UML-Maoist election alliance: Cards or compulsion?

Kathmandu, 9 September, 2017 :  The CPN-UML and the CPN (Maoist Centre) are mulling over forming an alliance for the upcoming federal and provincial elections. As the parties are busy selecting their candidates for the two crucial polls, leaders on both sides say informal discussions for the purpose are going on.

The development follows reports that the Nepali Congress and the Maoist Centre are working to enter into alliance in more than 50 seats of the federal parliament.Both the parties are said to have realised the need for cooperation after the results of the third phase of local elections in Province 2. Voices are growing in the UML for unity with leftist parties, particularly the Maoist Centre, in order to secure a majority in the federal parliament.
The UML faction led by Madhav Kumar Nepal, and influential leader Bam Dev Gautam are pressing the party leadership to take initiatives to form an alliance with the Maoist Centre, which stands third in the total number of top local federal unit posts won. The recently concluded Central Committee meeting of the UML blamed the party’s poor showing in the local level elections in Province 2 for its “lack of interest” for alliance with like-minded forces. Some UML leaders have regretted the end to the UML-Maoist alliance that was forged when the party was in power.
“We cannot do anything if the NC and the Maoists continue their alliance. If the Maoists agree, we’re ready for alliance [with them],” Nepal said at a programme on Tuesday. Many in the UML are calling for efforts to breach the NC-UML unity that has sustained for a year already.
Among the Maoists as well, there are strong voices for unity with leftist forces. In Province 2, the Maoists had expected an alliance with the Congress as in the first and second phases of the local level elections. However, the NC largely refused to share local government seats with the Maoists in the eight Tarai districts. After this episode, calls grew louder in the Maoist party for unity with the UML if the NC was not serious about it.
Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Tuesday said his party was in talks for possible alliance with both the NC and the UML.The two largest parties believe that the Maoists will emerge as the third largest force after provincial elections, which means the former rebel force will have a decisive role in government formation at the centre as well as in the provinces. Some in the UML fear there might be an understanding between the NC and the Maoists to continue with their alliance for the elections and also in the governing coalitions that follow.The results of the local level election indicate that the NC, UML and the Maoists will emerge as the first, second and third parties, respectively. If this happens, the Maoist Centre will be the kingmaker and thus a desirable ally for both the large parties.
Game-changing potential
When the left-wing parties, aided by the powerful show of the then CPN Maoist, now the CPN (Maoist Center), a new entrant in the mainstream politics, clinched near two-thirds majority in the first Constituent Assembly (CA) elections in 2008, it came as a dream come true for Nepal’s left support base and longtime advocates of left unity. 
The reasons were obvious. Despite their long existence in Nepali politics, leftwing forces in Nepal were seldom in a position to lead the government. No communist leader except UML’s Manmohan Adhikari have had the chance to lead the government.
The success of the first CA changed everything. It did not only put the left-wing forces in a comfortable position to lead the government but also gave a strong reason to the longtime advocates of left unity to pursue their cause. 
The advocates of left unity had inched much closer in realizing their dream of forming an indomitable left alliance by mediating a power sharing deal between the CPN (Maoist Center) and UML following the first CA. 
But it did not last longer due to numerous reasons, mainly due to the tussle between the then Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s government and Nepal Army, Dahal’s ego and personal rivalry with other communist leaders both inside and outside his party. 
Efforts to unite left faced a major roadblock with the emergence of Nepali Congress as the largest party in the second CA followed by a vertical split in the CPN Maoist.  
The grand left alliance comprising UML, CPN (Maoist Center) and Naya Shakti Nepal announced earlier this week should be seen as the continuation of the post 2008 CA elections efforts to bring the left parties together. 
Local poll results change everything 
The issue of unifying left forces kept coming on the table of CPN-UML and Maoist Center without much progress. Though cross party leaders from both UML and Maoist Center never really gave up on their efforts, they had not found a strong reason for left unity. The results of the local elections came as that reason. The local polls had once again shifted the balance of power to the left. Of the 753 local units in the country, UML and Maoist Center had respectively own 294 and 105 seats.  
