Not many are buying Oli’s proposal to make Bamdev Gautam prime ministerAs Gautam’s road to the prime ministership is fraught with complications, party leaders believe that Oli is simply trying to buy some time.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s sudden proposal to make party vice-chair Bamdev Gautam his successor and senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal the third party chair “once the Covid-19 crisis is over” has sent ripples across the political spectrum, with many describing it as just the latest in a series of political stunts aimed at remaining in power and driving a wedge between his opposing factions.
Oli’s proposal at Wednesday’s Secretariat meeting may have looked like it came out of the blue, but according to at least two Secretariat members, it was a calculated strategy.
A Secretariat member who spoke on condition of anonymity said that on Wednesday, Oli bided his time, listening first to the other party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and senior leaders Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal, all of whom demanded his resignation. Then, after they had spoken, he suddenly dropped the bombshell, prompting a brief silence.
Oli had agreed to the meeting of the Secretariat, where he is in a minority, only after immense pressure from Dahal, Nepal, Khanal and Gautam, all of whom have banded together in the party’s current internal dynamics.
The meeting took place after Oli failed in his attempts to strike a deal with Nepal.
When the Secretariat meeting convened on Wednesday evening, party leaders had surmised that Oli’s position had become tenuous, with his faction making last ditch attempts to prove his majority in the Parliamentary Party.
By dangling the bait before Gautam and Nepal, Oli has managed to buy some time, as making Gautam his successor is fraught with challenges, say insiders.
According to leaders, Oli told the Secretariat that after Gautam’s appointment to the National Assembly, there will be an amendment to the constitution to pave the way for an Upper House member to become prime minister.
But the ruling party lacks the two-thirds majority required to amend the constitution.
Even then, to amend the constitution to suit the ambitions of one party leader would be wrong, say experts on constitutional affairs.
“An amendment to elevate one person to the post of prime minister would be unethical–constitutionally, morally and politically,” said Bipin Adhikari, former dean of the Kathmandu University School of Law. “National Assembly is not the place to elect a prime minister. If the prime minister is looking for his successor, then it should be someone from the House of Representatives.”
The other route for Gautam, if Oli is indeed committed to the proposal, is long and tedious.
Gautam will first need to enter the Lower House. For this, one ruling party lawmaker will have to step down to vacate a seat and a by-election be held. Gautam will then need to win the by-election, prove his majority in the Parliamentary Party and then in Parliament. There’s no certainty that Gautam will be able to achieve any of this.
But many remain unconvinced that Oli is serious about his proposal and is simply looking to buy time.
RK Mainali, an old friend of Oli’s and a veteran communist leader, described the proposal to make Gautam the prime minister and Nepal party chair as just a gimmick.
“This is Oli’s ploy to prolong his stay in power,” Mainali told the Post. “This is just another card he has played; he is a champion at such games.”
According to Mainali, Oli is neither going to hand over prime ministership to Gautam nor the party chair to Nepal.
“He is in the minority in all party committees. So Oli is trying to buy time by making unusual proposals,” Mainali told the Post. “He is good at playing one against another.”
Party insiders agree that Oli made the move at Wednesday’s meeting to weaken the opposition.
Gautam has on more than one occasion made public his desire to become prime minister. In a desperate move, Gautam in January last year managed to bring together Dahal, Nepal and Khanal to corner Oli, accusing him of running the party and the government unilaterally. The meeting, which then gave birth to the Jhamsikhel alliance, was held when Oli was in Singapore for treatment.
It was a clear case of Gautam switching sides, as just a few months earlier in October 2018, Oli had agreed to bring Gautam to the Lower House by asking Rambir Manandhar to resign as lawmaker.
The Jhamsikhel alliance grew stronger after Oli drove Nepal into the sidelines, relegating him to fourth rank in the party hierarchy, and alienated Dahal further.
In January, the Dahal faction decided to up the ante against Oli. At Dahal’s insistence, a February Secretariat meeting decided to appoint Gautam to the National Assembly. Oli, however, refused to nominate him.
According to a leader who spoke on condition of anonymity, by suddenly pushing through two controversial ordinances amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Oli himself offered his opponents an opportunity to go all out.
Oli now has until Saturday to devise more strategies, said the leader.
After Oli’s proposal on Wednesday, according to a member, Gautam was quick to rise to the bait.
“Gautam said that he was surprised at the offer and that he could sense that the prime minister is ready to step down,” the leader told the Post.
But if Gautam takes the bait, it will ultimately weaken the Dahal faction.
“Oli is the master of maneuvering; he knows how to create rift in the opposition faction,” said Mainali.
But according to Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member who is close to Nepal, both of Oli’s proposals do not work.
“This is not a solution to the present crisis,” Pant told the Post. “This is just a proposal to prolong his stay in power.”
Pant said that Nepal has made it clear that he won’t agree to become the third party chair, alongside Oli and Dahal, as he believes the proposal was meant to disgrace him.
Dahal too has offered Nepal the prime ministership as long as they maintain their alliance.
Khanal, who has not outright objected to the idea of Gautam as prime minister, said the party does not need more than two chairs.
“We want to end the tyranny inside the party and the government created by Oli,” Khanal told the Post. “We have to discuss this proposal of making Gautam the next prime minister. Our party already has two chairs, adding one more will make the party lose its gravitas.”
According to another expert on constitutional affairs, a new party chair is an internal matter but making Gautam prime minister is a national one.
“A prime minister cannot make another prime minister. Creating a prime minister is not the task of the government but of Parliament,” said Bhimarjun Acharya, a senior advocate. “According to our constitution, a candidate defeated in the election cannot even become a minister.”
Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.