Standing Committee postponed by a week as Dahal and Oli attempt to hash out a dealAlthough there has been little progress on a deal between the two chairs, second-rung leaders have been pushing for a quick but fair agreement to keep the party united.
With the two party chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal still deadlocked over a potential deal, the ongoing Standing Committee meeting of the ruling Nepal Communist Party has now been postponed by a week, ostensibly due to a need to focus on the consequences of recent natural disasters, according to party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha.
The meeting started on June 24 but has not met since July 2.
“It does not look good if party leaders are wrangling in the Capital while the people are dying due to natural calamities,” a Standing Committee member told the Post. “This could be a reason, but the primary reason is political.”
The postponement of the Standing Committee is more of a strategic move aimed at cooling heads and attempting to find common ground between the two warring factions in the ruling party, at least three Standing Committee members told the Post.
Over half a dozen one-on-one talks later, the two party chairs are nowhere close to a deal and pressure is piling from second-rung leaders to resolve the crisis within the party. There are some who also believe that there are indications from the Communist Party of China, relayed via Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi, that China wishes for the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) to stay united and find a way out.
Prime Minister Oli, on Friday evening, addressed the internal conflict, albeit obliquely, in a televised address to the nation.
“It is natural for the people to wonder why parties are indulging in dispute while the country is beset by a pandemic and natural disasters,” said Oli. “But disputes are a party’s internal affair and it’s the job of party leaders to resolve them. Such disputes are regular phenomena that can be resolved through discussion and dialogue.”
On Thursday evening, 11 Standing Committee members held a meeting at the chamber of Agriculture Minister Ghanshyam Bhusal and asked the party leadership to take more time to end the dispute, said Standing Committee member Pradeep Gyawali, who is also the foreign minister.
Some parliamentarians have also launched a signature campaign, asking the party chairs to refrain from splitting the party. As many as 30 NCP lawmakers had signed in favour of party unity until Friday evening, according to one Member of Parliament.
Gyawali, who is close to Oli, believes there is the possibility for a new agreement based on the deal struck on November 20 between Dahal and Oli. That deal had made Dahal the executive chairman while agreeing to let Oli run the government for the full five-year term. Oli had almost immediately rescinded the deal, incensing Dahal.
There are a number of proposals currently in play between the two factions, with each attempting to gain the upper hand through a negotiated deal. The Dahal faction is now asking Oli to resign from just one position but Oli has stuck to his guns, saying that he will not resign as either prime minister or party chair.
Insiders say a likely middle path would be for Oli and Dahal to reach an understanding that Oli will hand over the government's reins to Dahal “within a certain time frame”.
"This time, it is Oli’s turn to make a sacrifice but he is not budging from his stance," said Standing Committee member Beduram Bhusal, who is close to the Dahal and Madhav Nepal faction. "Oli has to be flexible, he has to listen to the party. Otherwise, the party will take a decision."
The ongoing Standing Committee meet was where Dahal, along with senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bamdev Gautam and 30 other committee members, had demanded that Oli step down as both prime minister and party chair.
“Either the prime minister has to relinquish his position or he needs to make a strong commitment that he will correct his working style and follow the party line," said Bhusal. "Oli made a similar commitment earlier during the Central Committee meeting but he did not follow through. So this time, any small give-and-take, like a Cabinet reshuffle or changing some chief ministers, is not going to work. The issue of Oli's resignation is key."
Dahal too is wary of taking the bait as he's been stung before. He will seek a more substantial deal that also accounts for respectable shares for his partners Nepal and Khanal, said party insiders. Any “secret” deal between Dahal and Oli could alienate the two senior leaders, they say.
Political analysts say that since the fight is not over any ideological issue but more about access to state resources and political power, a win-win deal is possible if there is proper give-and take.
“A communist party should have disputes over ideological issues but the current standoff in the ruling party appears to be over party and government positions,” said Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst.
Analysts have also speculated on the role of the Chinese, especially Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi, who has recently met with all senior Nepal Communist Party leaders and also President Bidya Bhandari. Many believe that China is communicating its desire for the party to stay united. After calls for his resignation, Oli had prorogued Parliament and had been planning to issue an ordinance to ease a party split.
A Chinese Embassy spokesperson told the Post earlier last week that China did not wish to see the Nepal Communist Party in trouble and wished that leaders would resolve their differences and stay united.
But party leaders say there is no Chinese pressure and the crisis will be resolved internally.
“The current dispute in our party is purely internal. As far as I know, Beijing has not recommended any prescription to our party but the Chinese are in favour of political stability in Nepal,” said spokesperson Shrestha. “And they keep telling us to remain unified.”