Cornered everywhere, Oli looks to Parliamentary Party for support, but even there, he’s shortAs Oli’s opponents control the party Secretariat, Standing Committee, and Central Committee with sizeable majorities, the only chance he stands is in the Parliamentary Party.
Tika R Pradhan & Anil Giri
Up until a week ago, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli appeared so confident that he blatantly ignored his ministers’ call to withdraw two controversial ordinances. But a week since, the ordinances have been withdrawn and Oli now stands on shaky ground, with both his positions, as prime minister and party chair, under threat.
Oli had attempted to consolidate his base and avoid answering to the party Secretariat, where he is in a minority, but he largely failed as he was forced to call a Secretariat meeting on Wednesday. Oli is now in a bid to show his strength in the Parliamentary Party.
After the rival faction led by the other party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal launched a signature campaign calling for his resignation as prime minister, Oli has also called all “his” lawmakers to Kathmandu. This in turn has prompted another faction led by senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal to start its own headcount.
“Horse-trading has begun,” one party leader said.
The only place Oli can now pull off a majority is the Parliamentary Party, according to the leader.
In the ruling Nepal Communist Party, formed after the merger of the CPN-UML and the Maoist Centre, the Dahal and Nepal factions now control the Secretariat, Standing Committee, the Central Committee as well as the Parliamentary Party. The party has yet to form its Politburo.
But in the Parliamentary Party, Oli falls short of just 10 to 12 Members of Parliament, which he is using all his might to secure, according to one lawmaker.
Of the party’s 174 Members of Parliament, around 78-80 are on Oli’s side and around 35-40 on Nepal’s side. The Maoist faction has 53 lawmakers.
Insiders say that lawmakers from the Oli and Dahal factions are most likely to move, with Nepal by and large confident about his numbers.
The scenario, however, could change depending on what is on offer.
Over the last few days, Oli has attempted to woo Nepal by offering him the party chair and his loyalists positions as chief ministers in at least two provinces and some ministerial berths. Dahal, on the other hand, has offered Nepal prime ministership, according to leaders from the Nepal faction.
Since Nepal has not committed to anyone, Oli is preparing for the worst.
“Since they [the opposing factions] are attempting to unseat the prime minister through the Standing Committee, we have started a campaign to collect signatures in support of Oli from lawmakers,” said Bijay Subba, a lawmaker and close confidante of Oli. “Only the Parliamentary Party can remove a prime minister.”
In the parliamentary system that Nepal practises, the leader of the Parliamentary Party of the largest party stakes claim to the prime minister’s post and if he ceases to be leader of the Parliamentary Party, he ceases to be prime minister.
Mahesh Basnet, a lawmaker from Bhaktapur, told the Post that they have the numbers to prove a majority for Oli.
“This is not the right time to unseat the prime minister. But if someone challenges him, we will be able to prove his majority,” said Basnet. “For political stability at a time when the country is fighting Covid-19, we have to remain united.”
Leaders from the opposing factions, however, say that the Oli faction’s bid to prove his majority in the Parliamentary Party is a futile exercise, as all party members, including the party chair, must abide by the decisions of the party committees.
“The number of lawmakers won’t matter if the party takes a decision. In a communist party, the party committees’ decisions prevail,” said Haribol Gajurel, a standing committee member who has close relations with Dahal.
If the Secretariat asks Oli to step down as prime minister, he will either have to abide by the decision or take it to the Standing Committee. With just around 11 members on Oli’s side, the 44-member Standing Committee is likely to repeat the Secretariat’s decision.
“That’s why Oli has been trying to avoid the Standing Committee,” said Gajurel. “Oli has been attempting to skip the Standing Committee and hold a meeting of the Parliamentary Party instead.”
Wednesday’s Secretariat meeting, which was supposed to decide on a date for the Standing Committee, ended with a decision to hold another Secretariat meeting on Saturday.
However, in what looks like Oli’s yet another bid to buy time, he floated a surprising proposal—prime ministership to vice-chair Bamdev Gautam and party chair to Madhav Nepal.
“Once the Covid-19 crisis is over, I will step down; but from this forum, I would like to propose Bamdev as the next prime minister and Nepal as the third party chair,” a Secretariat member quoted Oli as saying.
Gautam, however, does not qualify to become the prime minister. He lost the 2017 parliamentary elections from Bardiya.
The party Secretariat’s decision to appoint Gautam to the National Assembly earlier in February, however, was stopped by Oli himself.
Even if he is appointed to the National Assembly, for Gautam to become prime minister, the constitution needs to be amended, as current constitutional provisions do not allow a National Assembly member to become prime minister.
“Oli’s proposal came as a surprise, but this is seen as his move to keep former UML leaders intact and drive a wedge between the growing alliance between Dahal, Nepal and Gautam,” said the Secretariat member.
The only way out for Oli, according to insiders, is to reconcile, take as many leaders from the opposing factions into confidence and pledge to mend his ways.
He can at least buy some time if he promises a course correction, as this could placate a majority of leaders who are not happy with his unilateral working style, say insiders.
If he relents, he can earn the trust of some leaders from the Maoist faction, as some in the Dahal faction still believe in reconciliation rather than upsetting the applecart.
Lawmakers from the former Maoist party, like Janardan Sharma, Lekhraj Bhatta, Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, Devendra Poudel, Dinanath Sharma, Shakti Bahadur Basnet and Prabhu Sah, recently met with Dahal and urged him to defuse the crisis.
“They called on Dahal to take the lead in maintaining party unity by reaching an agreement with Oli,” a former Maoist leader who did not wish to be identified told the Post.
According to leaders, Wednesday’s Secretariat meeting dwelt on almost all the issues, including calls for Oli’s resignation, national politics and how the party has come to such a pass.
Gajurel said the meeting ended with a decision that the party should follow the due procedures of holding party committee meetings.
“Oli has agreed to call a Standing Committee meeting on Sunday after the Secretariat on Saturday sets the agenda,” said Gajurel.