Why Nepal’s biggest party backed third largest party to oust the second force

  • Prashant Jha, Kathmandu
  • Updated: Jul 28, 2016 16:38 IST
Sher Bahadur Deuba secured 1,822 votes to defeat acting president Ram Chandra Poudel for the top party position. (File Photo)

All set to take over as the prime minister next week, Nepali Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or Prachanda, has one person to thank -- Nepali Congress president and former PM Sher Bahadur Deuba.

And, it can’t be more ironic. For as the prime minister, Deuba had in 2001 deployed the army against the Maoists. It is also unusual that the country’s biggest party, the NC, has backed the third-largest party and ideological rival, the Maoists, and allowed them to lead the government.

Joining forces

In an exclusive interview -- his first since the process of government change started -- Deuba explained the sequence of events to Hindustan Times at his Kathmandu residence.

“Prachandaji came to me and said he wanted to change the government. As the opposition party, it is obvious we would want to see the government fall. But then he said he would like to become PM. I agreed because KP Oli’s working style was not in national interest.”

The power-sharing deal is that Prachanda will hold elections and demit office in nine months after which Deuba will take over. Till then, Deuba will be the power behind the throne, with NC expected to bag crucial portfolios in Prachanda’s government.

If it goes according to the script, Deuba, recently appointed the party president, will take over as the prime minister in the middle of 2017 and hold general and provincial elections.

The NC and the Maoists were partners when the peace agreement was signed in 2006. But for the last eight years, the two have been fierce rivals.

In the 2008 elections, Maoists emerged as the biggest force and tried to isolate the NC which then supported the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) against Prachanda. Five years later, the NC won and formed the government with UML’s support. The Maoists then backed UML’s Oli and the NC was pushed out.

Their coming together marks a milestone. For him, it was back to roots since the two parties had started the peace process, Prachanda had told HT earlier this week.

Timeline of the NC-Maoist relationship

  • 2005: 12-point understanding. Both agree to fight the autocratic monarchy. Maoists accept democracy. NC comes around to idea of a republic.
  • 2006: PM and NC president Girija Koirala and Maoist leader Prachanda sign peace accord.
  • 2007: Maoists join NC-led interim government.
  • 2008: Maoists win elections. Koirala takes four months to demit office. Maoists refuse to back him as country’s first president. Relationship breaks. NC moves to opposition benches.
  • 2009: NC backs UML’s Madhav Nepal as PM to topple Prachanda’s government.
  • 2010: Maoists back a different faction of UML, led by Jhalanath Khanal, to keep NC out.
  • 2011: Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai defeats NC in parliament to become PM.
  • 2013: NC emerges as the biggest force in elections. Forms government with UML support. Maoists in opposition.
  • 2015: UML forms government with NC support. NC now in opposition.
  • 2016: After eight years, NC and Maoists come together in the same government.

The common enemy

Talking about the “weaknesses” of the outgoing government, Deuba pointed to Oli’s use of the national budget to strengthen his party and failure in post earthquake reconstruction.

He also accused Oli of intolerance. “We are the biggest party. But, the PM wanted to keep us out of everything. He recalled our ambassador to India just because he was from NC in the past.”

There was also a need for a balanced foreign policy. Nepal had sought an invitation for President Bidya Bhandari to visit India and then cancelled it. “This was wrong. We must have good relations with our neighbours, India and China, and not use one against the other,” Deuba said.

He also claimed that UML was not committed to an independent judiciary. The judges appointed on the recommendation of the UML had in the past gone to the party office to thank leaders, the former PM said. “This is a violation of democratic norms and separation of powers.” The UML, he said, wanted to take over state institutions.

But his big concern, he said, was implementation of the constitution. “To implement it, we need to have local elections. For local elections, we need to bring Madhesis on board, and for that we need a constitutional amendment. Oli was not doing this.”

The peace process

There is another element that ties Deuba and Prachanda together -- the need to address the war-time cases and bring the peace process to a conclusion.

Complaints have been filed against Deuba in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for rights violations by security forces under his watch, while Prachanda faces similar cases for excesses committed by his cadre.

Deuba defended his record. “In 2001, Maoists attacked the Dang army barrack. I then deployed the army under constitutional provisions. We declared an emergency which was supported by other parties in parliament.”

When reminded that the problem was not him deploying the army but the alleged violations by the force, Deuba said, “How can we judge that right now? Let the TRC work. The army did not deliberately violate human rights. A Class 5-pass soldier has not read human rights book and theory. But all orders were not to violate human rights.”

If there were heinous crimes or crimes against humanity, they could be considered. “But we must remember the distinction. There weren’t deliberate violations. Some issues may have come up.” He said Nepal must emulate the South African model of reconciliation.

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