Amid continuing differences over appointments, Cabinet reshuffle may be pushed back furtherThe two chairs do not see eye to eye on modality of ministerial changes as well as appointments in constitutional bodies and in ambassadorial positions, while the party reunification process remains in limbo.
After a brief calm, differences in the Nepal Communist Party have resurfaced. This time over dozens of appointments in constitutional bodies, ambassadorial posts, district landless commissions and formation of various party departments. But the major tug-of-war is over a Cabinet reshuffle as rival factions in the party want their leaders in ministerial positions.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and his party co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal have been meeting every other day but have failed to arrive at a consensus on whom to retain as ministers and whom to appoint in vacant positions even as they agree to induct three ministers within a couple of days.
The three vacant ministries will get ministers but the Cabinet reshuffle has been pushed until after Tihar or mid-November, Subash Nembang, deputy parliamentary party leader of the ruling party, told the Post.
The Ministry of Finance has been vacant since Yubraj Khatiwada resigned as finance minister on September 4 after his term in the upper house came to an end. The Ministry of Information and Communication has remained vacant since Gokul Prasad Baskota resigned on February 20 after an audio recording revealed his demanding Rs 700 millions in bribes. Urban development minister Mohamed Istiyak Rai put in his papers in December and nobody has been appointed to replace him.
“As far as I understand, three ministries will be filled within a couple of days but a major Cabinet reshuffle will happen only after Tihar,” Nembang told the Post.
Oli and Dahal, however, have not agreed on the candidates for the three ministries but seem to have agreed to induct party general secretary Bishnu Poudel as the finance minister.
Two other names making the rounds for ministerial berths are Janardan Sharma from the Dahal camp and Surendra Pandey, who is considered close to former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal.
Leaders from Oli and Dahal camps said the two leaders have differences not only over Cabinet reshuffle and its modality but also other key political appointments in various constitutional bodies and universities.
These include commissioners in the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, a standing committee member close to Dahal said. There are over 15 such constitutional bodies with vacancies but the chairs have yet to set up the basis for the appointments, the standing committee member said.
“Since the differences are getting more intense, conflict could resurface in the party,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
Although Oli and Dahal are meeting every alternate day, the prime minister is learnt to be showing the same tendency not to listen to others and so all the appointments within the party or outside are taking time, the member said.
There is no progress at all, Beduram Bhusal, a standing committee member close to senior leader Nepal said. “Oli wants to do what he thinks.”
The other reason for the impasse is the Covid-19 pandemic that has made holding meetings frequently difficult, said Bhusal, indicating that Cabinet reshuffle and other political appointments would take more time.
Oli has yet to call a meeting of the Constitutional Council to fill over 60 vacancies in 15 constitutional bodies. Besides an agreement between Oli and Dahal, the main opposition Nepali Congress should be taken into confidence for the appointments, as per the constitutional provision.
A member of Dahal’s secretariat said that both chairs are also discussing appointments to be made in various party committees. The party has to form the central advisory council, departments, commissions and a senior citizens’ forum, among others bodies.
General secretary Poudel is tasked with preparing a proposal but he has failed to do so for long, the member said. As per the spirit of the recent task force report, Dahal is looking for a fair share in all major appointments. Poudel headed a six-member panel formed to suggest a road map for party unity.
Some ambassadorial appointments have been put on hold due to strong reservations from Dahal, a minister said. In the spirit of party unity, Dahal and two former prime ministers, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal are looking for a share in the pie of all political appointments and as well as in various party committees and departments.
The Dahal faction is also looking for its share in district landless commissions to be formed in all 77 districts. Devi Prasad Gyawali of Chitwan is the Chairman of the Land Problems Resolution Commission that was formed on March 3 but its district committees are yet to be formed.
The party has instructed all its district committees to recommend names from each district including one expert for the landless commissions, but due to the differences and disputes in various committees over sending the name to the Gyawali-led committee, the district commissions have yet to get full shape.
On Cabinet reshuffle, Oli and Dahal have also failed to set a criteria. Oli wants to continue ministers those who had supported him in the past when he was in difficult situations inside the party, while Dahal wants to remove all ministers and reorganise later in a reshuffle.
“Nothing has been decided in the last one month over the issue of Cabinet reshuffle,” the standing committee member close to Dahal said.
There is one section inside the party particularly close to Oli that sees Dahal blocking the party unification process as well as the Cabinet reshuffle.
“We decided to complete the remaining task of party unification within three months when two parties united in May, 2018 but we are yet to complete it ,” said Keshav Badal, a standing committee member. “But who is to blame?”
"There is a tendency to attack Oli but what are our provincial chiefs doing ? Why has membership distribution not completed ? Why is the party unification process yet to finish ? Why do responsible friends not do proper homework?" said Badal.
“There are a lot of problems in our system.”