How power struggle between two chairs has led the ruling party to cul-de-sacThe euphoria and triumphalism of the time of merger around three years ago seem to be dying down, as the party struggles to keep the unity intact.
Tika R Pradhan
That Nepal Communist Party chair KP Sharma Oli is all set to offer a point-wise response to the political document presented by the other chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal and that he has declared all past agreements have been rendered null and void by Dahal’s document, the ruling party now seems to have been in stuck in a cul-de-sac.
The party has scheduled the next Secretariat meeting for November 28 after Oli sought 10 days to prepare his own political document.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Oli, however, countered allegations made by Dahal in his political document.
The full text of his response was published in the Gorkhapatra.
“The proposal, with a bunch of allegations levelled against me, has meant all the past agreements and understandings have ended,” reads Oli’s statement. “Now with no previous agreement in place, the party has sought a new way out. We must find a new way out. I want to move ahead together, save the party and keep the party unity intact.”
Oli, also the prime minister, has also admitted that the party is at a crucial juncture.
Oli said that the document has obliquely demanded his resignation, demanding his “sacrifice.”
“This needs to be sorted out first,” said Oli. “If allegations are proven, the prime minister and party chair must resign. If they cannot be proven, then the accuser must take the responsibility.”
Party insiders say those were hard words by Oli against Dahal. And this comes days after the party chairmen engaged in a shouting match, making personal attacks.
Even though leaders are saying the leadership will come to an agreement, a realisation seems to have dawned upon them that the party is in a deep crisis. A split is not “if” but “when”, many say.
“The basis of unity has ended,” said Haribol Gajurel, a Standing Committee member.
The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was born out of a merger between Oli’s CPN-UML and Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Centre) in May 2018. The two communist forces had formed an alliance for the 2017 elections. Buoyed by the massive mandate, both declared unity and Oli became the prime minister leading the strongest government the country has seen in the last two and a half decades or so.
But that ultimately became the bane of the party. Dahal initially demanded that an earlier understanding of leading the government by turn be invoked. After Oli refused, a new understanding was reached in November last year. As per the understanding Dahal was declared “executive chairman” to run the party and Oli was to lead the government for the full term. However, that understanding was limited to paper, according to leaders close to Dahal.
Insiders say power struggle, especially between the two chairs, has brought the party to the present situation.
Party leaders’ concerns can be seen all over social media where they are making a pitch for saving the party unity at any cost. After all, no one had imagined that the euphoria and triumphalism of the time of unity would end like this in less than three years, according to them.
Though during the time of merger Oli and Dahal had declared themselves co-pilots of a jet plane, Gajurel described the party as a bus.
“Our party has become like a bus whose brakes have failed, hence it is not under the control of the drivers—the leadership,” Gajurel told the Post.
Wednesday’s Secretariat meeting also has set the meetings of the Standing Committee and the Central Committee for December 3 and December 10, respectively. After Oli presents his political document at the November 28 Secretariat meeting, outstanding issues could go to the Standing Committee and then subsequently to the Central Committee.
Hence, both the factions led by Oli and Dahal are set for a face-off, as they will try to prove their majority.
In the nine-member Secretariat, Dahal controls the majority. Since Dahal is backed by senior leaders Madhav Nepal, Oli’s long-time bete noire, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bamdev Gautam—all three are senior leaders from the former UML—he controls the majority in the Standing Committee and Central Committee as well.
If Oli manages to survive at the party committees, the Dahal faction has one more weapon in its arsenal to force Oli to bow down—the Parliamentary Party. The Dahal-Nepal faction controls around 93 Members of Parliament of the 173 the party has.
Leaders, however, are hopeful that peace will return in the party and that the leadership will find a way out to keep the party unity intact.
Leaders close to Dahal and Nepal said the party does not belong to an individual and that neither Oli nor Dahal can declare that past agreements have ended. As far as Oli’s statement is concerned, it’s nothing but a threat, something which he keeps doing, as is his wont, according to them.
“If Oli and Dahal have made any deal clandestinely, we don’t know. But the fact is the unified party was formed with a larger and binding understanding and it cannot be called null by one leader or the other,” said Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member close to Nepal.
“Now with the party facing a new crisis, there is a need to start afresh. We must strive for consensus and Oli must show readiness for this.”
According to him, since Oli is also the prime minister, it’s incumbent upon him to take initiatives to resolve the crisis and make sacrifices if the situation demands so to protect the party unity.
But considering the way Oli has hit out at Dahal, it does not look like Oli is in a mood to make any sacrifice. Insiders say the days in the lead up to the Secretariat meeting will be crucial and everything will depend on how Oli presents himself on November 28.
“The next Secretariat meeting offers a chance to Oli to come clean,” said Khimlal Devkota, a Central Committee member. “If Oli starts attacking Dahal and other leaders and makes counter allegations instead of airing his points of view on the present crisis and offering a proper solution, this could lead to a party split.”
According to Devkota, the fight in the ruling party is basically between the two factions of the former UML, led by Oli and Nepal.
Since its formation, three factions led by Oli, Nepal and Dahal have been precariously aligned. Any of the two coming closer puts the third in the minority. In the current set-up, Dahal and Nepal are closer and as a result Oli has been driven into a corner.
Hari Roka, a political analyst, said Oli’s tactics of threatening his opponents may not work anymore.
“It looks like the majority faction [Dahal and Nepal] is going to take its fight to the finish,” Roka told the Post. “Oli is left with few options and this became somewhat apparent after he agreed to attend the [Wednesday] meeting despite refusing until the previous day.”
Until Tuesday, Oli was employing all his resources to get Wednesday’s scheduled meeting postponed for a few days. But on Wednesday, Oli attended the meeting, leaving many wondering what made him change his mind.
Late on Tuesday night, Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi had called on Oli. On Wednesday morning, Oli met with President Bidya Devi Bhandari. According to sources, the President disagreed with Oli’s idea of dissolving the House and advised him to work for party unity.
“The majority faction in the ruling party appears firm on forcing Oli to step down as prime minister,” said Roka. “If the party splits, Oli and his loyalists have to walk away.”