Crisis in Karnali a manifestation of top leaders’ conflict in KathmanduParty insiders say concern is now growing if other provincial governments could face a similar situation, as the Oli-Dahal struggle for power continues.
A fresh crisis in Karnali provincial government has stoked concerns of similar disputes in other provinces where the Nepal Communist Party has governments. Of the seven provinces, Nepal Communist Party has governments in six, except in Province 2.
Insiders say the party seems to be bracing for more troubles.
“If we fail to defuse the present crisis in Karnali, it could invite serious challenges,” said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the party spokesperson.
On Sunday, 18 Nepal Communist Party leaders led by provincial assembly member Yamlal Kandel registered a no-confidence motion against Chief Minister Mahendra Bahadur Shahi at the party’s parliamentary party. The Nepal Communist Party has 33 seats in the 40-member provincial assembly. Of the 18 members who registered the no-confidence motion against Shahi, 15 represent the former CPN-UML and three the former Maoist party.
Chief Minister Shahi represents the former Maoist party. In the no-confidence motion, the members have charged Shahi with failing to lead the government effectively.
The crisis in Karnali is seen as a knock-on effect of a growing dispute in the Nepal Communist Party in Kathmandu, where chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamla Dahal have been haggling for power.
On Monday, Dahal met with Oli to find a way out of the crisis in Karnali.
The no-confidence motion, which is to be tabled at the provincial assembly on Tuesday if there is no intervention from the top leadership, will remove Shahi and install a new chief minister, which could create chaos in the entire party, according to leaders.
A leader close to Dahal said that Oli on Monday did not make any commitment in response to Dahal’s call to stop the no-confidence motion in Karnali.
The Nepal Communist Party, which was born out of a merger between the UML and Maoist Centre in May 2018, is still struggling to complete the unification process. Even more than two years since its formation, the party is still sharply divided along the UML and Maoist lines.
After Dahal, on the pretext of not getting any “substantial role” in the party, ramped up pressure on Oli, the party had reached on the verge of split. Dahal had then the backing of senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, who once led the UML for a decade and a half.
In a bid to save the party from a split, Oli and Dahal in August managed to reach a deal, which entailed a larger power-sharing including a Cabinet reshuffle in Kathmandu and changing of chief ministers in some provinces.
But on Sunday, the no-confidence motion was registered in Karnali.
According to two leaders who were present at the Oli-Dahal meeting on Monday, Dahal said that the machinations in Karnali to topple the government is against the spirit of the party unity.
The two communist parties had forged an alliance during the 2017 elections, and after they merged in 2018, they had divided chief ministerial positions, as they had won in six provinces with a majority. Accordingly, the UML had got chief ministerial posts in four provinces–Province 1, Bagmati, Gandaki and Province 5 (now Lumbini). The Maoist party got chief ministerial posts in two provinces–Karnali and Sudurpaschim.
“If what has started in Karnali… and if the chief minister is toppled, it will become a trend,” a leader quoted Dahal as telling Oli on Monday. “We will get into a vicious cycle of unseating and forming new governments.”
The Dahal camp suspects that the no-confidence motion was registered in Karnali at the behest of Oli. Three of the provincial assembly members who have backed the no-confidence motion are from the Dahal camp. Of the 15 provincial assembly members representing the UML who filed the motion, eight are from the Oli camp and seven from the Madhav Nepal faction. Discontent had been growing for quite some time in the province, as those opposing the Shahi government were demanding a Cabinet reshuffle.
A Standing Committee member close to Oli, however, dismissed that the motion was moved at Oli’s direction from Kathmandu.
“Ministers, provincial assembly members and party leaders are not happy with Shahi’s performance,” the member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Post. “Almost all senior party leaders are familiar with the issues of Karnali Province.”
According to leaders from the Dahal camp, Dahal, however, believes that such dissatisfaction is in every other province and that if Shahi is removed through a no-confidence motion, this will encourage other provinces to follow suit
“The attempt to remove Shahi is guided by some personal and vested interests and that non-performance is just a charge levelled against him,” the leader who was present at the Oli-Dahal meeting quoted Dahal as saying.
Dahal urged Oli to “ask” Kandel to withdraw the no-confidence motion, according to the leader.
Kandel has been Shahi’s bete noire since the latter became the chief minister, as he too was aspiring for the post. The Dahal camp believes Oli employed Kandel’s long-held aspirations to assert his power in the party.
In response to Sunday’s no-confidence motion, Shahi on Monday removed Gulab Jang Shah as the party’s provincial chief whip and appointed Sita Nepali.
According to a leader, before meeting with Oli on Monday in Kathmandu, Dahal held a meeting with some senior party leaders including Madhav Nepal, Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, Energy Minister Barshaman Pun and Standing Committee members Surendra Pandey, Yubraj Gyawali and Janardan Sharma. The leader said that Dahal stressed that the no-confidence motion should be withdrawn.
Bhim Rawal, a Standing Committee member, described the unfolding situation in Karnali as a bad omen.
Rawal was a member of the task force that Oli and Dahal had formed some weeks ago to recommend ways to ensure party unity and take the party and government forward in an effective manner.
According to Rawal, besides defining roles for the two chairs, the task force had suggested reshuffle in Cabinets in Kathmandu and provinces based on merit and necessity and in line with the system.
“But our recommendations are yet to be implemented. And the no-confidence motion against the chief minister of Karnali just does not bode well for the party,” Rawal told the Post. “The party leadership should focus on the wellbeing of the nation and the entire party. They should not engage in petty politics.”
There are concerns in the party camp that if Shahi is removed in Karnali, a similar motion could be registered in Sudurpaschim, putting Chief Minister Tirlochan Bhatta, who also represents the Maoist party, at risk.
Party insiders say Sherdhan Rai of Province 1 and Dormani Poudel of Bagmati too may find their positions tenuous because of the dispute in the Nepal Communist Party in Kathmandu.
Hari Roka, a political commentator who has closely followed Nepal’s leftist politics, said the internal conflict in the ruling party and its knock-on effects on provinces are just superficial concerns and that the bigger worry is Oli’s way of functioning which could harm the entire system.
“This is the repetition of the old power tussle story. Oli seems to be in a bid to revive his UML party,” said Roka. “It looks like Oli is bent on dismantling the system the country has achieved, as he was never committed to the changes.”