Ruling party appears headed for another confrontation between Oli and DahalAs the Oli and Dahal factions butt head over Bamdev Gautam, there are fears that an escalation could seriously damage the party.
A new political storm is brewing in the ruling Nepal Communist Party, as two factions led by the two Chairs KP Sharma Oli, who is also the prime minister, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal are pitted against each other over a decision to take Vice-chair Bamdev Gautam to the National Assembly.
Hours after the party Secretariat on Wednesday decided to send Gautam to the Upper House, Oli said that he would not nominate him. As prime minister, Oli reserves the right to recommend Gautam for the Upper House as per constitutional provisions. But if Oli refuses to nominate Gautam, questions could be raised about his defiance of the Secretariat decision.
The opening salvos of a new confrontation appear to have been made but party insiders say that divisions are not so serious as to entail a party split. The recent episode, however, shows that divisions in the party continue to run deep and that if immediate steps are not taken, the entire party may have to pay a price.
Ever since its formation, distrust and suspicion have prevailed in the Nepal Communist Party with leaders sharply divided along the lines of their constituent parties—the CPN-UML and the Maoist party.
“But this time, things look more serious,” said Dipak Prakash Bhatta, a ruling party lawmaker. “Now both sides are starting to put pressure on each other.”
Though some ruling party leaders say that Oli has already preempted Gautam’s entry to the Upper House by nominating Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada for a second term in the National Assembly, the Post could not independently verify the claims.
On Thursday, during the weekly press briefing, Khatiwada, who has also taken over as minister for communication and information technology and government spokesperson after Gokul Baskota’s resignation, made a roundabout statement.
Responding to journalists, Khatiwada said the oath-taking is slated for March 4 and that is when everything will be made clear.
“We will definitely meet then. I don’t want to speak much on the matter now,” said Khatiwada.
Party leaders say that Oli may have lost his grip on the Secretariat for the time being, as Dahal controls a majority, when push comes to shove, he could blackball Gautam’s nomination to counter Dahal.
A ruling party member said that Oli has been telling leaders close to him that he has credible information that Dahal has been holding closed-door meetings with party General Secretary Bishnu Poudel and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba in connection with bringing down his government.
If the situation reaches a tipping point, both chairs are likely to call each other out.
An aide to Oli said that if pressure mounts on him to nominate Gautam, he is likely to ask Dahal and Poudel about their recent meetings with Deuba, the opposition party leader.
“Dahal may up the ante and ask why Oli is rejecting the Secretariat decision, which he is bound to abide by as per a recent Central Committee decision,” the aide told the Post. “Given the muscle-flexing by the two top leaders, I don’t think this ongoing dispute is going to settle down anytime soon.”
A leader from the Dahal camp said that they will chart out a future strategy after carefully studying how Oli reacts.
“We aren’t in confrontation but we haven’t made up either,” said the leader. “We hope communications will resume between the two leaders.”
After frequent changes in the party’s internal dynamics, Dahal today appears quite comfortable, with several senior leaders, including Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal and Gautam from the former UML, on his side.
On Thursday, some top leaders, including Dahal and Nepal, tried to put up a united front at a training programme for the party’s Bagmati Province cadres.
Dahal tried to make light of the ongoing disputes by saying that such debates are regular phenomena.
“We have contributed a lot to build this party, where millions of people have put their faith. Our party will run the government for a decade,” said Dahal. “But sometimes, us two chairs indulge in a debate. Things are not as they appear in the media. We are capable of handling this situation.”
Nepal said he wouldn’t let the party split, but Oli refrained from commenting on the ongoing party dispute.
Going by the spirit of the constitution, it’s not the party that decides on who to nominate, so ultimately, Oli may have the upper hand as it is the government that recommends candidates to the president for endorsement.
Sushil Pyakurel, an advocate and former adviser to President Bidya Devi Bhandari, said that any recommendation by the government for the National Assembly should be made in consultations with the Head of State.
“That’s the spirit of the constitution,” he said.
Article 86 of the Constitution of Nepal says that the President nominates three members to the Upper House, consisting of at least one woman, on the recommendation of the Government of Nepal.
Most party leaders appear to be waiting for Oli or Dahal to make the next move, which could go either way.
Party Spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha said things would be clearer in the next Secretariat meeting, the date for which has yet to be decided.
“I cannot say whether this ongoing controversy will continue for long or fizzle out soon,” Shrestha told the Post. “Oli wants to retain power, but there are some who don’t want to see him stay for long.”