral alliance can lead to merger after provincial/parliamentary elections to be held in November. Dr Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti party has also jumped on the alliance bandwagon as he and his party was facing existential crisis with top leaders quitting the party en masse.
How did this rapport between two “bitter enemies” come about? MC Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ and UML Chief KP Oli share on and off relationship. Last year Prachanda decided to withdraw support from the coalition government led by Oli and forced him an ungraceful exit. He then made a pact with Nepali Congress (NC) to form a government. Oli, known for stinging comments, never missed an opportunity to excoriate Prachanda who returned the barbs with equal vigour.
Therefore, it was surprising for the chattering classes that these two “foes” came together for an alliance. Political analysts say that both internal and external factors are responsible for this alliance. News reports have been coming out that the top and second rung leaders of the two parties had carried out multiple parleys to bring about the current alliance.
The major cause for MC to seek alliance with UML is its poor standing in the recent elections. After winning the most number of seats in the first Constituent Assembly elections, MC has seen a freefall in subsequent elections, with poor show in all phases of local elections being the latest example. MC top brass is learnt to have been reported by the party cadre at the local level that the party will secure a maximum of 12 seats in the parliamentary elections among 165 seats up for grabs.
This humiliating situation must have prompted MC to seek electoral alliance with either NC or UML. The alliance with NC in the two phases of local elections did not pay many dividends for the MC. In fact, one faction of NC led by Ram Chandra Poudel is learnt to have asked its party activists not to vote Maoist candidates. Even recently, NC leaders in Chitwan district said that they would not vote for Prachanda even if he had announced his candidacy in one of the constituencies of that district. Moreover, Deuba refused to make electoral alliance with MC during the third phase of local elections. Thus, MC calculated that there is no advantage in remaining in alliance with NC.
UML took this situation as an opportunity to bring MC in its fold. Bamdev Gautam, who has maintained good relations with Prachanda for a long time, did his best to facilitate talks between Oli and Prachanda. Bishnu Poudel and Yogesh Bhattarai also did their bit. Narayankaji Shrestha of MC also played a vital role in bringing the two leaders together as he was not happy with MC’s alliance with NC and Janardan Sharma ‘Prabhakar’ also was active.
The question arises: What is UML’s intention in joining hands with MC? After all it had a very good outing in the first two phases of local elections. It may have been humbled in the third phase but still its performance in the elections was enviable.
Analysts have pointed at the India factor.
Actually Oli and his party UML had come to the conclusion that Nepali Congress (NC) and MC toppled his government at India’s behest. Oli had stood up to Indian pressure during the inhuman border blockade imposed by the southern neighbour to show it dissatisfaction against Nepal’s new constitution. He then pivoted Nepal’s foreign policy to China and made trade and transportation agreements with the northern neighbour during the state visit.
India did not take Oli’s “adventures” lightly and plotted his downfall. For that it wooed as well as threatened MC to make an alliance with NC. It gave assurances to MC that it would always remain in government along with its coalition partner NC. At the same time, it threatened MC with human rights bogey (with suggestions of hauling across top leaders to The Hague for crimes committed during 10 years of conflict).
This Indian manoeuvering instilled fear in Oli and UML that they will be forever remain out of the government. Therefore, they had to break this alliance at any cost. By finally making a left alliance, Oli is satisfied that he has managed to put a tight slap across India’s face. Lokaantar has learnt from different sources that India is seriously unhappy with this new development and it can take a “drastic” action very soon. (Indian envoy Manjeeb Singh Puri is learnt to have warned Prachanda about its repercussions). Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was supposed to visit Nepal to lay foundation stone to Arun Hydroelectricity Project but it appears to have been put in shelves.
If this political development is India’s defeat, can it be called China’s victory? It is true that unlike in the past China has been active in Nepal. Indian newspapers have been crying hoarse about China’s increasing presence in Nepal. It has been already stated above that Oli and UML have pivoted Nepal’s foreign policy to China. It is learnt that China wants to prop up its supporter UML by facilitating a left alliance that is expected to sweep the upcoming elections. China must have thought that a strong left government (probably directly elected executive) will facilitate smooth Chinese investment and construction of its grand infrastructure projects.
In fact, it is learnt that leaders of both the parties have made a gentlemen’s agreement in pushing for two thirds majority in the upcoming elections and amend the constitution to enshrine the system of directly elected executive president. The parliamentary system with first-past-the-post and proportional election system has caused political instability in Nepal, facilitating change of government every year. Leaders across the political spectrum have been saying that stable government can ensure Nepal’s journey to prosperity. But a section of the society fears that totalitarianism may be ushered if communists secure two-thirds majority (Prachanda, with his dream of communist utopia still alive, does not want to change the name of party into, say, socialist or labour party).
Time will tell whether left alliance will be limited to electoral alliance or will go a step further. To counter the left alliance, NC has convened a democratic alliance with pro-monarchy and Hindu kingdom Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Terai-based parties. This polarisation between left and democratic forces appears good for the country. There are simply too many political parties in the country with no clear theoretical differences among them. Ideally, if those parties group under a broader ideological divide, there might be lesser chances for coalition government and a government will be able to complete its full tenure. But given the history of frequent break ups and mergers of communist parties, it is too early to write home about “left unity”.
Published on 6 October 2017