The announcement of electoral alliance between CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) and eventual unification of the parties was made at an electric pace.
The talks between UML-Maoist after the third round of local elections in Madhes had taken shape in around a week.
The two parties had reached an understanding before the Dashain to forge an electoral alliance for the federal and provincial assembly elections, contest the elections with the single symbol (sun), and unify the parties following the elections after UML Chairman and Maoist Center Chairman Pushpa Kamasl Dahal talked continuously for seven days.
Dahal had met Prime Minister (PM) Sher Bahadur Deuba in the evening a day before Bijaya Dashami and informed that UML has offered to support Maoist Center in 40 percent of both federal and provincial constituencies.
The dialogue between UML and Maoist Center and the understanding were kept so secret that PM Deuba did not even believe Dahal’s claims.
“Dahal has just returned after threatening me that UML has offered 40 percent of seats to him,” Deuba told a Nepali Congress (NC) leader who had reached the PM’s residence in Baluwatar immediately after Dahal left. “I thought about telling him why does he not go with UML and is still with us. But I kept looking at the wall controlling my temper.”
The two parties announced electoral alliance immediately even before the 15-day Dashain festival concluded. The media had no idea about the announcement even a day before the announcement.
The ongoing dialogue between the two parties for unification is not secret. But the pace is not electric. It is progressing at a snail’s pace.
Leaders of both the parties confirm that the dialogue has now reached a new phase. They say the dialogue is in a kind of difficult stage.
Oli and Dahal are having one-on-one meeting for three to five hours every day in the recent days. But they are not near a breakthrough.
Many do not know about all dimensions of the meetings as no one else is present there. But the briefings by the leaders to their respective confidants hint that the dialogue is getting tricky.
The dialogue is at a standstill, according to a Maoist leader.
The dialogue has now entered into the main issues, according to UML and Maoist leaders.
“Dialogue on the leadership and ideology has started. But there is no uniformity in understanding,” a Maoist leader told Setopati. “The main challenge is precisely that. It will be easy to agree on management of other leaders and organizations once that is settled.”
Priorities of Oli and Dahal are clearly different on the issues of leadership and ideology. Oli has told Dahal that a UML leader leading the unified party until the general convention for unification would be the ‘correct path.’ UML leaders also argue it would be natural for People’s Multiparty Democracy to be the line of unified party.
“People’s Multiparty Democracy basically is peaceful political competition. UML and Maoist Center both are in peaceful politics in practice. It is, therefore, not difficult for both the parties to agree on People’s Multiparty Democracy,” a UML leader said.
Dahal has his eyes on leadership. He argues that he should be the chairman of unified party after the Maoists have already accepted Oli as PM. Some Maoist leaders have gone much ahead and stated publicly that the two parties cannot be unified if Dahal were not accepted as chairman of the unified party.
It is not easy for the Maoists to agree on People’s Multiparty Democracy leaving the ideology of Maoism. “There is no other way than finding the middle path,” a Maoist leader said.
There is little chance of the top level agreeing on these main issues immediately. The two parties will be hard-pressed to form the government amidst these disagreements.
The President is expected to invite the parties for formation of government in the third week of February. Will Dahal agree to form a government under Oli before the unification process takes shape? That is the trickiest question for left unification now.
Oli has publicly stated that party unification and government formation are two different things and will move forward at their own pace. Other UML leaders are also saying that the government should be formed even if the unification does not happen.
Maoist leaders have a different take on that. “There is still time for government formation. We must, therefore, conclude party unification before that,” a Maoist leader said.
Another leader who believes that unification should be concluded at any cost said that the party will not stick on that condition even if the party’s priority is that. “Our priority is to conclude party unification before government formation as far as possible,” the leader said. “We can form the government by agreeing to unify and expressing commitment toward that if that is not possible.”
The leader revealed that the party is for forming the government and continuing the dialogue for unification if even that is not possible.
What the Maoist Center will eventually do will depend on what Dahal wants. Both the parties will breathe easier if he says ‘let’s form the government and continue the dialogue for unification.’ That will buy the time needed for addressing the complexities of unification.
Dahal will have time to change course if the parties fail to agree even after government formation. There are Maoist leaders who also believe that Dahal will, therefore, support Oli to form the government even if the unification process does not conclude.
But there is also a strong line of thinking in the Maoist Center that making Oli the PM without framework for unification will put the party in a difficult position.
“NC was ready to give PM to us. But it has justifiable interest on the posts of president and speaker,” a Maoist leader said. “There will be elections for president and speaker immediately after election of PM. It will be difficult for NC to ally with us once these posts are gone.”
President and speaker cannot be changed with simple majority as PM can be. Two-third majority is required to remove president and speaker even though they are elected through simple majority. That cannot be achieved by anyone without support of UML.
Dahal is also aware of that fact. What Dahal will decide amidst this realization and the ongoing dialogue with Oli will ultimately decide the future of unification.
Both parties will have enough time for unification if they pass this stage of government formation together. Trying to conclude everything now may unravel the alliance.