As ruling party crisis deepens once again, both sides in wait and watch modeLeaders close to Oli and Dahal take sides in calling the other’s move foul while experts say the situation is so murky that how events will pan out cannot be predicted.
The plot thickens in the war between one party chairman KP Sharma Oli and the other chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
And the crisis deepens in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
After the latest salvo from Dahal accusing Oli of incompetence in running the government and the party, and demanding his resignation, the prime minister has a job cut out for him to isolate Dahal and save his position. Or he could part ways with Dahal and split the party, depending on whom one believes.
Oli’s efforts to this end began right after the Secretariat meeting, when he met five of the nine Secretariat members—Madhav Kumar Nepal, Bamdev Gautam, Ishwar Pokhrel, Bishnu Poudel and Ram Bahadur Thapa—at Baluwatar. Nepal and Gautam have sided with Dahal in the latest clash between the two chairs while Thapa’s position is not clear. Pokhrel and Poudel are clearly on Oli’s side.
“The prime minister asked the intention of the Dahal-led group on holding the Secretariat meeting,” said Subas Nembang, a Standing Committee member and Oli’s close confidante. “And whether the document was Dahal’s opinion or that represents the voice of all five members.”
Senior leader Jhala Nath Khanal and party spokesman Narayan Kaji Shrestha are also on Dahal’s side.
At Friday’s meeting, Dahal presented a 19-page political document listing the instances of Oli’s backtracking on previous agreements and his failure to govern. He demanded that Oli make “sacrifices”, meaning that he resign as prime minister to save the party and the federal democratic republican order.
Oli has in the past threatened a big move if his opponents press him too much and tie his hands in his running of the government.
“Dahal’s indecent move seems like forcing a family member to leave the house,” said a Standing Committee member close to Oli. “Politics is a game of possibilities. Anything can happen. Let’s wait and see for some time.”
But the Dahal camp is waiting for Oli’s move and insists that all differences be settled through meetings of the party. Although the next meeting of the Secretariat is scheduled for Wednesday, following Dahal’s ‘missile’ a term Oli’s supporters have used to describe the political document, that is uncertain.
“We are enthusiastically waiting and watching the activities of Oli’s men and his move,” said a Secretariat member. “Everything must be settled through discussions in the scheduled party meetings.”
Some close leaders of the Oli faction have started demanding that Dahal’s document must be withdrawn as that violates the spirit of the latest decisions of the Standing Committee meeting of September 11.
Chief Minister of Lumbini Province, Standing Committee member Shankar Pokhrel has urged the executive chairman Dahal to withdraw his proposal saying that the whole party rank and file has felt that the party unity has reached a critical point due to his serious allegations against the first chairman of the party going against the spirit of party unity and the decisions of the Standing Committee.
“I would like to request comrade Prachanda to withdraw his proposal for the sake of party unity and to begin discussions as per the spirit of the party unity,” Pokhrel wrote on Facebook Friday.
According to some leaders close to Oli, the prime minister will ask leaders to withdraw the proposal brought without consulting with him or he could respond to the serious allegations against him.
“Even opposition leaders make decent allegations but Dahal has crossed all the limits,” said Bishal Bhattarai, a ruling party lawmaker. “Things will be settled after Oli responds to the allegations.”
On the other hand, leaders close to Dahal have been hailing the proposal saying that the demand for withdrawal of the political document was apolitical and anti-organisational.
“Stop threatening honest and pro-party unity leaders. Let the proposal presented in the party committee be discussed there. Responsible people should not threaten a split,” said Ram Prasad Sapkota, a central committee member and coordinator of the ruling party’s youth wing—Youth Association Nepal.
Political analysts have said that Oli, as the prime minister, has the benefit of having more cards to play but he is in a tight spot now.
“I think Oli has few options before him now. He can resolve issues by implementing the decisions of the recent Standing Committee meeting, dismiss allegations by garnering majority in the Secretariat and Standing Committees, proving majority in the Parliamentary Party or splitting the party as a last resort,” said Jhalak Subedi, a political analyst.
One option for Oli, leaders say, could be to win the confidence of senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal but that is not easy as he has been demanding a concrete proposal from Oli in writing.
“If Oli could convince Nepal that he would make him chairperson of the party from the upcoming general convention, things could be settled soon,” said a Standing Committee member close to Nepal. “But Nepal won’t be convinced easily.”
Oli had beaten Nepal for the chair of the UML in its convention held in July 2014 before the party merged with the Dahal-led CPN (Maoist-Centre) in May 2018. The unity convention of the Nepal Communist Party is scheduled for next year.
Other analysts claimed that the ongoing allegations and counter allegations were nothing but the preparations for a party split for which Oli was ready long ago.
“Since Oli, not his followers, is ready for the party split, he registered the CPN-UML and brought the ordinance,” said Shyam Shrestha, another political analyst. “All this drama of exchanging letters is nothing but the preparation for a party split by documenting allegations against each other.”
In an earlier height of conflict in the ruling party in August, a group of people registered a new party called UML at the Election Commission. Prior to that, in April the President issued two ordinances including one to amend the Political Party Act, allowing a party to split if 40 percent of the members of its parliamentary party or central committee demand it.
Shrestha said more exchanges of allegations through letters were yet to come.
“Oli will respond to Dahal's serious allegations revealing more secrets in harsher language as he cannot tolerate even general criticism,” Shrestha told the Post. “It is good that people will know all the details of their conflict.”
But some leaders believe that party will not split.
“I don’t think the party will split. Things will be settled only after the party’s general convention and Oli’s proposal to hand over the leadership to a new generation below 60 years of age,” said Pradip Nepal, a central committee member who has retired from active politics and whose help Oli had recently sought to convince Madhav Nepal to join hands with him.
“I have seen bigger fights than this,” said Nepal, who has a long history of association with both Oli and Madhav Nepal.
But as of now, everything is up in the air.
“It’s difficult to analyse now as there has been no move from either side after the meeting,” said Subedi, the political analyst.