Ruling party internal conflict is taking a toll on governanceTwo chairmen have been meeting while the party has been holding committee meetings regularly, but with no concrete decision, there is confusion all around.
Tika R Pradhan
The country on Thursday saw a record daily spike in coronavirus cases, just as the total number of infections soared to 98,617. Health facilities have run out of intensive care beds and ventilators. The World Bank has projected the country’s economy to grow just by 0.6 percent this fiscal year, in a stiff challenge to the Oli administration’s unrealistic target of 7 percent. Almost all the economic sectors have been hit hard. Millions of people are expected to be pushed into poverty.
This is the scenario the government is presented with. But the country’s governance has been held hostage by the ongoing internal conflict in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
“The [party] leadership has failed to take any concrete decision, which is affecting both the party and the governance,” said Haribol Gajurel, a Standing Committee member. “The government is already facing criticism from various sections of the society, as it has failed to properly respond to the pandemic.”
Over the last few weeks, the ruling party has held its Secretariat meeting at least three times since September 20, with the last meeting held two days ago. The party’s two chairmen—KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal—have been meeting on a regular basis, around a dozen times in the last four weeks or so.
Even ruling party insiders say they do not really know what exactly Oli and Dahal have been talking about. The duo met on Thursday as well.
“The two chairs failed to forge consensus on Cabinet reshuffle today as well,” said Bishnu Sapkota, press adviser to Dahal.
Apart from Cabinet reshuffle, Oli and Dahal have been trying to reach a deal also on various appointments—at constitutional bodies and foreign missions.
Party insiders say the leadership's focus has been on issues that are related to the party, hence, governance seems to have been put on the back burner.
In the ruling Nepal Communist Party, which was born out of a merger between the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre in May 2018, Oli and Dahal are the power centres.
According to party leaders, everything revolves around them. Months-long negotiations between them saved the party from a split, but only because the two leaders reached a larger power-sharing deal.
Their focus thus has been on power-sharing, say insiders. According to them, every party has issues and the ruling party is not an exception, but internal issues should not hamper governance.
“There must be an environment conducive to smooth functioning of the government and the two leaders must seriously consider the situation at hand and take decisions swiftly,” said Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member.
“Or else, it will be difficult for the party to convince people to vote for it when we go to the polls in about two years.”
After the internal dispute reached a tipping point, Oli and Dahal on August 14 had formed a six-member panel to recommend ways to run the party and the government smoothly.
The party had then agreed that Oli would lead the government for the full five-year term and Dahal would run the party as “executive chairman”. Yet another recommendation was a Cabinet rejig.
Both Oli and Dahal have been discussing a Cabinet reshuffle for over a month now, but no decision has been taken, and party leaders say they don’t know what is going around.
According to insiders, Dahal is for recalling all the ministers and then making fresh appointments. Oli has refused the proposal.
Currently, of the 22 ministries—finance, communication and information technology and urban development—are vacant. Oli has kept finance, communication and information technology berths with him while Physical Infrastructure and Transport Minister Basanta Nembang is looking after the urban development portfolio.
Leaders close to Oli said the prime minister is for filling the vacant positions first.
“As far as I know, the prime minister will appoint ministers at the ministries of finance, communication and information technology and urban development in a day or two,” said Subas Nembang, a Standing Committee member. “I don’t see a Cabinet reshuffle taking place before the festivals.”
Insiders say Dahal’s proposal to recall all ministers first and then make fresh appointments stems from the fact that he does not want Ram Bahadur Thapa and Lekhraj Bhatta to continue in the Oli Cabinet.
Both Home Minister Thapa and Industry Ministry Bhatta are Dahal’s old allies from the war days, but of late, according to insiders, they seem to be siding with Oli and that has irked Dahal no end.
And to ensure that Oli does not make a move on his own of appointing ministers to the vacant ministries, Dahal has warned the party “won’t take the responsibility” if that is done.
“Dahal has told Oli that the party won’t take any responsibility if he fills just the three vacant ministerial berths without doing a Cabinet overhaul,” said a leader close to Dahal who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Dahal has made his position clear that if Oli appoints ministers in the vacant positions without any consent, the party won’t back him up.”
Oli is already under fire in the party after his Cabinet recommended former finance minister Yubaraj Khatiwada and outgoing chief secretary Lokdarshan Regmi as ambassadors to the United States of America and the United Kingdom without consulting with party leaders.
Leaders say the problem is not that the conflict is raging in the party. What is concerning, according to them, is that the internal conflict is badly affecting governance, just as the country is in the midst of unprecedented challenges like the pandemic and a falling economy.
A minister in the Oli Cabinet said since reshuffle discussions have been going on for quite some time, it has become difficult to work.
“Bureaucrats have their own way of functioning,” the minister told the Post on condition of anonymity. “First, we don’t know how long we are here as talks have been going on for weeks about a Cabinet reshuffle. Second, bureaucrats think why they should abide us when our term is uncertain.”
A leader gave a typical communist philosophical touch to describe the ongoing happenings, saying that the leaders’ lust for power is the biggest contradiction of Nepali politics.
“We have seen this in Nepali politics for years; people want delivery and leaders want power,” said Gajurel, a Standing Committee member who represents the former Maoist party.
“This is the contradiction we have been witnessing. We managed to introduce massive political changes in the country. But we have not been able to defeat the same old contradiction despite getting a two-thirds majority.”