Pushpa Kamal Dahal tends to do a non sequitur. He often does.
The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) chairman has once again suddenly created ripples across the political spectrum by proposing federal elections in April-May—at a time when the Election Commission has proposed local polls for the same time.
In interviews published on Setopati, a news website, on Wednesday night, and in Kantipur, the Post’s sister paper, on Thursday, Dahal argues that federal elections should be held in April-May and that local polls should be delayed to October/November.
Dahal in the interviews has claimed that he put forth the proposal during a meeting of the ruling alliance’s high-level political coordination committee on Tuesday.
“We have been asking KP Sharma Oli [chair of the CPN-UML] to allow the House to function for the last six months. But the main opposition took a policy of obstructing the House until this Parliament completes its term. This situation itself seems disastrous for democracy and the constitution,” said Dahal in the interview with Kantipur.
Dahal is right in saying that the main opposition has been obstructing the House. The UML has an axe to grind. Its leaders say Speaker Agni Sapkota refused to comply with its decision to expel some of its lawmakers, thereby facilitating a split in the UML. Madhav Kumar Nepal, one of the lawmakers ousted by the UML, in late August formed the CPN (Unified Socialist).
But whether federal elections should be held first, in April-May, preceding local level polls is a question a section of political actors and constitutional experts have been asking.
While the main opposition has vehemently opposed Dahal’s proposal, some leaders from the ruling alliance have commented, obliquely though, against delays in electing new local governments.
“The constitution that we wrote does not envision a vacuum at the local level,” Gagan Thapa, Nepali Congress general secretary, wrote on Twitter on Thursday afternoon. “Any decision on elections must be taken in such a way that there is no vacuum at the local level. Congress is clear: this government was formed after a struggle against unconstitutional steps, so any decision by this government must be in line with the constitution.”
After Dahal made the proposal at Tuesday’s political coordination committee meeting, leaders said they would “again discuss the matter on Thursday”.
But Thursday’s meeting was called off. Nonetheless, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, also the president of the Nepali Congress, Dahal and Nepal did hold a meeting at Baluwatar on Thursday evening.
“The three leaders discussed the prospects of holding the parliamentary elections in April-May,” said a Congress leader. “Deuba is not convinced as yet, but he is not completely averse to the idea. More discussions will take place on the matter.”
A meeting of the high-level political coordination committee has been scheduled for Friday now.
Dahal’s proposal to hold parliamentary elections in April-May is seen by many as something that goes against the rule of law and the system and an attempt to throw the country into yet another cycle of instability.
The UML has minced no words. It says the Maoist Centre is so fearful of local elections that it does not want to face them.
“Periodic elections are the foundation of democracy,” said Rajan Bhattarai, a UML Central Committee member. “So delaying elections is a conspiracy against democracy and the constitution. It’s high time we exposed such conspirators.”
Dahal has been a central figure in Nepal’s parliamentary politics ever since he came above ground after his Maoist party signed a peace deal in 2006 and ended the “people’s war”.
The two-time prime minister, however, is on the verge of losing his relevance. Despite emerging as the single largest party in 2008, the Maoists were relegated to a distant third party in 2013. By 2017, when the general elections were held, the Maoist Centre was in so much trouble that it had no option than to tag along KP Sharma Oli’s UML to secure some seats. The communist alliance worked well. The UML and the Maoist Centre merged in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
But Dahal’s unease, after failing to get the space he wanted, led to an infighting in the NCP. A cornered Oli dissolved the House on December 20, 2020 and called for snap polls. Dahal vehemently opposed the move, calling it unconstitutional. On May 7 last year, the Supreme Court invalidated the NCP. Dahal got his Maoist party back.
Now, Dahal, who wants the current coalition led by Deuba to continue, is proposing early polls.
Multiple leaders the Post spoke to say there are a number of reasons why Dahal is making a pitch for parliamentary elections in April-May and that one of them is the fear of losing his relevance.
A senior Nepali Congress leader told the Post that Dahal might be aware of the ongoing backchannel talks and negotiations between Deuba and Oli.
If Deuba agrees on Oli’s formula—tabling in Parliament the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact, a $500 million American grant, then the present alliance will break down, according to the leader.
Dahal and Nepal’s parties are opposed to the MCC.
“This will mean the Maoist Centre and the CPN (Unified Socialist) have to face elections alone, without any alliance support,” said the leader. “That will mean they will fail in the elections. So Dahal is pushing for parliamentary elections in April-May, long before the alliance breaks down. This way, his party may secure some seats.”
But many say it would be wrong to undermine the constitution, the system and the rule of law in the interest of one particular leader.
Even a Standing Committee member of the Maoist Centre said that holding general elections in April-May and deferring local polls would be akin to putting the cart before the horse.
“That will be an unconstitutional move,” said the leader who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was criticising his own chairman. “I think it was his personal view and we are wondering who gave him such a regressive idea. What he proposed does not reflect the party’s position.”
Dev Gurung, a Central Committee member of the Maoist Centre said that Dahal’s proposal came in the wake of the ongoing deadlock in the House and that the matter is yet to be discussed seriously within the ruling alliance.
“If the deadlock in the House continues, it will invite unimaginable political situations. In that scenario, a state of emergency can be declared. Then foreign forces could prevail,” said Gurung. “So to prevent any untoward political situation, Dahal proposed parliamentary elections earlier than the scheduled date. If other coalition partners agree, the proposal will get through. Otherwise parties will find a new way.”
Upendra Yadav, chair of the Janata Samajbadi Party, also a coalition partner in the Deuba government, said that Dahal’s proposal was discussed at the top level of the ruling alliance.
“I am aware of his proposal,” said Yadav. “The fundamental point is we need to hold elections. If it is possible to hold local elections in April-May, let’s do it. If not, go for general elections in April-May. Let’s not put the country in limbo. Not holding elections bodes ill for democracy.”