Divisions in the ruling party over the MCC put Oli government in a bindWith the taskforce formed to resolve the issue raising more questions than providing answers, the Nepal Communist Party is tied in knots.
Even though party Chair Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has for long reiterated that the $500 million US programme would be ratified by the ongoing winter session of Parliament, the plan is set to hit a roadblock.
The taskforce, led by Jhala Nath Khanal, a senior leader of the party, with Pradeep Gyawali, who is also the foreign minister, and Bhim Rawal, a Standing Committee member, submitted its report to party chairs Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Friday.
Rawal of late has emerged as the most vocal critic of the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC), saying its ratification in the current form would infringe on Nepal’s sovereignty.
The taskforce was formed after massive opposition by members during the recently concluded Central Committee meeting of the party.
Leaders say the US programme, which has created a sharp division in the party, has put the government in a dilemma. The Oli administration cannot move its plan to get the MCC ratified from Parliament without the party’s nod, as the Central Committee had also decided that the government cannot function without consulting the party.
Leaders say the party handled the issue very badly and that the situation has now spiralled out.
“If the Secretariat had resolved the issue, things would not have been as difficult today,” said Barshaman Pun, a Standing Committee member who is also the energy minister in the Oli Cabinet.
While some leaders had started speaking against MCC ratification by Parliament a few months ago, strong voices were raised at the party’s Standing Committee last December. Chairman Dahal had tried to assuage opposing leaders’ concerns, saying the government will seek clarity on the MCC from the United States before its parliamentary ratification.
Leaders at that time had raised questions against the MCC, saying it is part of the US’ Indo-Pacific Strategy, hence it will have security components. They argued that the Indo-Pacific Strategy is Washington’s bid to expand its influence in the region and counter China.
The Standing Committee then had decided to entrust the party’s nine-member Secretariat with the task of resolving the issue.
“Had the Standing Committee come to a conclusion, the issue would not have reached the Central Committee,” Pun told the Post. “Now things are all over the place.”
When the party held its Central Committee meeting after a gap of almost two years, the MCC was not even on the agenda. But it emerged as the main agenda after Oli, while speaking on the inaugural day of the meeting in January, said, “The MCC will be endorsed from the federal parliament once it is tabled by the new Speaker.”
“It’s just because of the poor handling of such an important issue by the prime minister,” said Hemraj Bhandari, a Central Committee member.
The initial opposition to the MCC for long had been from the former Maoists. Former House Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara’s reluctance to move it in Parliament, according to leaders, also stemmed from the fact that the Maoists were not very keen on getting it ratified. Oli had publicly expressed his displeasure at Mahara for the dilly-dallying.
Leaders said there was a possibility that the MCC could have been passed earlier had Mahara tabled it in Parliament. But in October last year, Mahara stepped down after allegations of attempted rape. The winter session commenced on December 20, but the two chairmen haggled over their choice of persons for Mahara’s successor. After the election of the new Speaker, the winter session held its first meeting only on January 28. By that time, a group of former UML leaders, led by Rawal, had already picked up the MCC at its major agenda, saying it should not be ratified.
Dahal, who appeared to be on the same page with Oli at least on the MCC, too, now is saying it will be passed, but only after some revisions. Now, Oli is also under pressure and he is not likely to rush the MCC through Parliament.
While speaking with reporters at Nawalpur on Saturday morning, Dahal said the prime minister has already told the party that there are no provisions in the MCC which cannot be revised.
According to Dahal, a US Congressional delegation, too, held discussions with Oli on the MCC. “Oli had briefed us on his discussions with the US representatives. Oli has already said that the MCC is not something that cannot have revisions,” said Dahal. “At least two provisions of the MCC have already been changed and some other provisions too could be revised before getting it endorsed from Parliament.”
The party on Saturday submitted the taskforce’s report to the Secretariat for the members to study.
“Leaders will once again discuss the MCC during the next Secretariat meeting in detail after going through the Khanal-led taskforce’s report,” said Bishnu Sapkota, press advisor to Dahal.
The MCC not only has exposed the rifts in the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), it has also put the government in trouble, as failing to ratify an already agreed upon programme could send a negative message about Nepal, according to leaders.
“I don’t think this is the time to make amendments to the agreement signed in 2017,” said Krishna Rai, a central member who has close relations with Oli. “Leaders within our own party are actually playing foul. The whole thing has been blown out of proportion.”
Leaders admit there are three distinct factions in the Nepal Communist Party and that the MCC too has been caught between those—one group is completely opposed to it, the second faction has a moderate stance, the third camp is for endorsing it at any cost.
When the three-member taskforce was formed, the leadership tried to strike a balance. “From the composition of the taskforce, you can easily understand which faction is dominant in the party,” said Bhandari, a central member who has close relations with Dahal.