New Development: UML-UDMF Dialogue
With the beginning of February, a new political development has surfaced. The main opposition CPN-UML and the disgruntled but supporter of the present coalition government United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) held first ever dialogue over political issues after a year. These two forces have opposing stances on constitution amendment bill tabled in the parliament. The UML has termed the bill as anti-national whereas the UDMF has taken it as a prerequisite to hold the proposed local polls for May. The UMDF leaders have portrayed UML as anti-Madhesi whereas the UML has taken UDMF as an instrument of foreign power. For a year or so, these two forces have had no politically cordial relation, and they had no meeting as such. Given the fact that their opposing stances have created a nasty political deadlock, it is a good development that they both have started to hold meeting and try to understand each other and share their opinion face-to-face to resolve the differences. But, is their meeting limited to only giving a way out to the deadlock and help implement the constitution through elections?
Top leaders of the UML have recently started to challenge Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' either to resign or hold local polls as pledged. They have been saying this with good reasons. The Prime Minister has on many occasions said that the local level elections will be held by mid-May. There has been an understanding among the three major parties, ruling CPN-Maoist Center and Nepali Congress and the main opposition CPN-UML, on this in principle. But there is something more. All along exerting pressure on the government to hold polls by brushing aside the constitution amendment bill or give up power, the UML has started dialogue with the UDMF, and this makes things clear that the UML is warning the ruling parties about the possible power change. It has given a clear signal that it also started a power game. The UDMF has only supported the government, not joined it, and that it had been successful to have the constitution amendment bill tabled in the parliament. It is possible that if UML agrees to support the bill and help its endorsement once it reaches the power, the UDMF may withdraw its support to the government and pave the way for the UML. Since NC and MC have already registered the bill, they will be morally, politically bound to support it. Reports say that UML is urging the UDMF leaders to consider resolving the issue of changing boundaries of Province no. 4 and 5 by a commission, and that all within three months. If the UDMF leaders agree to this, a change in power is likely because the UDMF has little hope from present government that it will be able to take UML into confidence and get the bill endorsed. One very crucial coalition partner of the government, Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), has expressed dissatisfaction with the Prime Minister on many issues, and it is likely that this party may switch allegiance to the UML-UDMF coalition.
There is one more point for both UDMF and UML to work together. It is a kind of political compulsion. It has been clear by now that without UDMF support no election can be held and without UML consent constitution amendment bill cannot be endorsed. UML wants elections because it believes it can cash on popular nationalistic sentiment in the polls as soon as they are held while UDMF wants the endorsement of the bill so that it can cash on the same in elections.
Although UML leaders have been saying they are ready for any elections and exerting pressure on the government to announce local level polls, they seem to be eager to hold parliamentary/federal elections. Since UDMF has objections to the local level restructuring as made by the local level restructuring commission (LLRC) and they want some 100 units added to the number of local units proposed in the LLRC report, it is likely that they will be ready even for the federal parliamentary election. They know, unlike in the local polls, national issues can be raised more loudly in the federal parliament similar national level elections.
Of course, UML chair KP Sharma Oli and Prime Minister Prachanda, who is also CPN-MC chair, also had a meeting last week. But the meeting held at Maoist Center vice chair Narayan Kaji Shrestha's residence did not do any good to the Maoists. It instead made the key ruling ally, Nepali Congress, suspicious over the MC because it was floated that Oli gave word of 'support' to PM Prachanda even if the present government brought out the policy and programmes and the annual budget. Given the fact that the MC and NC has an agreement to hand over power to NC after holding the local polls, the UML knows that it will be out of power for long if they both stick to that agreement. Hence, it would be beneficial for UML if rifts are created between the NC and MC. If we turn back at the political maneuvering since the promulgation of the constitution, this looks just simple because coalition has changed time and again and within less than a year. First, UML blamed NC for betrayal in power hand over and formed coalition with the MC and then MC blamed UML for betrayal and formed coalition with the NC.
Although there are speculations from different angles, the dialogue between the UML and the UDMF is a positive development because it has given a new hope that the ongoing deadlock will end soon and the country will move toward elections. But there is one point that the UML should not deviate from its focus on local level elections. Flexibility can be adopted for increasing the number of the local level units to appease the UDMF, but it will be disastrous if the country jumps into parliamentary elections instead of local ones as proposed for mid-May. UML will have another political leverage if it persuades the UDMF to take part in the local polls. But if it gets engaged in power game, all of its stances will be seen as cards only for reaching power.