Deuba struggles to expand Cabinet, more so by issues in his own partyThe prime minister has to satisfy the rival faction of his party. The Maoist Centre and the Janata Samjabadi are his key partners and he can’t ignore the Nepal group either.
As Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba begins consultations to expand his five-member Cabinet, he faces an uphill task with demands and complexities of the constituencies that supported him during the confidence vote in Parliament on Sunday.
The 165 lawmakers that voted for him belong to a disparate group.
Besides the Nepali Congress, lawmakers from the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the two factions of the Janata Samajbadi Party that has more or less split, a section of the main opposition CPN-UML, and Rastriya Janamorcha supported Deuba.
According to leaders close to Deuba, he wants representation of all parties that stood by him.
“Discussions are going on with all the parties who supported us,” Purna Bahadur Khadka, a Congress general secretary, told the Post.
But all the parties have their own complexities including Deuba's own Nepali Congress.
The rival faction of the party, led by Ram Chandra Poudel, has demanded at least one deputy prime minister with the other General Secretary Shashanka Koirala, former vice-president Prakash Man Singh and senior leader Sujata Koirala vying for the post.
It has also demanded three additional ministerial portfolios.
“But Deuba has made it clear that it is not possible and the Poudel faction will get just two portfolios in the Cabinet,” said a Nepali Congress leader close to Deuba on condition of anonymity. “One of the major reasons behind the delay in Cabinet formation is dynamics inside the Nepali Congress.”
Deuba has also assured one Cabinet portfolio to another camp of the party led by former general secretary Krishna Prasad Sitaula, according to the leader.
The constitution allows only 25 Cabinet ministers.
Initially, there were talks among the alliance partners to appoint ministers at the one Cabinet position for every 10 parliamentarians ratio but as the number of aspirants grew, it was changed to one for eight, according to the Congress leaders the Post talked to.
“Now the Janata Samajbadi Party is saying one minister for six parliamentarians and this is another reason for the delay in Cabinet expansion,” the Nepali Congress leader close to Deuba said.
The faction of the party led by Upendra Yadav, however, is in no hurry to join the Cabinet.
“Our party will join the government only after the issue of party’s authentication is resolved,” Yadav, the party chair, told the Post.
It has demanded six Cabinet berths.
The party with 34 members in the House of Representatives (of whom two are suspended) has split and the Election Commission is scheduled to begin the hearing on the dispute on Wednesday to decide on which of the two warring factions—the other led by the other chair Mahantha Thakur—gets the party name and election symbol.
While the Yadav faction had been in an alliance with Deuba since outgoing prime minister KP Sharma Oli dissolved the House on May 21, the Thakur faction had sided with Oli and even joined his Cabinet last month until the Supreme Court stripped the ministers of their posts, saying a caretaker government could not expand the Cabinet.
On Sunday, the Thakur faction dramatically supported Deuba during the confidence vote.
But it is not clear whether it will join the government.
“There have been no discussions in our faction regarding joining the government,” Sharat Singh Bhandari, a leader of the Thakur faction, told the Post. “Until the dispute in the party is resolved, there is no question of joining the government.”
A meeting of the party’s Thakur-led Executive Committee that does not include Yadav has urged the Deuba government to address its demands in exchange for supporting him during the confidence vote.
According to a statement issued on Tuesday, the Thakur faction has demanded an amendment to the constitution, removing cases against its leaders and cadres since the Madhes uprising of 2015, freeing its lawmaker Resham Chaudary from jail, releasing the Lal Commission report on the atrocities committed by the state during the Madhes uprising in the run-up to the promulgation of the constitution, and resolving the citizenship issue, among other things.
After the Thakur faction forwarded some conditions to the Deuba government, it is not sure whether it will join the government or not. Deuba did not reach out to the Thakur faction either.
But the most complex issue arguably is giving ministerial berths to those in the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of the UML.
With the dispute within the UML, the faction is in no hurry to join the government.
