Will Congress Join Government?
The largest party in the Legislature-Parliament, the Nepali Congress (NC), has so far warded off all urges to join the current government, a coalition of parties having conflicting ideologies. Many were hopeful that the Congress would join the government after its protracted general convention concluded a month ago. The Congress, however, exhibited its reluctance to participate in the KP Oli-led coalition government, much to the chagrin of the coalition partners.
No mood to join government
Newly elected NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba has minced no words: the Congress is not in the mood to join the government. Leaders of the major coalition partners of the government, such as UCPN-Maoist chair Prachanda and Prime Minister KP Oli, however, have been asking the Congress to join the government to facilitate the swift and effective implementation of the constitution. So much so that the UCPN-Maoist chairman even declared that the NC was all prepared to participate in the government anytime soon.
The shying away of the Nepali Congress from being a part of the government has been inferred as the Congress’s aversion to the present government, “which has failed to respect its role as the largest party in the parliament,” and, is rather happy acting as a responsible opposition.
The NC appears interested more in resolving the prevailing political crises stemming from the Madhesi protests in the Terai. An indication of this has been witnessed when the Congress president, Deuba, started cozying up with the agitating Madhesi parties so as to address some of their crucial demands.
Many do believe that the Congress’s refusal to reciprocate the call to participate in the government is due mainly to its important position in the present day polity. The agitating Madhesis have urged the Congress to take the lead in resolving their long stand-off with the government. The Congress appears to be listening to the Madhesi urges.
The Congress is not keen to participate in the government as it feels it was betrayed by the coalition partners during the elections and appointments to key constitutional and other major posts. Majority of the communist parties that are part of the current coalition government have shared all the key posts among themselves, ignoring the Congress. The posts of president, vice president and the speaker along with several other key appointments went to the ruling communist parties. The coalition partners recently stoked another controversy after it nominated the names of judges to the Supreme Court, further frustrating the parliament’s largest party.
The relationship between the parties of the coalition government and the Nepali Congress had soured after the largest party was not allowed to lead the government. The two big communist parties - the Maoists and the UML -- and many smaller communist parties joined hands to hand over the government leadership to the UML chair. The Congress had wanted to lead the government, in a bid to resolve the raging Madhesi protests in the Terai and unofficial Indian blockade that coincided with the promulgation of the new constitution.
The present coalition government, which came to power after the then Congress president Sushil Koirala was defeated in the election for the prime minister, has drawn criticism for failing to address the Terai problems and resolve the difficulties facing the nation ever since the Indian blockade. Neither has it been successful in implementing the new constitution smoothly and effectively even though the new charter has completed six months of its promulgation, though the coalition partners have heaped blames on the NC for abetting the crises and instability by not being part of the government.
The Congress leaders, particularly the newly elected president, have been exuding the confidence that they can resolve the present crises if allowed to take the leadership of the government. On the contrary, the coalition partners want the Congress on the government board to bolster their own position. The participation of the Congress would give the present government the shape of a national unity government. The participation of the Congress might also encourage the government to tackle all the challenges from the Madhesi parties.
As the coalition partners call on the Congress to take part in the government, many Congressmen have been rightly searching for an answer to a burning query: how can the coalition parties in the government ask the NC to join it when the party was overlooked while filling key posts and making major decisions?
The current make-up of the government has also been the reason for the Congress’s lack of enthusiasm to take part in the government. The inclusion of RPP-Nepal, a pro-royalist and anti-secular party, has not gone down well with the Congress. RPP-Nepal enjoys a powerful place in the present government which is a defendant of the pro-republic and pro-secular constitution. Despite being an important part of the present government, the RPP-Nepal chief frequently makes remarks that can well be perceived as anti-constitutional.
Joining the government would also be considered the Congress’s surrender to a coalition government, dominated by communist parties of different hues and stripes and a pro-royalist party. If it joins the government, many believe, the largest party will be forced to play second fiddle in the government and, at times, will have to follow the UML, the Maoists and other smaller parties while taking major government decisions.
It seems that the present political crises have prodded the ruling coalition to urge the Nepali Congress to join the government. The Madhesis are threatening to begin another round of a crippling agitation while the southern neighbour is not very cooperative to the present dispensation. Many think that the Madhesis and southern neighbour want to see a replacement of the present government.
Eye on next government
The chances of the Congress joining the government seem a distant hope at present. The Congress has apparently weighed the pros and cons of joining the government, and the party thinks it might be better for the party not to participate in the government. It would rather serve its purpose if it took the lead in resolving the current crises, which may win many accolades for the party and lend strong credit for the party, enabling it to lead the next government.