Although sidelined, Samajbadi Party to remain in government and push for amendmentsThe party is not consulted on any of Oli’s major decisions, signalling that the prime minister does not care for their presence in government, analysts and party members say.
The Samajbadi Party has long been vacillating between remaining in government or pulling out completely. The party’s primary agenda of constitution amendment has long languished under KP Sharma Oli’s rhetoric of prosperity and development, but party leaders have argued that it is easier to push for amendments from within the government.
Wednesday’s ‘unceremonious’ Cabinet reshuffle could have provided a casus belli for the party to quit government, as numerous leaders including Baburam Bhattarai, chairman of the newly unified party’s federal council, have demanded. Bhattarai’s Naya Shakti party merged with Upendra Yadav’s Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum Nepal in May to form the Samajbadi Party Nepal.
Yadav, a deputy prime minister who headed the Health Ministry, was not removed, but his portfolio was changed to the Law Ministry.
“We are not unhappy because our ministry has been changed because that was not a big issue for us,” said Rajendra Shrestha, co-chair of the party. “But we are annoyed because Oli has not shown any interest in initiating the amendment process.”
When the reshuffle took place, Yadav was in New Delhi to attend a regional conference of the World Health Organisation. He told the Post on Thursday that he was not consulted on the reshuffle and that the party would respond officially once he was back in Kathmandu on Friday.
Though it is the prime minister’s prerogative to decide on any changes to his Cabinet, political practice is to consult with coalition partners while taking significant decisions. Samajbadi Party leaders have long said that they are not consulted on any major decisions.
Though party leaders said they were offended that Yadav’s portfolio was swapped and the party’s state minister for health Surendra Kumar Yadav was relieved without informing the party, they will remain in government for at least the next few weeks. The party will continue to hold talks with the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and the government until the results for by-elections are out, according to Shrestha.
But party insiders claimed that the Samajbadi Party will not be quitting government anytime soon, even though Bhattarai has been demanding that Yadav leave the government and begin unification process with the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal, the other Madhes-based political force.
Janata Party leaders have said that unification talks will not move ahead as long as the Samajbadi Party remains in the Oli government. They were waiting for the Samajbadi Party’s central committee meeting on November 15 and 16, to decide on pulling out of the government to continue with talks but that did not happen.
“The central committee meeting decided to push for amendments in the constitution by remaining in government,” said Ram Sahay Yadav, the party’s general secretary.
Some party insiders believe that the Nepal Communist Party has been courting the Janata Party to replace the Samajbadi Party in government, as it requires a coalition partner to have a two-thirds majority in Parliament. According to sources close to the prime minister, Oli has been displeased with Yadav’s vocal criticism and wanted to evict him from the Cabinet. However, ruling party Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and others convinced Oli that they needed Yadav’s support and have asked him to wait.
Oli’s displeasure is evident in the manner in which he treats the government’s coalition partner. The Samajbadi Party is often not even informed and only finds out after the decision has been made.
“Taking major decisions without consulting the only coalition partner means that the prime minister was not happy with the partnership,” said Chandra Kishore, a political commentator. “If there is no other tacit understanding, one should understand that the prime minister wants them to go.”