Ruling party has a host of issues to deal with. But it is dealing with ambitions of a leader who lost the electionsBamdev Gatuam has once again renewed his demand that he be taken to the National Assembly as promised back in February.
A lynchpin or gadfly?
Nepal Communist Party vice-chair Bamdev Gautam is both.
When the ruling party holds its Secretariat meeting on Thursday, party chair and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli will be faced with a difficult challenge–all because of Gautam.
The communist leader, who lost the 2017 parliamentary elections, has once again renewed his demand for the National Assembly seat.
If Oli were to take Gautam to the National Assembly, he would lose Yubaraj Khatiwada as his finance minister. If he decides to continue with Khatiwada, Gautam can upset the apple cart in the party.
“If Oli remains adamant on continuing with Khatiwada, it could be a risky game for him,” said a Standing Committee member who did not wish to be named. “It had taken a lot for Oli to regain his strength in the party and ensure that the party remained united.”
Until a few months ago, Oli was under huge pressure to step down both as party chair and prime minister.
Those at the forefront demanding his resignation were other chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal and Narayan Kaji Shrestha.
The Dahal faction had Gautam’s backing too.
With five leaders on one side, Oli was in the minority in the nine-member Secretariat. In the 44-member Standing Committee too, the Dahal faction commanded the majority.
But Oli on July 28 pulled off a coup in quite a dramatic fashion. He, along with his wife Radhika Shakya, suddenly visited Gautam’s residence in Bhaisepati, held a dinner meeting with the Gautam family and returned to Baluwatar.
He then got Dahal into talking. Both held several rounds of talks.
With Gautam into his fold, Oli was emboldened. He reached an understanding with Dahal. Both the chairs formed a task force that suggested Oli would lead the government for the full term and Dahal would run the party with “expanded roles”. The party escaped the imminent danger of a split and Oli saved his both positions.
According to party insiders, Oli is for giving continuation to Khatiwada as the finance minister, for “his ability to ensure aid and investment” which will be crucial in such a difficult situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic.
But for Khatiwada to continue as the finance minister, he needs to be appointed a member of the National Assembly, again, within the end of this week.
As per constitutional provisions, a non-elected person can be appointed a minister but he or she has to take the oath as a member of either the House of Representatives or the National Assembly within six months of the appointment. Even after an earlier term of Khatiwada, who was earlier a nominated member in the National Assembly, expired in March, Oli had appointed him finance minister on March 4.
Since there is only one seat vacant, Khatiwada’s appointment will mean Gautam will not have a chance to reach the National Assembly.
“The prime minister wants consensus on such issues and I think he will not go against the majority leaders,” said Bishnu Rimal, Oli’s chief advisor. “The prime minister will respect the decision of the top leaders.”
Insiders say Gautam has already met with Oli and urged him to take him to the National Assembly, promising all the support the party chair needs to succeed as the prime minister.
Gautam, according to a leader close to him, urged Oli to respect the February 26 decision to appoint him National Assembly member.
A meeting of the party Secretariat meeting on February 26 had decided to appoint Gautam as National Assembly member. The party, however, could not implement the decision due to the opposition from a section of the leaders within the party as well as for the fear of controversy.
As the Secretariat meets on Thursday with a host of agenda including a Cabinet reshuffle, Gautam is likely to mount pressure on the Secretariat and prime minister to take a decision in line with the February 26 understanding.
A leader said the issue of Gautam and Khatiwada could overshadow other issues at the Secretariat meeting which is also scheduled to discuss a report prepared by the six-member task force that has made several recommendations for running the party and the government in tandem.
If Gautam refuses to budge from his stance, Oli might have to ask any other National Assembly member to step down so that both Gautam and Khatiwada can be appointed, according to a leader who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “Or else, Oli has to make any other proposal to Gautam so as to stop him from lobbying for the National Assembly seat.”
Gautam is also seeking Dahal’s support in his bid to go to the National Assembly, according to the leader.
Insiders say it is not yet clear if Dahal will throw his weight behind Gautam, given his move to abandon him after Oli visited his house.
While Gautam is considered a gadfly in the party by many for frequently changing camps, he has also emerged as a lynchpin in the party lately.
“It all depends on how strongly he can make a case for himself for his appointment as a National Assembly member,” said Shrestha.