In anticipation of criticism at Wednesday’s Standing Committee, Oli makes overtures to other party factionsOli has long been avoiding the Standing Committee, where he is in the minority, but he is now scrambling to garner support, especially for the MCC, insiders say.
The long-awaited Standing Committee meeting of the ruling Nepal Communist Party is scheduled to take place on Wednesday at Baluwatar and it is likely to be tough going for Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
A meeting on Tuesday between the two party chairs—Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal—had decided to take the party’s most contentious issues, primarily the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Nepal Compact, to the Standing Committee for a decision, according to Surya Thapa, Oli’s press adviser.
But Oli, who has been avoiding the Standing Committee for more than two months now, is likely to face criticism from the committee members over his government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and his continued unilateral manner of decision-making. The Standing Committee meeting has been postponed at least three times in the past, primarily by Oli.
Oli, who is currently in a minority in the Standing Committee, has been reaching out to former Maoist leaders in order to garner a majority and circumvent criticism, according to a party leader from the Oli camp. In the 44-member Standing Committee, Oli only has 13 members on his side.
Oli also plans to direct some of the criticism towards Dahal, who is executive chair of the party, said the leader, particularly on the MCC. The MCC Nepal Compact was signed in September 2017 during a coalition government of the Nepali Congress and Dahal’s Maoist party. Dahal's more recent position on the MCC has been that the Compact can only be ratified by Parliament after amendments to some provisions. Oli, on the other hand, has pledged to pass the Compact as it is via Parliament.
“Oli just continued with the MCC Nepal Compact, which was signed during the tenure of Dahal and [Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur] Deuba. So Dahal needs to provide a clarification,” said Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member.
“The Nepal Communist Party looks to lose both ways—if the MCC is endorsed and even if it is not—as there exists a lot of dissatisfaction among the public, which cannot be ignored.”
According to Thapa, both party chairs are attempting to find ways to save face, whatever decision the Standing Committee takes.
“I think the two leaders will come up with an understanding,” he said.
According to Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, who is also a Standing Committee member, Oli and Dahal held a series of meetings on Monday and Tuesday regarding the MCC but have not come to a conclusion. He expects the Standing Committee meeting to last at least four or five days.
“All members want to speak so the meeting will likely last four or five days,” said Gyawali. “But I am not sure what the two chairs have agreed on.”
Oli has been actively reaching out to members of the Standing Committee so that he could comfortably confront his opponents and get the MCC passed, said the party leader from the Oli camp.
The prime minister has already met with party Vice-chair Bamdev Gautam and offered him the post of deputy prime minister and any ministerial portfolio if he supports Oli, said the leader. But Gautam reportedly declined Oli’s offer.
Gautam is a key player in the intra-party politics of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). His support for the Dahal faction had nearly culminated in a call for Oli’s resignation as prime minister in April. Oli narrowly escaped his fate by managing to bring Gautam over to his side and breaking what had come to be known as the ‘Bhaisepati alliance’ of Dahal, Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Gautam.
In his exercises to gain more supporters, Oli has been personally meeting with former Maoist leaders while also mobilising his aides. Oli met Devendra Poudel, a former Maoist, at Baluwatar on Monday while Bishnu Rimal, Oli’s chief adviser, and Rajan Bhattarai, his foreign policy adviser, met with Poudel, Mani Thapa and Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, all former Maoists, at a hotel in Gaushala in the last couple of days to discuss cooperation with the Oli government, according to party insiders.
Poudel admitted that several cross-factional meetings were being held to find a way out of the MCC imbroglio, which has dragged on for over a year. The MCC Nepal Compact was first tabled in Parliament in February last year but has yet to be discussed due to differences within the ruling party itself.
“Homework is ongoing to find a safe landing for the MCC’s controversial provisions,” said Poudel. “I don’t think it is possible to endorse the MCC in its current form.”
The US-led MCC has attracted controversy time and again for what some party leaders say its ties to the Indo-Pacific Strategy, which is believed to be aimed at containing China. Party leaders, especially from the Maoist faction, have opposed the MCC, leading the party to form a three-member task force to study the Compact. The task force, led by Khanal, had proposed amending some controversial provisions.
Despite Oli’s overtures to the Maoist camp, which has so far remained firmly on Dahal’s side, it is likely that he will face a plethora of questions, from both the former Maoists and the UML, at the Standing Committee.
“There are several issues that need to be discussed since the last meeting,” said Beduram Bhusal, a Standing Committee member who is close to Madhav Nepal. Apart from the MCC, the meeting will deliberate on such issues as the government’s poor handling of Covid-19, mismanagement in quarantine facilities, a lack of testing, controversy over the procurement of medical equipment, the row over citizenship, and the boundary dispute with India.
According to Bhusal, leaders from the Standing Committee and Central Committee have been meeting regularly to discuss issues to be raised at the Wednesday meet. However, Standing Committee members had yet to receive the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting, he said.