Oli skipping meeting in order to avoid criticism is disgraceful, party leaders sayOli knows that the Standing Committee is preparing to ask him to choose between the prime ministership and the party chair.
Tika R Pradhan
A looming crisis appears close to coming to a head in the ruling Nepal Communist Party with Standing Committee members preparing to demand the resignation of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli over his government’s poor handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sensing which way the wind is blowing, Oli skipped Friday’s Standing Committee meeting, although the meeting only discussed the border dispute with India. Standing Committee members still faulted the Oli administration for failing to lay the groundwork for diplomatic talks with India over the border dispute and allowing Nepal-India ties to deteriorate to the lowest levels in recent history.
Oli has avoided major discussions during the previous Standing Committee meeting held in December and many Central Committee meetings whenever he feels that he is going to be criticised by his own party members. The ongoing Standing Committee meeting, which was supposed to be held on May 7, was postponed time and again by Oli.
On Friday, many leaders asked Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other party chair, about Oli’s whereabouts but Dahal too was unaware.
General Secretary Bishnu Poudel then informed the meeting that the prime minister was busy with his work and would join the meeting later. He never showed up.
“Oli has either ignored the significance of the meeting, which is being held after such a long time, or he has other reasons,” said Gokarna Bista, a Standing Committee member who is close to Nepal. “A chairman avoiding his own party’s meeting is disgraceful. He should have listened to his party leaders.”
Among the 18 leaders who spoke on Friday, many, including Asta Laxmi Shakya, Bhim Rawal and Oli’s own man Raghubir Mahaseth, questioned the prime minister’s intent in ignoring the crucial meeting.
Leaders were irate over the continuous ‘disgrace’ to the party meetings with Shakya saying that the meeting was held at Baluwatar, the prime minister’s residence, just because of Oli and that if he refuses to attend, the meeting must be held at the party headquarters in Dhumbarahi.
Oli knows that the deck is stacked against him at the 44-member Standing Committee. At most, he commands the loyalty of hardly 15 members and that is nowhere near enough to repel a proposal calling for his resignation.
On Wednesday, the first day of the meeting, Oli and Dahal had both accused the other of failing the party and the government, with the latter hinting that Oli should resign as either prime minister or party chair.
Now, other party leaders are preparing to follow suit, said one Standing Committee member.
“Many leaders are preparing to seek Oli’s resignation as a majority of the party feels that Oli cannot be trusted to run the government anymore,” said Matrika Yadav, a Standing Committee member who is close to Dahal.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Dahal had said that the party wouldn’t remain if the status quo continued.
The Dahal faction, which now includes senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal, Bamdev Gautam and Narayan Kaji Shrestha, is planning to enforce the ‘one leader, one responsibility’ doctrine, asking Oli to choose between the party chair or the prime ministership.
“The prime minister can do anything to save his position and he has already told his people to remain prepared for a split,” said Yadav. “But we are in favour of keeping the party intact.”
Even before the meeting began, Oli had been trying to woo leaders from the Dahal faction in order to prevent a damaging proposal at the Standing Committee. But he has not had any luck yet, say party insiders. Both Nepal and Gautam have privately told Oli that his unilateral manner of running both the government and the party will not be acceptable any more, according to a leader close to Nepal.
In a bid to pacify the situation, a cornered Oli had even dispatched general secretary Poudel to meet top leaders, including Dahal urging them not to escalate the situation. Poudel requested Dahal to prevent the conflict from escalating but Dahal said that how things unfold depends on the prime minister, according to Dahal’s press advisor Bishnu Sapkota.
Oli had also attempted to pass one of the most contentious issues in the party—the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s Nepal Compact before the Standing Committee meet, according to a leader who is close to Oli.
“The prime minister was in favour of calling a meeting of the Parliamentary Party and pushing the MCC ahead by allowing lawmakers to vote on their own,” said the leader. “But this plan changed after senior leader Madhav Nepal and vice-chair Bamdev Gautam told him to wait till the Standing Committee takes a decision.”
But with Dahal commanding a majority in the Standing Committee, the Nepal Compact is not likely to be endorsed in its current form. While more hardline former Maoists have stood against the MCC completely, Dahal believes that the Nepal Compact can be passed after a number of amendments. Party insiders say that Oli too is coming around to this conclusion as he realises that it will be exceedingly difficult for him to pass the MCC as it is, if it is to be passed at all.
As the agenda for the Friday meet was the border dispute, leaders, including Leelamani Pokhrel and Dev Gurung, proposed a passport and visa system for India while Beduram Bhusal, Amrit Bohara and Raghubir Mahaseth were in favour of fencing the Nepal-India border.
All Standing Committee members urged the government to bring back all lands encroached upon by India, including the Kalapani area and Susta.
The next meeting, scheduled for Saturday morning, will deal with the government’s response to Covid-19 and the government’s performance, which is likely to be much more critical of Oli. Things could then come to a head, say party insiders.
“The scenario will be clear within a few days,” said a Standing Committee member and former minister in Oli’s cabinet. “Leaders are preparing for a change in the existing setting of the party and the government.”