Cornered in the party, Oli should mend his ways, say analysts but he’s likely to take even harsher measuresParty leaders say that the fiasco over the two controversial ordinances has not just hurt Oli but also damaged the party’s reputation and electoral standing.
Tika R Pradhan
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli may have managed to calm a brewing storm for now by withdrawing the two controversial ordinances, but dissent within the ruling party continues to ferment.
As a majority of the party’s Secretariat members have already banded together to demand a meeting of the Standing Committee, party chair Oli, according to insiders, has just one option left–course correction.
“If he tries once again to move ahead unilaterally, it will be a problem of his own making,” said Bishnu Rijal, a central committee member.
When Oli took over the reigns of government in February 2018, almost everything was in his favour—he had the mandate, a strong party to back him, and above all, political capital earned in the aftermath of the Indian blockade, for the nationalistic stance he had taken.
But party insiders say that having power only exposed Oli’s authoritarian ambitions.
As Oli started ramming through decisions in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and governed with a close coterie of advisors, he alienated other party leaders, including another chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal as as his own long-time CPN-UML members.
That resulted in what is now known as the Bhaisepati alliance—a faction under Dahal which has the backing of Oli’s old comrades, like Madhav Kumar Nepal, Bamdev Gautam and Jhala Nath Khanal.
Still, Oli did not face any immediate threat. But suddenly, when the country was on lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19, Oli introduced two ordinances that not only attracted opprobrium but also weakened his position.
On Thursday, when the Dahal camp held a meeting at Gautam’s residence in Bhaisepati to discuss the controversies surrounding the ordinances, there was a new guest—party General Secretary Bishnu Poudel, Oli’s trusted lieutenant. This has now left Oli with just one prominent party leader on his side—Ishwar Pokhrel.
If the Secretariat demands a Standing Committee meeting, it cannot be denied now, one Secretariat member said.
The ordinance fiasco has tipped the balance in the party in such a way that Oli is now in the minority in the Standing Committee as well.
Of the 44 members in the Standing Committee, according to insiders, Oli has around 11 on his side.
This time around, various leaders are much more upset with Oli, say insiders, as they believe that he has seriously damaged the party’s reputation and raised moral questions over the party.
Before the ordinance was repealed, Samajbadi Party Nepal and Rastriya Janata Party Nepal, the parties Oli aimed to split, united to become one.
But what earned Oli more discredit was allegations that Surendra Yadav, a Samajbadi Party lawmaker, was forcefully brought from Janakpur to Kathmandu at the prime minister’s behest in a manner that looked like he was kidnapped.
Senior leader Khanal told the Post on Friday that Oli is answerable for all the controversies, including the kidnapping allegations.
In the midst of his five-year term, Oli now finds himself at his weakest, as even central committee members and lawmakers, mostly those from the former UML, have started discussing ways to salvage the party’s reputation.
“If necessary, we will put pressure on the leadership to start discussions on a change of guard,” said one central committee member who has been participating in informal meetings that are being held frequently of late. “After all, we have to go to the polls again.”
Despite health issues, Oli had earlier managed to put to rest calls to step down.
Last year, Dahal had started building pressure on Oli by bringing up a gentleman’s agreement reached during party unity in May 2018, that the two leaders would run the government in turns—two-and-a-half years each.
Oli, however, managed to nip those calls in the bud by declaring Dahal the party’s executive chair via the Secretariat.
The Oli-Dahal conflict again peaked in December last year over the choice for the Speaker of the House. In January, Dahal managed to force Oli to relent in favour of his own candidate.
Then, Covid-19 hit and the country went into lockdown.
Dahal again began to propose an all-party mechanism to ‘assist’ the government in its fight against the coronavirus, alarming Oli and leading him to take rash decisions.
“By forcing the ordinances and then withdrawing them, Oli lost the trust of a majority of core leaders, which could make it difficult for him to continue in Singha Durbar,” said Haribol Gajurel, a standing committee member.
According to Gajurel, Standing Committee members have agreed to not entrust the Secretariat with the task of taking crucial decisions.
“Now the Standing Committee itself will take calls on major issues,” he said. “Oli has no option but to make a concession; he cannot go on taking decisions on his own.”
With the party’s Politburo yet to be formed, even two years after party unity, almost all decisions so far were being taken by the Secretariat.
“The best option for Oli now is to correct his working style,” said Maheshwor Dahal, a central committee member who has close relations with Ram Bahadur Thapa, the home minister.
Thapa is one Maoist leader who appeared to have supported Oli’s ordinances, which were objected to even by Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali and Agriculture Minister Ghanshyam Bhusal, both former UML leaders.
“Oli led the party towards an accident; it’s time for a course correction. Oli has to take everyone along while running the party and the government,” said Maheshwor Dahal.
Analysts, however, doubt that ruling party leaders will be able to build enough pressure on Oli.
“The prime minister’s recent activities show he can go to any extent to cling to power. If this had happened in any other democratic country, the prime minister would’ve been ousted by now,” said Rajendra Maharjan, a political commentator.
“The way he held meetings, first with Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba on Friday and then with Dahal shows that he still has a card or two up his sleeve.”
According to Maharjan, the danger now is that Oli could take even harsher measures to consolidate power, which could be detrimental to democratic values and principles.
“He is giving more leverage to the Army and using the Office of the President at his will,” said Maharjan. “That’s dangerous.”
A Standing Committee member also said that Oli still seems adamant about not changing his working style.
“He is holding talks with several leaders to postpone the Standing Committee meeting,” said Janardan Sharma, a Standing Committee member. “But what he needs to understand is that he is answerable not only to the party but the entire country and its citizens.”