Heralding a development that will have far reaching impact on the political landscape of Nepal, Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and the Maoist Centre headed by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, “Prachanda”, have achieved the seemingly tall goal of unification of their two parties. It is their poll promise too, and has been in the works for a while; yet the announcement retained all the ingredients of surprise since the merger came within days of the installation of Oli ministry.
Oli, Prachanda and senior leaders from both sides signed the seven-point charter for a Unified Communist Party on the 19th of February. The Maoist Centre did not join the government on the 15th when Prime Minister Oli was sworn in along with three others – all from CPN (UML). Now, the Maoists will send seven ministers while UML will take their strength to eleven. The ministry expansion may take place in phases. There appears no hitch in portfolio allocations, and it, certainly, is a good augury. Nepal has seen coalitions with short shelve life largely because of mutual recrimination and jockeying for power.
The UML and the Maoists came together last October after Prachanda pulled out of the Nepal Congress-led coalition. And, as Left Alliance, won a resounding mandate – nearly two third majority – in Federal Parliament and moved into the treasury benches in six of the seven newly constituted provinces.
Who will head the new Communist power force?
What will be its ideology?
While the answer to the first question is still shrouded in mystery, Marxism and Leninism appears to guide the unified party. This is understandable since one is wedded to Marxism and Leninism, and the other to revolutionary Maoism. While safeguarding and strengthening the achievements made so far, they would lay the foundation for socialism through economic and social transformation and would work to strengthen nationalism, democracy and social justice.
Primarily, the deal stipulates that Oli and Prachanda will take turns to become Prime Minister and evenly split the tenure. Though it is not in said in black and white, Oli will head the government for first three years of the five – year term of Parliament and the Maoist supremo for the remaining two years. The posts of Nepal President and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representative will go to the UML and that of Speaker and Vice President to the Maoist Centre.
Right from the outset, Maoist Centre insisted that if Oli becomes Prime Minister, Prachanda should be named as Chairman of the Unified Communist party. But the merger agreement is silent as to who would Chair the unified party meetings.
Prachanda told reporters after signing the deal that “both of us will remain party chiefs and internal meetings will be chaired by turns.” Prime Minister Oli’s Press Coordinator Chetan Adhikari added that the co-chairing arrangement would continue “until the new party’s first General Assembly takes place in another two years.” In the meantime interim political document and interim constitution of the unified party would be finalised, and adopted.
Will the new Oli-Prachanda Party have a smooth sail? Difficult to crystal gaze.
It is essential to remember that some scars of Maoists ten- year long violent past are still alive. One sore point with the Maoists is the fact that the disbanded Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) cadres are not yet resettled. Given the liberal attitude on both sides, the resettlement may not pose a major problem.
Another knotty issue that could confront the new government and the unified party is the grievance of the Madhes centric parties, minorities and Janjati groups. They are demanding amendment to the Constitution for re-organisation of provinces based on population and language.
Social justice demands redrawing the boundaries of provinces, they assert, and it was this plank that had made them win popular mandate in the Madhes region. Madhesi leaders are on record to say that they will raise the Constitutional Amendment issue again if the new government does not deal with their concerns in a pragmatic way.
Rashtriya Janta Party Nepal, RJPN, and Federal Socialist Forum Nepal, FSFN, have formed government in Province -2 in Southern Nepal, bordering India. In the remaining six provinces, Communists and Maoists share power. UML heads government in four provinces; the remaining two provinces have Maoist Chief Ministers in accordance with an agreed formula.
May be as an insurance against any turbulence in Madhes areas, the Oli government has begun negotiations with leaders of RJPN, and FSFN. The offer on the table is an invitation to join the government.
If the offer finds acceptance, the turn of events will be advantage Prime Minister Oli. His government would garner two – third majority in Parliament required for any Constitutional amendment as well as assuage the feelings of Madhesis, Tharus, Janjatis, Minorities and other groups.
There is no gain in saying the fact that Oli – Prachanda will have to find a solution to the demand of the Madhesis. Also they must work to thwart the dangers of extreme ideologies of ultra-nationalism and radicalisation while drawing up a common ideology for their Unified Party.
Prachanda was the first Prime Minister of Nepal after the country became a Federal Democratic Republic. His Maoists had won 220 seats in the first 601-member Constituent Assembly. That was in April 2008. It is only now that Federalism is in place in the Himalayan Nation with a bicameral Parliament and seven Provincial Assemblies in place.
Nepal has witnessed a long period of turmoil particularly after the bloody massacre of former King Birendra and his family in Kathmandu at the beginning of this century; the country also saw frequent change of Prime Ministers.
Hopefully, Nepal will henceforth see political stability which is sine qua non for good governance. First, of course, the country will have to consolidate its gains to usher in an era of peace, development and social justice.
* The author is a former Special Correspondent of All India Radio in Kathmandu