In a move toward consolidation of communist forces, Nepal’s two major leftist parties – the Communist Party Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) CPN-UML and Communist Party Nepal (Maoist Center) — have signed a seven-point agreement on party unification. Prime Minister K.P. Oli, who is also chairman of CPN-UML, and Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal or “Prachanda” signed the document late in the evening of February 19, a week after the formation of a new government under Oli and two months after the completion of federal elections.
It will take some time to move from the agreement to an official announcement of party unification. Leaders say the two parties first need to fulfill some legal procedures before the announcement, and formally register with the Election Commission.
Originally, on October 3, 2017, three parties — CPN-UML, CPN-MC, and the Naya Shakti Party — decided to forge an electoral alliance with the ultimate goal of party unification. Later, the Naya Shakti Party, led by former Maoist senior leader Baburam Bhattarai, severed ties with the Left Alliance over disputes regarding seat sharing.
The two remaining parties in the Left Alliance jointly contested the recently concluded elections for Nepal’s parliament and provincial assemblies. Combined, the CPN-UML and CPN-MC secured nearly two-third of the seats in the 275-member House of Representatives and formed governments in six out of seven provincial assemblies.
If some fringe parties join the governing coalition, the Oli-led government will secure two-thirds support in the national parliament. With a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, the government can amendment Nepal’s constitution and formulate laws as per its interest.
Buoyed by the election results, the two parties entered negotiations for party unification, stating that the people had endorsed that path through the election.
As per the seven-point agreement reached this week, the new party to be formed after the merger will be the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), the same name held by the country’s first Communist Party, established in 1950s. The original NCP witnessed dozens of splits over the last six decades, with all the splinter parties claiming to carry forward the NCP’s legacy. Now, Nepal’s two mainstream Communist Parties are poised to formally reclaim the name.
Although neither “Marxism-Leninism” or “Maoism” made it into the new party’s name, the ideological gap between the CPN-UML and CPN-MC has not been resolved yet. However, the two parties have agreed to hold intensive discussions to develop a new, acceptable ideology. In the meantime, they will move ahead with preparations on an interim political document.
The seven-point document mentions preparing a basis for communist-oriented socialism by enhancing nationalism, democracy, social justice, and social transformation. According to the agreement, the guiding principles of new party will be Marxism-Leninism, with both parties having agreed to adopt a multiparty democratic system. With this, the CPN-MC has abandoned the ideology of Maoism.
Issues relating to ideology are always second to concerns over power sharing and leaders’ buy-in. Power-sharing was and is one of the most prominent issues between the two sides. The issue is not explicitly mentioned in the agreement. However, according to both leaders, both Oli and Prachanda will serve as chairmen of the new party until the NCP’s first joint General Convention elects new leadership — which will take some time.
Also according to the leaders, Oli will serve as prime minister for three years and then Prachanda will lead the government for two years. A joint taskforce will be formed to define roles for the other top leaders of both parties. With agreement reached at the top, it should not be difficult to resolve those issues as both Prachanda and Oli have excellent control over their party structures.
For the last three decades, the relationship between the two Communist parties has not been good. The Maoists attempted to seize power through armed revolt, with the aim of imposing a one-party communist regime. CPN-UML, on the other hand, adopted the multiparty democratic system and participated in the post-1990s parliamentary system.
Even after joining the peace process in 2006 and participating in the elections held in 2008, the Maoist party was not committed to multiparty democracy and the promulgation of a democratic constitution. In the last 10 years, though, the Maoists gradually tilted toward the line taken by CPN-UML. Today, those who closely follow the ideologies of both parties do not see substantial differences.
However, it is not ideological affinity that drove the two parties to pursue party unification, but their quest to gain power. Before the federal and provincial elections last year, CPN-MC was a coalition partner with the Nepali Congress. The NC and the Maoists were preparing to renew this alliance for the elections; India was also encouraging both sides to do so to in order to prevent CPN-UML from forming the next government.
Then Oli started to cajole Prachanda to break with the NC and join an electoral alliance with the CPN-UML. At the same time, the talks between the NC and Maoists were not yielding the desired results. NC leaders were reluctant to give the Maoists a 30-40 percent share of seats, while Oli agreed to share 40 percent. Oli’s goal in this was to secure his own premiership after the elections, by weakening the chances of the NC, which has been the CPN-UML’s main competitor in electoral politics since 1990. Oli also wanted to give a symbolic message to India by breaking the NC-Maoist alliance.
After the announcement of the Left Alliance, the two parties campaigned with a joint election manifesto. The manifesto pledged to bring stability and development in Nepal, which impressed the electorate.
After the election, the two parties held a series of discussions concerning party unification. Prachanda took the position that his party would not join an Oli-led government until the issues related to party unification were settled. Despite his reluctance to share the new party’s chair position, Oli was compelled to do so to secure the sustainability of his government. At the same time, Prachanda and the other Maoists leaders want protection from war-era human rights violations cases. Prachanda believes alignment with Oli will serve his interests.
The new agreement was motivated not by trust, but by suspicion. Oli believes that if there is no formal party unification, Prachanda could withdraw his support from the government at any time, as he did in 2015. There were also rumors of both internal and external efforts, led by Prachanda, to form a new government coalition of the Maoists, NC, and Madhes-based parties.
That pressure motivated Oli to accept joint leadership, which is a unique model that will see him and Prachanda lead the government on a rotational basis. After the basic agreement between the two sides on unification, hopes of a stable government in Nepal seem more realistic than ever before.
Kamal Dev Bhattarai is a Kathmandu-based writer and journalist.