19-25 May 2017 #859

Love birds

Om Astha Rai

Diwakar Chettri

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has proven himself a true gentleman by keeping his promise to step down, and install NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba as new Prime Minister.

In August last year, Dahal made a “gentleman’s agreement” to hand over the PM’s chair to Deuba after local elections in return for the NC’s support to the Maoist-led government. But such agreements have often been broken in Nepali politics, and there was speculation Dahal would do the same. But after the first round of local elections this week, the prime minister said he will resign “in a few days”.

Maoist Centre Secretary Barshaman Pun confirmed that Dahal will step down at the next parliamentary meeting, and the party will back Deuba to become Prime Minister for the fourth time.

“Deuba will be Prime Minister, but the Maoist-NC ruling coalition will remain the same,” Pun told Nepali Times on Thursday. “The cabinet will be reshuffled, with induction of new faces.”

As the ruling coalition enters a new phase, the alliance of Madehsi parties, Rashtriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), looks anxious that it might be left out once again. It is still backing the ruling coalition, hoping the government will amend the Constitution as a face-saver so it can participate in the second phase of local elections on 14 June. RJPN leaders met Dahal and Deuba and asked them to amend the Constitution before the PM swap.

But NC leader Amresh Kumar Singh told us Thursday amending the Constitution is unlikely even before the election – a line that Indian ambassador Manjeev Singh Puri is reported to have conveyed to Madhesi leaders. The Hindustan Times reported this week that Puri told Madhesi leaders to drop their demand for the amendment and participate in the 14 June vote.

But RJPN leader Brijesh Kumar Gupta is adamant about not taking part in elections without the amendment even if India tells them to. “How can we go for elections without amendments, and make the sacrifices of so many Madhesi lives worthless?” he asked.

Still, it is unlikely the RJPN will ignore India’s advice. The success of the first round of elections is also too tempting to resist. The Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN), another Tarai-centric party, took part in the first round, and is preparing for the second one. If the RJPN boycotts the second phase, the Forum may emerge as the biggest Madhes-based party.

With less than a month to go for the second phase, and the ruling coalition still unable to secure the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution, Maoist and NC leaders are trying to persuade Madhesi leaders with other offers. On Thursday, a cabinet meeting recognised recent Madhes and Tharuhat strikes as “political movements”. Outgoing PM Dahal also directed the Law Ministry to table a proposal in the next cabinet meeting to withdraw criminal charges against those arrested by police during Madhes-Tharuhat agitations last year.

Read also:

All eyes on the 2nd round

Nepal votes

Stuck with these three, Om Astha Rai

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