Defying the party’s decision, 22 lawmakers of the UML voted in favour of Deuba on Sunday and they have been asked to furnish clarifications for their action.
“There has been no discussion on joining Deuba’s government,” said Raghuji Pant, a leader close to Nepal. “We are in internal discussions on how to resolve the dispute in the party.”
According to Birodh Khatiwada, another leader close to Nepal and a member of the lower house, joining the government is not simple.
“Either our party has to make a decision to join the government or the party has to split,” Khatiwada told the Post. “We don’t have another option right now.”
Without going into details, he said that the Political Parties Act-2017, creates the hurdles.
Legal experts are of a similar view.
Senior advocate Purna Man Shakya, who also is professor at Nepal Law Campus, said the July 12 Supreme Court verdict that reinstated the House of Representatives allows individual lawmakers to make their choice, irrespective of the party decision, only in the formation of the government as per Article 76 (5) and during the vote of confidence.
“The defection provision of the Political Party Act-2017 will be applicable if the Nepal faction joins the government,” he told the Post. “Though they can join the government, the party can recall the ministers. And if they refuse, the party can take action against them.”
Clause 32 of the Act authorises a political party’s Central Committee to sack its members if it is not satisfied with the clarification they submit. The 22 lawmakers could lose their positions as parliamentarians if they do not remain members of the party.
“I don’t see options for the Nepal faction other than splitting the party to clear the legal hurdles before joining the government,” advocate Mohan Acharya, who specialises in constitutional law, told the Post. “Or the existing Political Party Act has to be revised.”
The Act currently requires 40 percent support from both party’s Central Committee and Parliamentary Party in order to split. However, the Nepal faction lacks 40 percent in the Parliamentary Party, though it has that strength in the Central Committee.
Acharya sees the possibility of a bill being introduced in Parliament or an ordinance issued after the ongoing session is prorogued that would require 40 percent support from either the Central Committee or the Parliamentary Party for a party to split.
The Oli government in April last year had issued an ordinance to revise the Act with such a provision but was forced to withdraw it following widespread opposition.
Senior advocate Chandra Kanta Gyawali, however, doesn’t see its necessity for the party to split. He says if a lawmaker becomes a prime minister or can vote for a lawmaker of his/her choice for the prime minister’s job, there should not be any problem in joining the government.
“Any lawmaker can join the government in individual capacity without the party’s decision,” he told the Post. “The lawmakers from the Nepal faction can do the same.”
The dilemma the Nepal faction is facing is one of the reasons for the delay in Cabinet expansion, according to Min Bahadur Bishawkarma, a leader close to Deuba.
“Since either the UML should recommend that its lawmakers join the government or Nepal has to form a new party, I do not see an immediate chance of the Nepal-faction joining the government,” said a Nepali Congress leader on condition of anonymity.
According to leaders of the Nepali Congress and Maoist Centre, the Nepal faction has been promised six Cabinet ministers if it joins the government.
Nepal has assured Deuba, Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Yadav of the Janata Samajbadi Party that once the dispute within the UML is resolved, his faction will join the government, the leaders said.
With no issues within the party, the Maoist Centre is ready to join the government.
On Tuesday morning, Dahal met Nepal and later Deuba.
But in the party with 49 members in the House of Representatives, there are over a dozen and a half lawmakers who have expressed their desire to join the Cabinet, according to a member of Dahal’s secretariat.
Two ministers from the Maoist Centre have already been appointed and it is not clear how many more ministries the party will be allotted.
“Dahal has made a strategy to decide on ministers only after the ministries allotted to the party are finalised,” he told the Post on condition of anonymity.
At present, only the Home Ministry, Law Ministry, Finance Ministry and Energy Ministry have ministers.
“Due to conflicts inside the different parties, Deuba has yet to appoint foreign and health ministers whose roles are crucial during the pandemic,” a Congress leader said, asking not to be named.
“We need vaccines and we need to fight the pandemic but these ministries have no ministers.”
(Binod Ghimire contributed reporting.)