Bickering over CM snags Province 2 coalition talks

Published On: February 4, 2018 01:10 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, Feb 3: A cloud of political uncertainty  hovers over Province 2 as negotiations over the formation of the government in the sole plains-only province fail to gather pace even two months after the elections.  

Six of the seven provinces are certain to see left governments, with UML and the Maoist Center reaching  a written agreement that the former will form the governments in four provinces and the latter in two.  

Given their  closeness on key political issues, the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN), the two Madhes-based parties which have a majority in  the Province 2 assembly, have been seen as natural partners for a coalition government.

But even as it is only a matter of weeks for a vote on chief minister, the two parties are 'deliberately' avoiding serious negotiations on government formation.  Since winning the elections in December, neither party has approached the other with a formal proposal on government formation.
The purposeful delay in starting formal talks has been seen as meaningful as both parties have been exploring the possibility of other power equations. FSFN and RJPN leaders have been separately holding talks with UML, the Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Center) to discuss the possibility of alliances. The constitution mandates the provincial assembly to elect a new government before February 15. 

Leaders from both Mades-based parties have hinted at the possibility of a coalition with the major parties both in the province and at the center if there is commitment to addressing their concerns over  constitutional amendment. 

Formation of a 'Madhes Sarkar' was at the top of their election agenda as the two parties jointly routed the major political parties in a triangular battle in Province 2.  But once the election results came in, both parties staked claim to the chief ministerial portfolio, forcing one another to look for better deals elsewhere. Both parties are preparing to nominate their CM candidate. A meeting of FSFN on Saturday decided to pick the CM candidate through an internal election, while a meeting of RJPN leaders held in Janakpur  failed to agree on a consensus name. Bijaya Yadav and Lalbabu Raut from FSFN and Jitendra Sonal and Manish Kumar Suman of RJPN have been seen as probable CM candidates from the Madesh-centric parties. 

Leaders from the two parties have said that the formation of a 'Madhes Sarkar' still remains their top priority but said  they are open to the possibility of  cooperation with other parties. 

Upendra Yadav said that his party was having talks with all sides and would decide what to do depending on what comes to the table. He said that FSFN was open to an alliance with the left alliance if there was agreement on the government and the disputed issues of the constitution. Rajendra Mahato said that the party is ready to work with any  party that offers a good deal and an unequivocal assurance to address their concerns over the constitution. 

FSFN and RJPN, the first and second largest parties in Province 2 with 29 and 25 seats respectively, are individually dependent on the support of the left alliance or the NC to form a government. The left has 32 seats, while NC has 19.  

While senior leaders are looking for an alternative alliance to secure the CM portfolio, some in the second rungs in both parties are discussing the possibility of rotating the government.  These leaders have been arguing against any alliance with UML, citing possible backlash from Madhesi voters. 

"People elected us because of our stance on constitution. Joining hands with other parties at the cost of that agenda would be tantamount to betrayal," RJPN leader Brikhesh Chandra Lal told Republica in a recent conversation.  

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