UML and Maoist Center leaders were quick to see that a unified left would put them in a comfortable position to get majority in the upcoming provincial and parliamentary elections scheduled for November 26 and December 7. 
In addition to that, both UML and Maoist Center saw greater benefits to secure their short-term and long-term interest. For UML, this came as an opportune moment to break the alliance between NC and Maoist Center. If the alliance succeeds in repeating the success of the local polls in the upcoming elections, it would ensure a stable government for the next five years. 
The Maoist Center, on the other hand, saw it as an opportunity for a safe landing. Though the party had somehow managed to win inover 100 units in the local polls, leaders of Maoist Center were increasingly concerned with the party’s shrinking space. 
With 40 percent stake in the unified party, Maoist Center Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal will continue to remain a kingmaker in Nepali politics. 
The left alliance, if it achieves the expected success in the upcoming polls, could significantly alter the balance of power in Kathmandu. If the result of the local poll is anything to go by, the alliance will dominate power at least for five years and can consolidate further power by bringing fringe communist parties on board.
This could be instrumental in bringing about a much-needed opportunity to usher Nepal into an era of political stability and economic prosperity. 
Despite its game-changing potential, things do not look as smooth for the left alliance as it may appear. Cross party leaders said the announcement of unification is an important step forward but it is still too early to say whether it will materialize. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the alliance will produce expected results. 
“Much will depend on how well we fare in the upcoming elections and the power sharing deal that follows,” said Mani Thapa, a Maoist Center leader. 
UML leader Yogesh Bhattarai said that the alliance faces some obvious challenges but insisted that the challenges are worth it. 
“We have overcome the biggest challenge by forging the alliance. If everything goes well, it will be far easier to overcome the remaining challenges,” said Bhattarai.
Role of external actor
Although there are rumors making the rounds that external actors, particularly northern neighbor, had a role in facilitating the forging of leftist alliance, chairs of both UML and Maoist Center brushed aside such suggestions in implicit manner. Speaking at a function organized to announce the unification agreement, the two leaders even assured that the alliance was not aimed against any of the neighbors, apparently to allay the concerns of New Delhi. 
Maoist Center Chairman Dahal said their overture was not aimed at any of the neighbors. “This alliance is in favor of Nepal as a country and the Nepali people. This is in favor of Nepal’s sovereignty,” he said, while adding that their alliance is aimed at bringing social justice and unleash economic prosperity in the country. Dahal also clarified that their alliance is not aimed against the ruling Nepali Congress.
Similarly, UML Chair Oli said that their alliance was not directed against anyone, apparently hinting at possible discomfort of New Delhi. “This is in favor of Nepal. This is the aspiration of the Nepali people. This is the desire of the Nepali people,” he said, while adding that the alliance between the UML and Maoist Center would drive the country toward political stability and economic prosperity. 
Oli said that they want to maintain balanced and friendly relations with neighboring countries based on mutual equality and in the capacity of sovereign countries. 
“We will maintain foreign relations based on the principles enshrined in the UN Charter, non-aligned movement, and five principles of peaceful co-existence,” he said.
What will happen to the government?
Although UML Chairman Oli said during the function that their priority for now is not the government, there are discussions within the UML and Maoist Center to form a new government.
As the current parliament expires on October 21, a section of UML and Maoist Center leaders are concerned about the likelihood of Prime Minister Deuba’s possible move to defer the elections scheduled for November 26 and December 7. 
UML and Maoist Center leaders said serious discussions are underway within both the UML and Maoist Center. 
“We want to ensure elections at any cost in the stipulated date. There are concerns that change in the government could jeopardize the prospect of holding the polls within the stipulated dates,” a leader familiar about the development told Republica.
Both provincial and federal elections must be held before the constitutional deadlines of January 21, 2018 to bring the new constitution into implementation. Some leaders of UML and Maoist Center have maintained that the NC may not go to that extent to derail the ongoing peace process by deferring the polls.  


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