Oli unlikely to hand over party reins to Dahal anytime soonBefore leaving for Singapore in August, many had believed the two co-chairs had agreed to share responsibility, but Oli shows no signs of letting go.
The two co-chairs of the ruling Nepal Communist Party have always had a fraught relationship. Before unifying their separate parties—KP Sharma Oli’s CPN-UML and Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Centre)—in 2018, they were often at loggerheads.
In 2016, Dahal and Oli were in a coalition government together, with a gentleman’s agreement to hand over power in due time. When Oli refused to allow Dahal to take over as prime minister, the latter joined hands with the Nepali Congress to register a vote of no confidence against Oli.
Given this bad blood, it came as a surprise to most when the two rivals announced an electoral alliance for the 2017 elections, which they went on to sweep. A bigger surprise came in 2018 when the two announced a merger, forming the largest communist party Nepal has ever seen and giving Prime Minister Oli a comfortable two-thirds majority in Parliament.
But things in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) have not been smooth, with the two co-chairs constantly jostling for power. Oli has maintained a firm grip on both the party and the government, much to Dahal’s chagrin.
According to Bishnu Sapkota, press advisor to Co-chair Dahal, things would’ve progressed much faster within the party if Oli had let Dahal handle party matters.
“The party was to complete all unification tasks before Dashain and then start a special campaign to energise the party committees, but things are not moving ahead,” said Sapkota.
However, before leaving for medical treatment in Singapore for the second time in August, many had believed that there had been a thaw in relations. The co-chairs appeared to be on the same page regarding the appointment of leaderships to the various party departments and the elevation of Bamdev Gautam within the party. Before leaving, Oli had even allowed Dahal to chair party meetings, a first in the year-and-a-half since party unification.
So there was reason to believe that Oli would finally allow Dahal to take over the party while he continued to run the government. However, several weeks since his return from Singapore, Oli shows no signs of letting anything go.
Ruling party insiders believe that Oli understands that the moment he lets go of the party, running the government will become all the more difficult for him.
“The belief is that the government must be run in close coordination with the party,” said Ghanashyam Bhusal, a standing committee member. “If Dahal takes hold of the party, Oli will find it difficult to run the government without the support of the party committees.”
Leaders in Dahal’s camp believe that it has now become necessary to clearly define the roles of the two co-chairs and allow Dahal to run the party while Oli runs the government.
“It’s not that Dahal will have the sole authority to run the party but his role will be to look after the party activities,” said Devendra Poudel, a standing committee member. “It’s only a matter of work division, allocating certain responsibilities to each of the party co-chairs.”
According to Poudel, the two co-chairs had agreed in principle to define their roles in the party and government but had yet to put it into practice.
“Once the two leaders finalise their roles, they will bring it to the party committees,” said Poudel.
However, party leaders from the Oli camp said that there is no agreement to hand over party leadership to Dahal.
“Oli has not agreed to hand over the role of party executive chair to Dahal. We have not heard of any such information yet,” said Suman Pyakurel, a central committee member from Oli’s camp. “It’s obvious that Oli as a prime minister should focus more on the government but there is no possibility of any change in the co-chairs’ executive roles.”
Any further delay in entrusting Dahal with party responsibilities will ultimately hamper the government, which is becoming increasingly unpopular with the public, said leaders from the Dahal camp.
“For Dahal, it’s not much of a concern as Oli is being defamed by the day, given his failure to lead the government [properly],” said a Dahal camp leader on condition of anonymity. “It will be better for him to hand over the responsibility to Dahal at the earliest. I don’t know why he is delaying.”
Handing over the party to Dahal would also benefit Oli’s failing health as he could concentrate on one leadership position, allowing him time to rest, said Poudel.
But given Oli’s personality and his increasingly authoritarian style of governance, it is unlikely that he will hand over the party to Dahal any time soon, according to party leaders.
“I don’t think Oli will allow Dahal to run the party as he would not be comfortable running the government with another person at the party’s helm,” said Pampha Bhusal, a standing committee member.
And even if he does allow Dahal to seize some responsibility, it will ultimately be at a time of his benefit.
“Oli by nature is a leader whose actions are unpredictable,” said Ghanashyam Bhusal. “He could hand over the party’s responsibility to Dahal, but only when he finds it beneficial to him.”