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UML can’t call PM ‘incompetent’ and yet stay in government

While Nepali Congress and CPN-UML government has been a terrible failure in vital issues, including appointing 26 members and giving full shape to CA and heads in various constitutional bodies even after seven months, coalition partners are exchanging war of words. UML accuses Congress of ignoring seven-point deal and endorsing President and Vice-President through the Parliament. A section of Nepali Congress says the issue has lost relevance.

Some like Central Working Committee member Dr Shekhar Koirala has suggested UML might as well walk away if it is not satisfied with government functioning. What is cooking up between the two parties? How will NC-UML relation go ahead in the coming days? We caught up with Dr Koirala Wednesday afternoon at NC’s Parliamentary Party Office, Singha Durbar.

First of all, why such strong criticisms against the UML?

I am not criticizing the UML, I am giving them advice. UML is in the government as equal partner but UML chief is behaving irresponsibly. Right after returning from Singapore, KP Oli raised the issue of endorsing the President and Vice-president. He called Prime Minister Sushil Koirala nikamma (incompetent). How can coalition head say so and still stay in the government?

Congress does not seem concerned about seven-point pact it signed with UML back in February. Why?

The seven-point agreement is not in line with the constitution. How can Nepali Congress endorse the unconstitutional issue?

That sounds a bit unfair. Congress and UML had together signed the deal in good faith.

The President has already announced plans and programs of the government in the Parliament. And the parliamentarians, including from the UML, have issued vote of thanks to the President for this. This very act has endorsed his term. Besides, if we must endorse the President’s term as the UML has been claiming someone must table the proposal in the House. But there is no constitutional basis to do so. Constitution has clearly stated that the President shall continue in the office until the new constitution is promulgated. The Supreme Court has also endorsed this provision.

Seven-point pact was a political understanding. You are interpreting it constitutionally.

I admit it’s a political understanding. But by virtue of being political understanding, there is no constitutional ground to raise this issue in the Parliament. This is the reason we must work on war footing to complete the constitution process. We have no differences on constitution issues. There is no point in raising endorsement issue now when we already have clear roadmap of what we will do after constitution promulgation.

UML has been claiming that NC is treating them as inferiors, not as equal partners.

If that’s what Congress is doing it must mend its way. Congress and UML are equal partners though we have about two dozen more seats in the Parliament. Coalition partner must be treated as equals, and with respect. But this does not mean chief of the coalition partner can go about saying the PM is incompetent.

Is this why you have been publicly saying UML might as well walk out of coalition and it does not matter?

Look, I can’t stand a coalition partner calling the government head nikamma. If Congress is in a coalition government led by the UML and our friends call the PM incompetent, I would not tolerate it either. If Oli is the PM tomorrow and his coalition partner calls him nikamma, I will be the first to oppose it.

Given PM’s failure to deliver on multiple fronts, this does not sound like an ‘out of place’ remark.

I agree that the government head has not been able to work efficiently because of poor health. But he has not brought it on himself. There are some issues about which you must be clear before judging the PM. First, the PM has not been able to complete the nomination process of 26 lawmakers not because of himself or the Congress. It’s a coalition government and cannot go ahead on its own without taking UML into confidence. The PM had done his part before he left for the US in June. He had called for nominations from UML and UCPN (Maoist). Then Maoists were in deep internal conflict and asked for further time. UML was on the eve of its general convention and suggested putting it off. It was already too late by then and Congress proposed to make its names public and pressed UML to do the same. But UML insisted that it should be deferred for some time. Congress was ready then and it is ready even now. Nomination process is in limbo not because of Congress.

How about ambassador appointment, heads in constitutional bodies and promotion of DIGs?

Congress has not been able to do these vital works but you cannot blame us for all of these. In DIG scam for example, the government had drafted a regulation and formed a recommendation committee led by home secretary. Later an absolute review committee was formed to oversee the works of recommendation committee. Review committee changed some of the names proposed by the recommendation committee. Now Home Minister Bamdev Gautam says cabinet should pass the decision of the recommendation committee itself. But the PM says the process should go ahead in line with the regulations. If Home Minister does not want to abide by the decision of review committee, why did he agree to form it in the first place? We might as well have continued with the old system of cabinet promoting DIGs. I smell home minister’s malafide intention here.

Likewise, UML showed double standards in Power Trade Agreement and Power Development Agreement with India. PTA draft had been sent to Ministry of Energy four months ago. But Minister for Energy (Radha Gyawali) kept all of us in the dark for four months. Not even the PM was informed! She put the issue to discussion only after the media outcry. If she had informed us four months before perhaps we would have reached a conclusion. Then UML chief said in the parliament that PTA and PDA would be signed. But his ministers opposed it later. Was Oli speaking only to please India? There are weaknesses on NC’s part too. For one, it could have expedited the ambassador appointment process long ago. Yet NC alone is not to blame for dismal performance of the government.

If that is the case, what actually has disappointed UML?

I don’t understand. Oliji is such a seasoned politician. If he wants to take over there are legitimate ways. If we make the constitution on time it will pave the way for Koirala’s successor. But right after returning from Singapore he announced that the President should be endorsed and seven-point deal implemented. It was out of place.

What if UML leadership sticks to its guns? What will Congress do?

Congress cannot do anything unconstitutional in the name of appeasing the coalition partner. Congress should reassure UML that there shall be fresh election of PM, President, Vice-president and the Speaker right after constitution writing process is over. Only this would be the right way of implementing and honoring the seven-point deal.

How do you think will Congress-UML coalition go ahead in the days to come?

Oli himself has made it clear that small differences do not affect coalition and that statements from likes of Shekhar Koiralas do not matter either. Perhaps they don’t. But I request the UML not to raise endorsement issue. The Parliament has already endorsed the President. But Congress should allay misgivings and bad feelings it may have caused to UML. Our coalition is unique in the world. Nowhere in the world do first and second largest parties in the parliament form the coalition. We have done so for the sake of timely constitution. Unless we succeed on this front, there is no question of parting ways.

Let’s change track. It is said Congress members themselves are not cooperating with the PM.

True. The first reason this government has not been able to perform well is because of PM’s bad health. The second reason is that Congress ministers themselves are not sincerely cooperating with the PM.

Congress itself is a house in mess. Ram Chandra Poudel is visibly miffed for not being granted post of party’s acting president.

After party president Sushil Koirala became the PM, he had promised to grant acting presidentship to Poudel. Since the PM is ill and has to remain busy all of the time when healthy, he is in no position to lead the party. So acting presidentship should have been handed to someone else. But the tragedy is our Central Working Committee has not met even for once in the last several months. If it did, it would take the decision in this regard. In PM’s absence, Poudel called Parliamentary Party meeting for about four times. We asked him to call CWC too. Even the PM says he has allowed Poudel to call CWC. But CWC does not take place. This has intrigued even us Congress members.

Finally, as a physician, how do you observe PM’s health? Is his health really deteriorating as has been reported?

It is known to all that he has cancer. He had been given radiation treatment in the US. Radiation treatment renders patient physically very weak. The PM is weak. He will take time to recover but he is alert.

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