29 Dec 2017 - 4 jan 2018 #890

Shape of things to come

The bargaining for power in the merged communist parties and the wrangling in the provinces is a sign of things to come, and what lies in store for Nepali politics in the new year
Kunda Dixit

Om Astha Rai
PREVIEW: In a scene that is probably going to be common in 2018, protesters at Bhanu Chok in Dharan demanding that the capital of Province 1 be located in their city. The other contenders are Itahari, Biratnagar and Dhankuta. There are similar protests in other provinces.

The current post-political transition transition in Nepali politics is not due to President Bidya Devi Bhandari sitting on an ordinance, or the Nepali Congress insisting that it get more seats in the Upper House.

What is actually holding things up is uncertainty over the announced merger between the UML and the Maoists. Whether they unite and how will, in large measure, determine the outcome of Nepal’s politics in 2018 and beyond.

After their Left Alliance scored a better-than-expected win in this year’s elections, the two party leaders K P Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal have been regarding each other with suspicion. Oli was a revolutionary who used violence as a political weapon in the Jhapa Uprising of the 1960s – long before Dahal launched his armed struggle in the 1990s. It would be a stretch to label either of them ‘communist’ today, but both have suspicion, intrigue and conspiracy in their DNA.

Which is why in the past week, they have flirted with the two largest Madhes-based parties, threatening to go it alone. While the Maoists have kept quiet on the President, the UML has persuaded her from behind-the-scenes to put the ordinance in the bottom drawer.

The UML’s strategy is to buy time to work on party unity by reassuring the Maoists that it is desirable, and shore up geopolitical support with the big neighbours to the north and south. Oli and Dahal finally met on Wednesday, cleared the air somewhat, and instructed their unification task force to begin work.

But progress will depend on how much trust Oli and Dahal can build on power-sharing. The two have decided to rotate the prime ministership, but the crucial bargaining is over who will chair the merged party. Dahal would desperately like to, but Oli knows he will have a UML mutiny in his hands if he lets that happen. The other options under discussion are: taking turns chairing the joint party, co-chairing the party, or a joint coterie leading the party.

Meanwhile, confusion reigns over the powers of the new provincial assemblies, where their capitals should be, and where they should be housed.

For many, the bargaining for power in the merged communist parties and the wrangling in the provinces is a sign of things to come, and what lies in store for Nepali politics in the new year.

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