A Compulsion Of Coalition Culture

Naryan Upadhyay

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba the other day expanded his cabinet. The inclusion of four new faces has inflated the cabinet to a jumbo size of 54 members. The current size of the Council of Ministers is the biggest one in the nation’s history.
After the expansion of the record expansion of the cabinet, many in the nation have been asking a question- what has led the prime minister to inflate his cabinet to the jumbo size?
It appears that the compulsion of the coalition culture forced the prime minister to expand his cabinet for the fifth time since he assumed office three months ago. As the present government has been formed with the support of various political parties representing in the Legislature Parliament, there are many aspirants in all the coalition partners, who wanted to taste the trappings of power by extending the crucial support to the Deuba led government.
Prime Minister Deuba included several ministerial hopefuls of the parties that have still provided support to his government, which was formed on a rotation basis, following the resignation of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the chairman of the main coalition partner, the Maoist (Centre).
The inclusion of more faces in the cabinet is actually one of the ways for the prime minister to ensure his government won’t face any crisis of survival at this crucial juncture, when alliances among the political parties are broken at the slightest hint. Political commentators say that no one can predict the mood and behaviour of the leaders of any party at present as they can change side in no time, given the fragile nature of our politics. Many of the political leaders are frequently guided by their hunger for power. They often hanker after ministerial positions, for which they can go to any limit, even to create breakups in their own parties or alliances with coalition partners. The prime minister had to opt to include the members of the political parties so that no dissatisfied power hungry leaders create unnecessary troubles for his government.
It is said that Premier Deuba had to include the four members of the newly formed Rastriya Prajatantra Party (Prajatantrik) as the party had extended its crucial support to his government after it split with the Prajatantra Party led by Kamal Thapa.
The “delay” caused in the inclusion of the four RPP (P) ministers had actually made the RPP leaders, especially Deepak Bohara along with other two “directly elected RPP leaders, Sunil Thapa and Bikram Pandey and few others quite restless.
The grapevine was abuzz with the rumour that these dissatisfied RPP (P) leaders might have caused another upheaval in their newly formed party and then in the government, if they were not immediately appointed as ministers. It is said that Bohara wanted to be a minister as quickly as possible out of fear of facing investigation into his alleged involvement in the Nepal Oil Corporation land purchasing scam. The land purchasing scam had taken place when Bohara was the Minister for Supply, which looks after the affairs of the country’s oil monopoly, NOC.
Another compulsion that goaded the premier to enlarge the size of his cabinet appears to be his cravings to remain in power till the nation holds two major elections- the election for the federal parliament and for provincial assemblies, slated for December. In three months time, when the nation heads for two major polls, the present government will be rendered into a caretaker government whose major responsibility would be to hold elections successfully. The period of elections is indeed a crucial time and the government or prime minister would like to remain in the office to ensure the major tasks of holding polls are completed under its stewardship.
However, given the fragile nature of the Nepali coalition culture, no one can predict which political ally would break away from the coalition partnership to form another coalition with the opposition parties. To keep the bunch of power hungry leaders, the prime minister had no choice but to inflate his cabinet, despite attracting wider criticism for rendering his Council of Minister.
With 54 members in the cabinet, the Deuba-led government can feel relieved that it has included the members of almost all coalition partners in the cabinet, which can be of great help for the survival of the government. The government at present enjoys comfortable majority in the parliament. The same majority can help the government to endorse several key bills that can be passed with the simple majority.
Despite playing it safe for his government, the prime minister could not save himself from criticisms after he turned his cabinet into a record size Council of Ministers. The expansion of the cabinet is in direct violation of the constitution which permits a government to have upto 25 ministers in its cabinet.
The Election Commission, which had earlier prohibited any new appointments or transfer of the government officials, called into question the expansion of the cabinet. It has opposed the expansion saying that the government had itself breached the election code. Other criticised the government because the already bigger 50-member size of the cabinet was further expanded, only to incur losses on the government coffer. The nation will have to spend thousands of millions in providing facilities, perks and salary to the ministers. Many said that the expansion was unnecessary for the government.
Prime Minister Deuba, it appears, was compelled to enlarge the size of the cabinet only because he had to fulfill the “promises” he had made to several of his coalition partners in return of their support during the difficult time of forming his government. He had no choice but to undertake such an unpopular path only to ensure that the “power hungry “ members of the coalition parties would not change their stance and loyalty during this “crucial period”, when the nation is about to hold the two major elections. He must have felt that if he did not include many ministerial hopefuls in his cabinet, the political equation may change any time to cause unexpected harm to his government.

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