Ending over two-month long political speculation, the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal (RJPN) have inked a deal to form a coalition government in Province 2, the only plain-only province in the country.
A meeting between the top leaders of the two parties held at FSFN headquarters in Kathmandu on Saturday agreed to forge the alliance "to honor the spirit of Madhes movement and verdict given by voters of Province 2 in favor of Madhes Sarkar".
The two parties have also finalized a power-sharing deal, dividing key portfolios between them. According to the agreement signed between FSFN Chairman Upendra Yadav and Coordinator of RJPN Presidium Mahantha Thakur, FSFN will take key portfolios including state chief minister, deputy speaker and three important ministries: the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Social Security and Welfare and Ministry of Agriculture.
Likewise, RJPN will have house speaker and three ministries: the Ministry of Physical Planning and Development, Ministry of Social Development and Ministry of Tourism. The deal was sealed after RJPN leaders stepped back from the party's erstwhile demand to rotate the chief ministerial portfolio.
The agreement means Province 2 will be the only province to have government outside the left alliance. UML and CPN (Maoist Center) have already reached an agreement to form government in four and two provinces respectively.
The deal also means Province 2 will now have its chief minister from the Muslim community. FSFN Vice Chairman Mohammed Lalbabu Raut, who has already been elected FSFN parliamentary party leader in province 2, will arguably be the first Muslim leader to hold such powerful position.
Saturday's agreement was expected as the two parties had jointly contested the federal and parliamentary polls in Province 2 with the promise to form 'Madhes Sarkar' if elected to power. The two parties had respectively won 29 and 25 seats in the provincial assembly of Province 2 which saw a triangular fight between Nepali Congress and the left alliance and the alliance of Madhes-based parties.
Before starting the negotiation, both FSFN and RJPN separately held negotiations with the left alliance hoping for a better deal. But leaders said they eventually decided to turn the poll alliance into a coalition government amid pressure from cadres and civil society members on the ground. Many had warned the two parties against forming a coalition with the left alliance for "petty gains" saying that such a move would draw backlash from the voters and erode the goodwill earned during the popular uprising, Lalbabu Raut said.
The two parties among other things represent the same constituencies and share same view on key political issues including constitution amendment.
RJPN Presidium member Rajendra Mahato said that the coalition government of the two terai-centric parties would work for the economic development of the province for the next five years. He said that the two parties would work together with other parties in the province to deliver on the people's expectations.