Khatiwada to be reappointed but decision on Gautam deferred till Oli returns from hospitalWhile Khatiwada’s reappointment should not pose a problem, it is Gautam’s path to the National Assembly that is still the sticking point.
Yubaraj Khatiwada, whose resignation as finance, and communication and information technology minister was accepted by the President on Tuesday, is set to be reappointed on Wednesday, according to the prime minister’s advisors.
After accepting Khatiwada’s resignation, President Bidya Devi Bhandari assigned the responsibility of his ministries to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who has been admitted to hospital for a second kidney transplant, scheduled for Wednesday.
Khatiwada’s reappointment as minister will be based on a constitutional provision that allows an unelected member to become a minister.
As per Article 79 of the constitution, Cabinet ministers who are not members of the House of Representatives or the National Assembly will need to be appointed to either House within six months of them assuming a portfolio.
Khatiwada’s reappointment might not attract any constitutional or legal issues but it is certain to widen the rift in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The party Secretariat has already selected party vice-chair Bamdev Gautam for the National Assembly in Khatiwada’s place. Oli, however, has refused to endorse Gautam, who is being backed by the other party chair, Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
The only middle path for the ruling party can now be reappointing Khatiwada as minister and nominating Gautam for the National Assembly. But in order for the government to nominate Gautam, Oli has to make a decision.
Surya Thapa, press advisor to the prime minister, told the Post that Khatiwada will be reappointed finance minister on Wednesday and will take the oath of office immediately after.
“Remaining decisions on Khatiwada—whether to nominate him for the Upper House as well—and Gautam will be taken after the prime minister returns from hospital,” said Thapa.
As of now, the fate of Gautam, who has become a key person in tilting the dynamics in the ruling party, hangs in the balance.
There is only one vacant seat in the National Assembly for the President to nominate someone to, at the government’s recommendation. In the 59-member National Assembly, the President appoints three members at the recommendation of the government. Khatiwada was one of those appointees, but his term ended on March 3. Assembly members serve staggered terms of two, four or six years as determined by a lottery.
The other two National Assembly members appointed by the President are Bimala Rai Poudyal and Ram Narayan Bidari.
If Oli, after his return from hospital, decides to nominate Khatiwada again for the National Assembly, Gautam’s hopes will effectively come to an end. If Gautam is to be accommodated, the only option left will be for one of the two other appointees—Rai Poudyal or Bidari—to vacate their seat.
The likelihood of calling Rai Poudyal back to make way for Gautam is low, as the decision could invite criticism for recalling a woman to make way for a man, especially at a time when the ruling party is already facing censure for its patriarchal structure.
On the other hand, Bidari represents the former Maoist party and the Maoist faction may not agree to recall him.
“The prime minister has no option left than to abide by the Secretariat’s decision to send Gautam to the National Assembly,” said a Secretariat member who wished to remain anonymous citing evolving party dynamics. “In any case, the party has never advised him to abandon Khatiwada.”
A central committee member of the party said that the prime minister can choose the middle path when he returns from kidney transplant.
“He can continue with Khatiwada as minister and nominate Gautam for the National Assembly,” the central member told the Post.
If the Dahal camp insists on Gautam’s nomination to the National Assembly and Oli appears inclined to continue with Khatiwada in the Assembly, things could go from bad to worse in the party, say insiders.
To recall either Rai Poudyal or Bidari from the Assembly, Oli needs the party’s consent by convincing the party leadership, especially Dahal.
Oli is already in the minority in the nine-member Secretariat.
Rajan Bhattarai, foreign relations advisor to the prime minister, said the party will cross the bridge when it comes to it.
“Whatever decisions are to be taken regarding the leaders’ place in the National Assembly will be discussed and decided after the prime minister returns from hospital,” Bhattarai told the Post.
“The immediate reappointment of Khatiwada as finance minister is the need of the hour, as the government needs to prepare its policies and programmes in the lead-up to the annual budget, which has to be presented on May 19.”