Race begins for new finance minister as Oli bids farewell to KhatiwadaThere are at least six contenders for the post, but the appointment is likely to happen along with a Cabinet reshuffle, insiders say.
Yubaraj Khatiwada resigned as finance and information and communication technology minister on Friday, a day after the ruling Nepal Communist Party decided not to nominate him, again, as a member of the National Assembly, a prerequisite for him to continue in the Oli Cabinet.
While two ministerial berths are vacant after Khatiwada’s resignation, all eyes are now on who succeeds him in the Finance Ministry.
Since another ministry is also vacant, now a Cabinet reshuffle is also likely, according to a leader close to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
“The prime minister has not indicated anything regarding Khatiwada’s replacement yet,” the leader told the Post.
Khatiwada had to resign after the ruling party decided to nominate its vice-chair to the National Assembly. There is only one seat vacant in the National Assembly.
Gautam himself has made public his ambitions to become a minister, but it is not clear if Oli will let him lead the Finance Ministry.
Oli later on Friday approved Khaitwada’s resignation and decided to keep both the finance and communication and information portfolios with him.
At least half a dozen names are currently making rounds for the Finance Ministry.
Apart from Gautam, Bishnu Poudel, Surendra Pandey, Janardan Sharma and Barsha Man Pun, who is currently the energy minister, are said to be the top contenders. Poudel, Pandey and Pun have held the finance portfolio in the past.
Insiders say even Pradeep Gyawali, the foreign minister in the Oli Cabinet, could be one of the frontrunners to lead the Finance Ministry. Another leader said that both the ministries led by Khatiwada could be given to Gyawali.
If Gyawali is moved to the Finance Ministry, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the spokesperson for the Nepal Communist Party, could be given the Foreign Ministry.
Shrestha was appointed a National Assembly member back in January.
Both Shrestha and Gautam had lost the 2017 parliamentary elections from Gorkha and Bardiya, respectively.
“It’s up to the party; I have not yet staked claim to any ministerial berth. Nor have I expressed my desire to become a minister before any party committees,” Shrestha told the Post.
Insiders, however, say after the party went through a tough time in recent months–at one point reaching on the verge of a split–as part of a larger power-sharing deal both Shrestha and Gautam could be appointed ministers.
The party was until a few months ago vertically divided between factions led by Oli and the other chair, Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
The Dahal faction, backed by senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal, had piled pressure on Oli to resign both as party chair and prime minister. With Gautam too on Dahal’s side, Oli was in the minority in the nine-member Secretariat.
Oli, however, managed to bring Gautam back into his fold. Refusal to comply with Guatam’s demand that he be appointed a National Assembly member could have weakened Oli in the party, according to insiders.
In a bid to resolve the internal disputes, chairs Oli and Dahal had formed a task force, whose report is yet to be discussed and endorsed by the Standing Committee. The task force has recommended, among others, Oli lead the government for the full five-year term and Dahal run the party with an “expanded role”.
Leaders from the Dahal-Nepal faction said the Oli himself proposed Gautam for the Upper House as soon as the Secretariat meeting began on Thursday, sensing that annoying Gautam could push him into the minority.
“Its political meaning is that Oli did not want to show that he is in a minority as Bishnu Poudel won’t go against Gautam,” said a Standing Committee member close to Madhav Nepal. “Oli did not want to change the power equation in the Secretariat at this time.”
A leader close to Oli, however, said the decision was expected.
“It had become obvious that the prime minister would bid farewell to the finance and communication minister, which he did today,” said Subash Nembang, a Standing Committee member who is a close confidante of
Oli. “A Cabinet reshuffle may happen, but only after the Standing Committee endorses the report prepared by the six-member task force.”
(Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.)