Coalition partners strike power-sharing deal after hard bargainsMaoists to lead five ministries, CPN (Unified Socialist) and Janata Samajbadi four each. Unified Socialist will get two chief ministers, deputy Speaker is for Janata Samajbadi.
After almost 90 days, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba appears set to expand his Cabinet as coalition partners have reached a power-sharing deal after hard bargains.
The ruling alliance has reached a deal that the CPN (Unified Socialist) will get chief ministers in Province 1 and Bagmati in exchange for two ministerial berths, clearing the way for appointing new ministers in the Deuba Cabinet.
As per the agreement, the Nepali Congress will get a total of nine ministries, including the prime minister, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) will get five and CPN (United Socialist) and Janata Samajbadi Party will get four ministries each. The CPN (Unified Socialist) and Janata Samajbadi will also get one minister of state each.
“If everything goes as per today’s deal, the Cabinet will be expanded on Friday,” said a member from Deuba’s private secretariat.
As per the agreement, the Nepali Congress will lead ministries of defence; home; foreign affairs; law, justice and parliamentary affairs; communication and information technology; and women, youth and sports, among others.
Currently, Narayan Khadka, Balkrishna Khand and Gyanedra Karki are leading the ministries of foreign affairs, home, and law and parliamentary affairs, respectively, from the Nepali Congress. Umesh Shrestha of the party is the minister of state for health.
Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Karki is most likely to get the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology.
The Maoist Centre will be leading ministries of finance; energy; education; land management, cooperative and poverty alleviation; and water supply. Janardan Sharma and Pampha Bhusal have already been appointed ministers for finance and energy, respectively.
From the Maoist Center, Devendra Poudel will lead the Ministry of Education; Maheshwar Gahatraj will lead the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation; and Shashi Shrestha will lead the Ministry of Water Supply. The portfolio of Bodhmaya Yadav, who has been tipped as a minister of state, has not been decided yet, according to party sources.
Deuba had been struggling to expand the Cabinet because the Maoist Centre was not providing a list of names, and the CPN (Unified Socialist) and Janata Samajbadi had differing views on the ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act-2017. The ordinance, however, was repealed on September 27.
“The fresh agreement has paved the way for Cabinet expansion,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, spokesperson for the Maoist Centre. “Now as soon as the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi fix their ministerial candidates, the Cabinet will get the full shape.”
The ruling alliance earlier on Thursday held a meeting with a view to expanding the Cabinet. But it failed to find consensus, as the CPN (Unified Socialist) expressed its reservations on the number of ministries it was getting, saying it was “not enough”.
Jagannath Khatiwada, head of the publicity department of the CPN (Unified Socialist) said that since a deal has been reached, his party would send the names for ministers on Friday after the party’s Secretariat meeting.
According to Khatiwada, the CPN (Unified Socialist) will get ministries of health and population; labour and employment; culture, tourism and civil aviation; and urban development. The party will get one minister of state too.
Birodh Khatiwada will lead the CPN (Unified Socialist) in the Cabinet as the minister for urban development, according to party sources.
Similarly, Ram Kumari Jhakri will lead the Health Ministry, Prem Ale will lead the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, and Kishan Shrestha will lead the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security. Bhawani Khapung will be appointed minister of state but the portfolio has yet to be finalised.
The ruling coalition is planning to unseat Bhim Acharya and Ashtalaxmi Shakya, chief ministers of Province 1 and Bagmati, respectively, so as to replace them with CPN (Unified Socialist) leaders. Acharya and Shakya are from the CPN-UML. They are set to go for floort tests after Dashain, but they are in minority in the changed political dynamics, especially after the CPN (Unified Socialist) was registered by Madhav Nepal after he split from the UML on August 26. Rajendra Rai and Rajendra Pandey are the possible candidates from the CPN (Unified Socialist) for chief ministers in Province 1 and Bagmati, respectively.
The Janata Samajbadi will also get the post of deputy Speaker, a post that has been vacant since Shiva Maya Tumbahamphe resigned on January 20 last year.
“Today’s agreement also has it that the post of the deputy Speaker will go to the Janata Samajbadi,” said the Nepali Congress leader.
The Janata Samajbadi, which was earlier reluctant to join the government unless the ordinance was repealed, is set to get ministries of physical infrastructure and transportation; agriculture; local development and federal affairs, and forest.
Now one problem Deuba could face while expanding his Cabinet is the demand from the rival faction in his own Nepali Congress.
The Ram Chandra Poudel faction is demanding three ministerial posts while Krishna Prasad Sitaula is looking for at least one ministerial berth. The Nepali Congress held an office bearers’ meeting on Wednesday in order to finalise its ministerial candidates, but it failed.
According to insiders, Deuba is also mulling over inducting the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party into the government. The Loktantrik Samajbadi Party is led by Mahantha Thakur who formed the party after splitting from the Janata Samajbadi.
Sources in the Congress say Deuba could lose one candidate from his party to accommodate the Loktantrik Samajbadi in the Cabinet. But that could create some problems within his Nepali Congress.
“Deuba is planning to hold talks with Thakur,” said a Congress leader who did not wish to be named.
Deuba was appointed prime minister on July 13 as per a July 12 Supreme Court, which also restored the House of Representatives dissolved by KP Sharma Oli on May 21.
But Deuba’s failure to expand his Cabinet earned him massive criticism, with some saying that he was proving to be incompetent, something the deposed king Gyanendra had branded him 19 years ago.
The way the ruling coalition partners were squabbling over ministerial berths, until Thursday it appeared that Cabinet expansion was not possible before the Dashain festival, which began Thursday and will be over after 15 days.
A Congress leader said the disputes now have been settled.
“The government will get its full shape on Friday,” said Ramesh Lekhak, a Congress leader.