Collusive alliance: Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Maoist collude to extract partisan rent

The Bhutanese refugee scam has brought Nepal’s main opposition CPN-UML closer to ruling parties Nepali Congress and Maoist-Center. This is an indication that major parties are institutionalizing collusive alliances instead of practicing competitive politics.

NL Today

  • Read Time 5 min.

Kathmandu: Formally, there are five parties in the coalition government–Nepali Congress, Maoist-Center, Janata Samajbadi Party, CPN (Unified Socialist) and Nagarik Unmukti Party. Similarly, Janamat Party and Jana Morcha have also continued their support to the government. 

The current coalition, however, seems to be changing in the wake of the fake Bhutanese refugee scam. 

Prime Minister Puhspa Kamal Dahal, Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba and UML chair KP Sharma Oli seem to be getting closer to each other. The parties in the coalition are increasing interaction with CPN-UMl on day-to-day governance matters. 

Ever since the fake Bhutanese refugee scam became the subject of public fury, the top leaders of the three parties have met several times–at least four times, secretly.  No one knows if they ever talked about the scam and the political leaders who could potentially be dragged into the investigation process during the meeting. Formally, however, the top leaders of these parties have told the public that they discussed no issues related to refugee scam.

But the frequency of the meetings, which are rather opaque, in the wake of the scam that has been described by the experts as the crime of human smuggling, has raised the suspicions among the general public. To add credence to the public suspicion, the top leaders of the three parties have started to untangle the issues that appeared intractable in the past. Here are some cases.

U-turn of UML: CPN-UML, which was jilted by the Maoist Center as it switched its alliance with Nepali Congress  severing coalition with UML back in February, was sore with Maoist Center as hell.

In its formal documents, UML is aggressive towards both Maoist Center and Nepali Congress. The political document presented by Oli after the UML Central Committee has faulted the Congress and Maoist Center as the cause of misrule. “In the past few days, financial alliance with political color that is entrenched between Nepali Congress and Maoist Center is the main cause of misrule,” says the document.  The party has not defined what that bittiya gathabanthan (financial alliance) actually is but it can be interpreted to mean corruption and financial irregularities.

Now in practice, UML does not appear keen to challenge and dismantle that mahagathabandhan (grand alliance). Instead, it appears keen to be part of that alliance.

Nomination of chief justice: UML has suddenly turned soft on the issue of who to appoint as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  UML stood firm and adamant on the issue before the fake refugee scam agitated the general public across the country.  The legal professionals close to UML indicated that they would never agree to appoint Hari Krishna Karki as the chief justice in a message that smacked of their sense of vengeance against him for maintaining a neutral stand on KP Oli’s decision of parliament dissolution.

Now Karki has been nominated for the post, in the wake of the fake Bhutanese refugee scam. This despite the fact that another judge of the Supreme Court were eligible to be nominated for the judiciary’s top post.

Power sharing in parliamentary committees: On Sunday,  UML leader Subhash Chandra Nembang informed that a decision has been reached to the effect that UML will lead the three parliamentary committees. Existing practice and norm is that the opposition party chairs only the Public Accounts Committee.  In a sharp departure from this trend, UML has increased participation to lead other parliamentary committees.  

Package deal in constitutional appointments: Political leaders privy to the recent development amidst the refugee scam confided to Nepal Live Today that ruling Nepali Congress and Maoist Center and opposition UML have reached a package deal in terms of appointment of the Chief Justice. So, what’s in that package deal? UML has been able to secure the continuity of those who were appointed by UML in the constitutional bodies, a leader said on condition of anonymity. That way, despite not being in the government, the UML will have a greater say in day-to-day governance, he added. “This is surprising.  Whether to continue with the appointments by UML in constitutional bodies has now reached the court. Now they [UML, Congress, Maoist Center] agree to keep the issue in limbo. It will create a situation where the UML will also be part of the anomalies but Congress has to bear the blame,” said a  Nepali Congress leader.

Silence on transitional justice process: As UML has turned soft on Maoist Center, the latter is trying to take political advantage of the former’s position. Now the Maoists appear keen to settle the transitional justice process, which has remained in limbo for over a decade. UML, which used to be a staunch advocate of punishing the perpetrators of war-era crimes, has stood silent on the issue for a while.  According to Maoist leaders, this silence is the outcome of some deal with the ruling parties.

Eyes on appointments: The process of appointing a Chief Justice and judges in district courts requires the agreement of major political parties. However, it seems that the appointments are being influenced by party affiliations rather than qualifications. Those who are close to these parties are being considered for these positions, even if they lack the necessary qualifications. 

Highlight: It appears that the politics of sharing of spoils and state resources for petty benefits of certain leaders is becoming institutionalized.  One would draw this concussion if one meticulously notices the bonhomie between Nepali Congress, Maoist Center and opposition CPN-UML in the wake of the fake Bhutanese refugee scam.

A leader from Maoist Center has claimed that the CPN-UML has secured its share in the appointment process. Interestingly, the CPN-UML has shown support for the government only after ensuring its own interests are met. Advocates who have close ties to the CPN-UML are actively lobbying for these appointments.

Grand alliance in the making?

This is not the first time Nepal’s three major political forces–Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and Maoist-Center–have come together to form a grand alliance. 

Even before the Bhutanese refugee scam came to light, the three major political parties were trying to forge a mega alliance.

In the byelections in Chitwan and Tanahun, as leaders said off the record, major parties tried to form an unannounced electoral alliance. But the second-tier leaders of these three parties somehow managed to stop their party leaders.

They only backed out as forming an electoral alliance, just to stop the newly-emerged Rastriya Swatantra Party, would disseminate a negative message to the public, and it would further damage the already-damaged public faith towards the parties. Another threat was that failing to win against the RSP even after a mega alliance would end the relevance of big parties in the Nepali society.

Now that the refugee scam is out, chiefs of the top three political parties are again meeting regularly. Though they deny it, it is hard to believe they did not talk about the scam in those meetings. 

So are the big three–Nepali Congress, UML and Maoist Center–again colluding to form an unannounced alliance to prevent their leaders from being prosecuted in the fake Bhutanese refugee scam? Time will tell. 

And if the CPN-UML, the main opposition of the parliament, does that, it would be an insult to the people’s mandate, hope and aspiration. 

People want CPN-UML, as a strong opposition voice, to expose the wrongdoings of the government and advocate for justice, rather than be part of that collusive alliance.