Cabinet reshuffle: Much ado about nothing, as Oli and Dahal fail to reach a dealThe two chairmen have a lot on plate before they find a common ground. Therefore, it could take some time before a rejig in the Council of Ministers, party insiders say.
It was like all sizzle and no steak.
Speculations were rife on Sunday that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli would do a massive Cabinet rejig. Oli, the ruling Nepal Communist Party chair, held a meeting with the other chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal before Thursday’s scheduled Cabinet meeting, which was expected to take a decision on the reshuffling of ministers. However, a failure to reach an understanding between the two chairmen meant the reshuffle could not take place.
“As far as I know both the chairmen have been discussing a Cabinet reshuffle but no decision has been made yet,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, spokesperson for the Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
After achieving a truce following months-long stand-off in the party—until a few months ago, the Dahal faction was demanding Oli’s resignation both as party chair and prime minister—party leaders were expecting a larger power-sharing deal, including a Cabinet reshuffle.
The larger deal, according to insiders, also entails a proper division of various other posts, including ambassadorial and constitutional positions, apart from ministerial berths.
Multiple leaders the Post spoke to were reluctant to say what stopped Oli from reshuffling his Cabinet on Sunday.
Shrestha also said he had no updates on what caused the delay.
Insiders, however, say since Oli and Dahal have a lot on plate and that a Cabinet reshuffle won’t be an easy task.
Since Oli and Dahal reached what they called a “ceasefire” after a months-long tug-of-war, the faction led by Madhav Kumar Nepal, which was backing Dahal in demanding Oli’s resignation, has not been happy.
There are at least two ministers from the Nepal camp in the Oli Cabinet.
If performance is anything to go by, the two ministers’ performance has not been up to the mark, but removing them could invite a further crisis in the party.
Both the chairmen are aware of that fact, according to a leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Then party vice-chair Bamdev Gautam, who was recently appointed to the National Assembly, also needs equal attention. Gautam is considered both a gadfly and lynchpin in the party.
Gautam’s way to the Cabinet may have been blocked for now—at least until September 30, but the two chairmen are in no position to ignore him, said another leader.
“Both leaders have decided to take some more time before they decide on a Cabinet reshuffle, at least until there is a decision on Gautam’s issue,” the leader, who has close relations with Dahal, told the Post. “Apart from the Gautam issue, there are several elements at play.”
According to party leaders, some candidates Oli and Dahal are discussing to be appointed ministers are Bishnu Poudel, Bhim Rawal, Beduram Bhusal, Pampha Bhusal, Surendra Pandey, Subas Nembang, Janardan Sharma, Haribol Gajurel, Devendra Poudel, Som Prasad Pandey, Prabhu Shah, Birodh Khatiwada, Ganesh Thagunna and Gopi Achhami.
Poudel is the party general secretary and others are Standing Committee members.
At least two leaders told the Post that Oli is for repeating some ministers with their portfolios changed but Dahal is against that.
Dahal is pushing for [Janardan] Sharma as home minister and wants to accommodate Gautam in the Cabinet, according to the leader close to Dahal. “Dahal is also making a pitch for having a leader of his choice to lead the Communication and Information Technology Ministry.”
This, however, will mean a different role for incumbent Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, whom Oli wants to retain, apart from other leaders of his choice like Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel and Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali.
Energy Minister Barshaman Pun and Minister for Water Supply Bina Magar represent the former Maoist party while Minister for Agriculture Ghanshyam Bhusal and Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai represent the former CPN-UML, but from the Nepal camp. All of them have to be “properly managed”, say leaders.
What also makes it difficult for Oli and Dahal is a constitutional provision that does not allow the prime minister to have a Council of Ministers more than 25 ministers, including the prime minister, ministers of state and assistant ministers.
According to leaders, some ministries could be split as well, if Oli and Dahal can forge a deal, so as to accommodate leaders from various factions.
Some in the ruling party, who represent the former Maoist party, say Dahal wants Oli to ask all ministers to resign and then pick a new set of ministers so as to ensure “proper shares” for all the factions.
“Once a new Council of Ministers is formed, both Dahal and Nepal are okay to repeat some of the ministers who are in the current Cabinet,” the leader who also spoke on condition of anonymity told the Post. “Oli, however, is reluctant. He fears such a move could weaken him.”
Insiders say given the evolving power equation, it will be a tough exercise for both Oli and Dahal when it comes to reshuffling the Cabinet.
“Oli also rejected Dahal’s proposal that ministries shared by the former UML and Maoist parties be swapped,” said the leader. “Let’s see what happens in Monday’s meeting between the two chairs.”
Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.