Dahal attempts to exercise his executive muscle but there are challenges aheadIn order to form the politburo and call a standing committee meeting, Dahal will have to cater to growing factionalism in the party.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been busy over the past few weeks.
Dahal’s increased engagements with leaders from the various factions within his Nepal Communist Party are an indication that he now wants to exercise his new role as ‘executive chairman’ of the party—with the authority to exercise power.
For more than a year-and-a-half since the merger of the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre, Dahal as a co-chair had been without any role—neither in the party nor in government. Although he co-chaired the party, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, in his dual role as the other chairman, held power close to himself and made decisions unilaterally. It was only towards the end of October, when Oli’s health started to deteriorate, that Dahal finally got what he had long sought—concrete responsibility in the party.
A meeting on November 20 decided to let Oli lead the government for the full five-year term and allow Dahal to lead the party as executive chairman. Oli, however, has continued to assert that he is the senior executive chairman of the party.
On November 26, Oli was once again admitted to hospital for an appendectomy and another round of dialysis—the eighth since October 30. As Oli is currently recuperating, Dahal is preparing for Monday’s secretariat meeting.
The last meeting, on December 4, was the first chaired wholly by Dahal as executive chairman, although the meet ended without taking any decision.
Leaders who have close relations with Dahal and senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, who has expressed his disappointment with Oli, appear upbeat that with Dahal’s “new role”, outstanding issues related to party unification will soon reach a conclusion.
But as the unification process inches towards a long-awaited end, Dahal will certainly try to expand his influence in the party, insiders say.
“The issue of the executive role was a non-issue, but Dahal had to sacrifice his desire to lead government,” said Ramesh Malla, a party member who was Dahal’s personal aide during the latter’s second stint as prime minister from August 2016 to May 2017. “Dahal will now ensure that the party gains momentum and functions in a systematic manner.”
But the road ahead is fraught with challenges.
The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) continues to carry the legacy of factionalism that was rife in the former UML, with Nepal becoming a thorn in Oli’s side.
Dahal will certainly try to woo Nepal to cement his position as party leader, said Mani Thapa, a standing committee member who is close to Dahal.
On Sunday morning, Dahal held an hours-long meeting with Nepal. In an interview with Kantipur, the Post’s sister paper, last month, Dahal had said he enjoyed “a long and comfortable relationship” with Nepal.
As Oli recuperates, Dahal may try to make some crucial moves, including calling a standing committee meeting and pushing politburo formation.
During Sunday’s meeting, Nepal, according to leaders, held discussions about forming the politburo and calling a standing committee meeting. Since the standing committee meeting would also discuss the performance of the Oli government, the Oli faction may try to delay it, leaders said.
Formation of the politburo will not be an easy task for Dahal, as he will have to cater to leaders from different factions and he cannot afford to ignore Oli.
The party currently has a 445-strong central committee and requires a 148-member politburo. And Nepal, who has long felt sidelined by Oli, will try to expand his influence in the politburo.
Dahal is also preparing to endorse the decision of the previous secretariat meeting to elevate Bamdev Gautam to the post of vice-chairman through the upcoming standing committee meeting.
Dahal’s increased engagements with Nepal and other leaders, including Bhim Rawal and Surendra Pandey, who do not hesitate to criticise the establishment, have left Oli and his loyalists concerned, say insiders.
Leaders close to Oli have even questioned the recent secretariat meeting, saying Dahal called it in haste without waiting for Oli to be discharged from hospital. Nonetheless, the meeting ended without taking any crucial decisions as senior leader Jhala Nath Khanal and secretariat member Ishwar Pokhrel were both out of the country.
Dahal may have been buoyed by his new executive role but there still is a lack of clarity as to what it entails, said a central committee member on condition of anonymity.
“Leading the Nepal Communist Party is not like leading the former Maoist party,” said the member, who has close relations with Oli. “Dahal’s executive chairman role comes after Oli, with not as much authority as has been portrayed.”
According to Thapa, it will be in everyone’s interest if Dahal and Oli work on the basis of consensus.
“If Dahal tries to move ahead without taking Oli into confidence, the party will plunge into another crisis,” said Thapa, “as unilateral decisions will stoke more conflicts.”