Dahal will have a tough time expanding his CabinetThe prime minister will seek a confidence vote before appointing new ministers.
Tika R Pradhan
With the change in the composition of the ruling coalition—the departure of the UML and entry of the Congress—Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is set to seek a vote of confidence before expanding his Cabinet.
But Cabinet expansion this time is not going to be easy with 10 parties on board the ruling coalition.
Of the ten parties only two are in government—Dahal’s Maoist Centre and the Janamat Party. Dahal alone is heading 16 ministries after a few parties quit the government and some members of the coalition refused to accept the portfolios allocated to them.
The second largest party, the UML withdrew its support given to the government on February 27, days after the Rastriya Prajatantra Party withdrew its support on February 25.
As per the constitution, the government needs to seek a vote of confidence within a month of any of its constituents withdrawing support.
According to the officials at the prime minister’s secretariat, the prime minister is preparing to seek a vote of confidence in the last week of March.
“The prime minister will have a tough time expanding his Cabinet this time as more partners means more aspirants for ministers,” said a member of the prime minister’s secretariat. “In order not to let the confidence vote be affected by a possible conflict among parties over ministerial allocations, the prime minister wants to seek a vote of confidence as soon as the new vice president is elected.”
Prime Minister Dahal tried to assuage civil servants on Tuesday saying the change in the composition of the ruling coalition will not affect government leadership and asked them to focus on delivery and results.
“We are committed to our priorities–social justice, good governance and prosperity,” Dahal told the civil servants at the prime minister’s office on Tuesday. “Ministers may change but the government’s policy won’t. So, focus on your work, and ensure results.”
Actually, Dahal wanted to seek a confidence vote before the polls, but that could not happen due to time constraints as the country was focussed on presidential elections—Ram Chandra Paudel was elected new President on March 9 and election for Vice President is scheduled for March 17.
Currently, the Maoist Centre has four ministers with a deputy prime minister and a minister of state besides one minister from Janamat Party.
This time, according to Maoist Centre leaders, the prime minister wants to keep the Home Ministry for his party, and the Finance Ministry could be allocated to the largest party, the Congress. Earlier, due to UML chair KP Sharma Oli’s pressure Dahal was forced to allocate the Home Ministry to Rastriya Swatantra Party’s chair Rabi Lamichhane.
The prime minister will also try to convince the coalition partners not to induct more deputy prime ministers like in his previous cabinet, according to Maoist Centre leaders.
Besides Narayan Kaji Shrestha, UML’s vice-chair Bishnu Poudel, Rastriya Prajatantra Party chair Rajendra Lingden and RSP chair Lamichhane were deputy prime ministers. “Most probably, this time only Congress will get to appoint a deputy prime minister,” said an office bearer of the Maoist Centre asking not to be named.
Leaders said the Nepali Congress has been demanding eight ministries.
“Congress has started preliminary discussions on joining the cabinet,” said Min Bishwarkarma, a Congress leader close to party president Sher Bahadur Deuba. “Our party president wants to appoint the right persons in the right ministries, but there are many aspirants for ministerial posts.”
According to Bishwakarma, party vice president Purna Bahadur Khadka and general secretary duo Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma have told the leadership that they would not join the government and focus on bolstering party organisation.
“Our leadership will pick ministerial candidates considering ethnicity, region, gender and individual contributions to the party,” Bishwakarma said. “A formal discussion on ministerial candidates will begin with the party’s meeting scheduled for Wednesday.”
Congress leaders said either Purna Bahadur Khadka or Prakash Man Singh will lead the Congress in the cabinet. Another senior leader Bimalendra Nidhi has also expressed his interest to lead the party in the government, according to insiders.
The current ten-party coalition includes the Maoist Centre, the Congress, the Rastriya Swatantra Party, the Janata Samajbadi Party, the CPN (Unified Socialist), the Janamat Party, the Nagarik Unmukti Party, the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party, the Aam Janata Party of Prabhu Sah and the Rastriya Janamorcha.
Among them, all but the Rastriya Janamorcha and the Rastriya Swatantra Party want to join the Cabinet. Even the Nagarik Unmukti Party that had earlier refused to join the government is preparing to appoint a minister. “We will join the government and discussions are going on,” said Ratan Thapa, general secretary of Nagarik Unmukti Party.
Congress spokesperson Prakash Sharan Mahat and Gyanendra Bahadur Karki are two possible candidates for finance minister, sources said.
The party has scheduled its work executive committee meeting for 1 pm on Wednesday to discuss Friday’s vice presidential election and Cabinet expansion.