Maoist Centre is in a fix over its next moveThe party has decided to seek clarification from its members who have sided with Oli but it is yet to chart out further strategy.
A Central Committee meeting of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) on Sunday endorsed Saturday’s Standing Committee decision to seek a written clarification from its 23 central members who are currently with the CPN-UML, led by KP Sharma Oli.
The party’s move is aimed at asking them to make their position clear as to which party they hold their allegiance to.
The Maoist Centre and the UML had announced their merger in May 2018 to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The unified party had a 441-member Central Committee. But the Supreme Court’s March 7 decision not only scrapped the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) but also revived the Maoist Centre and the UML. By the time the court decision came, some leaders had switched sides.
Of the 23 members, who have been asked to furnish clarifications, seven are minsters in the Oli Cabinet and belong to the Maoist Centre.
A meeting of the Central Committee of Oli’s UML on Friday had inducted the 23 Maoist leaders into its Central Committee.
The Maoist Centre has said it would initiate action against its leaders if they failed to make their affiliation clear and return to the party. Those asked to clarify their positions include Minister for Home Affairs Ram Bahadur Thapa, Energy Minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, Minister for Industry Lekh Raj Bhatta, Minister for Urban Development Prabhu Sah and Minister for Labour and Employment Gauri Shankar Chaudhari. Except Thapa, all were elected to the lower house in the Maoist ticket in 2017. Thapa is a National Assembly member.
The party has also decided to recall the ministers. They include Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member, and Dawa Lama, a Central Committee member of the Maoist Centre.
“The Central Committee will decide further action [against those 23 members] based on how they respond,” Jaya Puri Gharti, a Central Committee member of the Maoist Centre, told the Post. “They will be sacked from the party if they fail to return to the party.”
Such a sacking, however, will mean they will lose their membership of the federal parliament. Those who are ministers, however, can continue but have to be reappointed. They have to be a member of either House within six months.
None of the 23 members so far has made any statement public, but Rayamajhi, who was elected from Arghakhanchi-1, has said that he is not worried about losing his membership in the lower house and that he would continue to be with the UML.
The March 7 verdict by the Supreme Court while deciding on a case filed by Rishiram Kattel has added to the confusion, as it has changed the entire political landscape.
Those UML leaders who were with Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal decided to return to their home party after the court decision.
With at least four leaders elected in the Maoist Centre ticket siding with Oli, Dahal now has just 49 members in the House of Representatives, which can make a difference when it comes to government formation in the coming days.
Similarly, Oli’s decision to induct more members in the Central Committee, including those from the Maoist Centre, could weaken Madhav Kumar Nepal group’s position in the UML.
The Maoist Centre is now looking to employ the Political Parties Act-2017 to sack those 23 members who have sided with Oli.
Clause 32 of the Act authorises the party’s Central Committee to sack its members after allowing them to present their clarification. Sub-clause 5 says if the clarification submitted is not satisfactory, based on the provisions in the party statute, the Central Committee can sack such members.
If the Maoist Centre decides to sack its leaders who are in the federal parliament, it needs to inform the Parliament Secretariat in writing. Such a notice will have to be presented before the House Speaker or the National Assembly chair as per Clause 34 of the Act.
The Speaker or the National Assembly chair has to inform the respective houses about the decision of the party within 15 days while the Secretariat, based on Clause 36 (1), publishes a notice saying that the respective lawmakers have lost their posts.
“The respective lawmakers will lose their membership the day the lower house and the upper house are informed about the party decision,” Roj Nath Pandey, spokesperson for the Parliament Secretariat, told the Post. “The secretariat informs the Election Commission about the decision within 15 days from the date the notice is issued.”
The March 7 Supreme Court decision seems to have put Oli in a comfortable position, but it has created a headache for Dahal’s Maoist Centre as well as the Nepal group from the UML.
The Nepal group under Oli’s UML is facing a tough time, as Oli has been making attempts to tighten his grip on the party and corner Nepal and other leaders who had sided with Dahal.
Dahal, on the other hand, is trying to garner support from the Nepali Congress and the Janata Samajbadi Party to oust Oli.
The Nepal group trying to create parallel committees within the UML is an indication that the UML could split sooner rather than later and Dahal is hopeful that the Nepal group would come to his fold. In a bid to accommodate the Nepal group, the Maoist Centre on Sunday held discussions about changing the party’s name.
After the party's Central Committee meeting on Sunday, Dahal met with Nepal at the latter’s residence in Koteshwor.
“They [Dahal and Nepal] must have discussed a possible alliance as Oli does not seem to be in a mood to accommodate Nepal,” said Lekhnath Neupane, a Central Committee member of the Maoist Centre. “I believe Nepal will join us sooner or later.”
But it could take time before the Nepal group joins hands with Dahal.
The Maoist Centre is struggling to deal with the current situation at hand, as some senior leaders have sided with Oli.
Once the Maoist Centre sacks its members who are with Oli, the Election Commission will have to take it forward.
Raj Kumar Shrestha, spokesperson for the commission, said they need to first receive information from the Parliament Secretariat about any party’s decision to sack any member of the federal parliament.
“We then start the process to replace them,” Shrestha told the Post. “Those under the proportional representation category are replaced with those from the closed list of the respective party. For those elected under the first-past-the-post system, by-elections have to be held.”
All federal parliament members from the Maoist Centre in the Oli Cabinet were directly elected.
Constitutional experts say the incumbent ministers will lose their ministerial posts the moment they lose their membership of the federal parliament.
Article 76 (9) of the constitution says the President, on recommendation of the prime minister, constitutes the Council of Ministers comprising a maximum of 25 ministers including the prime minister, in accordance with the inclusive principle, from amongst the members of the federal parliament.
“They [the Maoist Centre lawmakers] will lose their ministerial posts once the party sacks them,” Advocate Mohan Lal Acharya, former adviser to the Constituent Assembly, told the Post. “They have to be reappointed as per Article 78, if Oli wants their continuation.”
The article authorises the President, on recommendation of the prime minister, to appoint a person who is not a member of the federal parliament as a minister. However, s/he should obtain the membership of the federal parliament within six months, according to the constitution.
If the leaders from the Maoist Centre lose their post, “the shortest route for them to continue, after six months, will be getting into the National Assembly,” said Acharya.
Election of 19 members of the upper house, including one to be nominated by the president, will be held next year.
Action against its members who are currently with Oli, however, does not seem to be too helpful for the Maoist Centre in the long run, as Oli could easily accommodate most of them within the party or the Cabinet.
Maoist Centre leaders say they need to work on a long-term strategy not only to keep the party afloat and make it relevant but also to counter Oli.
“By and large our party’s strategy should be and will be to remain in power,” said Neupane, the Central Committee member. “We seem to be lacking a long-term strategy as of now.”
Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.