Oli might have avoided the Standing Committee so far but he can’t keep putting it off forever, say party leadersAccording to ruling party insiders, Oli is afraid that a Standing Committee meet will lead to assessment of his government and subsequently, call for his resignation.
Nepal Communist Party chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has once again managed to dodge the Standing Committee, despite the announcement of the date, time and venue.
On Wednesday evening, Oli suddenly walked out of the Secretariat meeting, citing health issues and exertion. The meeting ended, and the Standing Committee meeting scheduled for Thursday was called off, much to the chagrin of members who have been demanding the meet.
Though the official reason for the postponement of the Standing Committee was “a lack of preparations”, party insiders say that the conflict among the top leadership has resurfaced.
Standing Committee members from the faction led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other party chair, and those close to senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal believe that Oli is avoiding the Standing Committee for fear that he will be asked to step down.
“Oli went on the defensive after the majority of Secretariat members demanded a meeting of the Standing Committee,” said Matrika Yadav, a Standing Committee member.
Oli, who had earlier managed to win a majority in the Secretariat by coercing vice-chair Bamdev Gautam into deserting the Dahal-Nepal camp, has once again slid into the minority. According to a ruling party leader, Gautam, who appeared upbeat about Oli’s offer of a seat in Parliament, has suddenly changed his mind. Oli had also managed to win over Dahal by offering him sole authority to run the party, but this hasn’t gone down well with the Nepal camp.
A series of meetings between Dahal and Nepal infuriated Oli, as he believed they were plotting to unseat him, according to a Standing Committee member.
In the 44-member Standing Committee, Oli is in the minority, with just around 14 members on his side. With the Dahal and Nepal camps having 17 and 13 members respectively, Oli sees a Standing Committee meeting as a big threat.
But insiders say that Oli will need to eventually call a Standing Committee meeting, or there will be a big price to pay, as lawmakers could spoil his government’s policies and programmes.
“The prime minister has no alternative than to agree to the Standing Committee meeting,” said Haribol Gajurel, a Standing Committee member. “The Standing Committee is a platform for leaders to air their views. If they don’t get an opportunity in the party, they will be forced to speak in Parliament.”
The budget session of Parliament is set to start on Friday, and the President will present the policies and programmes on behalf of the government. Parliament, however, needs to pass the government’s policies and programmes to pave the way for the finance minister to present the fiscal budget on May 29.
Oli is now caught between a rock and a hard place.
If he calls the Standing Committee, he could face a call to resign. If he does not, lawmakers from his own party could sabotage his government’s policies and programmes. If the latter case comes to pass, Oli will be under moral pressure to step down anyway.
After a Thursday meeting at the party headquarters, four Standing Committee members—Haribol Gajurel, Janardan Sharma, Raghuji Pant and Bhim Rawal—met with Dahal at the latter’s residence and urged him to call the Standing Committee meeting in his capacity as the party’s ‘executive chair’.
“If the Standing Committee meeting has been postponed because of a lack of time to prepare the agenda, we have it ready,” said Sharma.
According to Standing Committee members, the agenda includes discussions over the Covid-19 pandemic, party unity, the government's policies and programmes, the upcoming budget, Nepalis living abroad, and the government’s activities.
“But since Oli is in the minority, he’s afraid that any assessment of the government’s activities could lead to criticism and subsequently, call for his resignation,” said Asta Laxmi Shakya, a Standing Committee member. “That’s why he is not keen on facing the Standing Committee.”
During Saturday’s Secretariat meeting, Oli had made a self-confession and agreed to run the government as per the party’s instructions. He had also reached an understanding with Dahal to let the latter run the party.
But all his promises were made verbally, with no guarantee that they will be fulfilled.
According to a Standing Committee member who is close to Dahal, it did not take Oli long to backtrack. By Wednesday, it dawned upon Gautam that Oli might not be living up to his promises.
Now with Dahal and Nepal back together, Oli, who had managed to emerge victorious albeit for a short while, finds his position tenuous once again.
“Not holding the Standing Committee meeting will not send a positive message,” said Barshaman Pun, a Standing Committee member. “It is up to the two chairs to take all senior leaders into confidence and find a way out.”