With Oli out of the country, Dahal sees opportunity to make movesWhile the former Maoist chairman hasn’t given up on leading government, he is now focused on party leadership, insiders say.
With ruling party Co-chair KP Sharma Oli out of the country for medical treatment, Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal has begun internal machinations, according to party insiders. Although things appeared to have calmed down between the two chairmen, Oli’s absence has given rise to a new internal powerplay, several party leaders told the Post.
For the first time since the party’s unification 15 months ago, Dahal chaired the party’s secretariat meeting on Monday, where he took a number of important decisions, including the induction of four individuals—Devendra Parajuli, Kalpana Dhamala, Padam Rai and Kiran Rai—believed to have close relations with him into the party’s central committee. They had deserted Netra Bikram Chand’s Communist Party of Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti Party to join the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
Previously, even though Oli and Dahal jointly sat for the secretariat meetings, Oli would take the lead, calling all meetings at the prime minister’s residence in Baluwatar. But with Oli now out of the country, Dahal, who led a communist party unchallenged for three decades, cannot resist flexing his own muscle, party leaders say.
“Though Dahal appears to want the prime ministership, he is actually focused solely on leadership of the party and he has started to flex his muscle for the same,” said Devendra Poudel, a standing committee member who has close relations with Dahal.
Besides the secretariat meeting, Dahal has also been meeting with senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, who has recently been slighted in the party structure. After being demoted to the fourth position within the party, below Jhala Nath Khanal, Nepal had registered a note of dissent, demanding that the party stick to ‘one person, one post’. Nepal had already had a verbal altercation with Oli before the latter left for Singapore, providing Dahal room to court Nepal.
Leaders believe that Dahal has taken a three-pronged approach, hitting all three sectors—party, government and Parliament—at the same time. He has started a marathon series of consultations with party leaders, lawmakers and ministers. On Wednesday, Dahal held a meeting with deputy parliamentary party leader Subas Nembang, party leaders Bamdev Gautam and Narayan Kaji Shrestha, and chief whip Dev Gurung, among others, at his Khumaltar residence.
Dahal also spoke at length with President Bidya Devi Bhandari on Sunday and told her that as long as the country maintains the republican set-up, everything will be fine.
Dahal had held discussions about the party’s activities with acting prime minister Ishwar Pokhrel and other senior party leaders within a few days of Oli’s departure.
Party leaders, however, believe that Oli and Dahal had come to an agreement before the former’s departure for Singapore. Oli, who has exercised a significant level of control over the party, has perhaps allowed Dahal to assume the chairmanship in his absence.
“Oli and Dahal held serious discussions for three-four days before coming to an understanding on the day Oli left for Singapore,” said standing committee member Poudel. “Dahal’s latest moves show that understanding is working.”
But Dahal, who seems to be using this free hand to shore up his position within the party, believes that Oli has taken a back seat, due to either his ailing health or his poor performance in both the party and the government.
“Dahal has become active citing the possibility of gaining sole leadership of the party in the near future,” said Mani Thapa, another standing committee member. “He wants to show that things will be better in the party if he takes the reins.”
In another move that signalled Dahal’s attempts at taking hold of the party in Oli’s absence, he called a meeting of journalists on Friday and asked them to support party unification, citing his pivotal role in the party and the country’s recent developments.
“I told the President and the prime minister that my significance will end if the federal republican set-up is defeated,” Dahal told journalists. With voices against republicanism growing, Dahal appears to believe that his presence at the top political echelons is necessary to safeguard republicanism.
According to party leaders, Dahal’s recent actions are aimed at seizing sole leadership of the party, not the government. Although he had hinted at taking turns on government leadership with Oli, citing a gentleman’s agreement between the two, he appears to have focused on the party for now.
“Though the issue of sharing the prime minister’s role is still on the table, Dahal seems more inclined towards the party chair,” Poudel said. “I don’t think they have taken any final decision but Oli has asked Dahal to look after the party now. Things will be clearer once Oli returns.”
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