Cornered, Oli woos the opposition. But his opponents say it’s just a ployThe prime minister met Sher Bahadur Deuba seeking his help to stay in power, indicating he is ready to split the party rather than give in to demands for his resignation.
As if one-upmanship in the ruling Nepal Communist Party was not enough, the game seems to be getting murkier having gone to another level now with the opposition Nepali Congress coming into play.
Amid rising conflict between Nepal Communist Party (NCP) chairs KP Sharma Oli, also the prime minister, and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, which has raised the spectre of a party split, some new political developments have emerged.
According to leaders familiar with the goings-on, Oli on Saturday held an hours-long meeting with the leader of the main opposition Nepali Congress, Sher Bahadur Deuba.
Sources say the meeting revolved around appointments to constitutional bodies but it also touched upon some possible power equations should Oli’s Nepal Communist Party split.
The Dahal faction has called the move a bluff.
According to a Congress leader who was briefed about the meeting,
Oli apprised Deuba of the ongoing crisis in his party, especially after Dahal presented his political document, and what could possibly unfold if that document is endorsed by the party committees.
In that case, Oli told Deuba that he might need the Congress party’s support, said the opposition leader.
Oli’s bete noires in the party, however, see the meeting as Oli’s pressure tactic.
A leader close to the Dahal-Nepal faction said since Oli finds himself driven into a corner, he is trying to pre-empt any strong move from his opponents in the party.
Many in the Dahal-Nepal faction believe the meeting between Oli and Deuba and the “content” of their discussion was leaked by Baluwatar.
“It looks like Oli’s ploy. He wants to send a message to the rival faction that if he is forced into stepping down, he could go to the extent of forging an alliance with the opposition party,” said a leader from the Dahal-Nepal faction who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The Dahal-Nepal faction has upped its ante this time in such a way that it won’t backtrack unless Oli relents and mends his ways.”
Meanwhile, it was not quite clear as to what kind of support Oli was seeking but those closely following the development say if push comes to shove, Oli might choose to part ways with Dahal. In such a situation, Oli will need Congress party’s support to remain in power.
The Nepal Communist Party has 173 seats in the 275-member Parliament, but lawmakers are divided mainly along three factions led by Oli, Dahal and Nepal.
The Oli camp controls around 77 seats, while the Dahal-Nepal faction together have 96 seats. If the party splits, the Congress party becomes a decisive force, as it currently has 60 seats.
If the Congress throws its weight behind Oli, he can remain in power. As part of that exercise, Oli seems to have been offering Deuba not only some constitutional positions but also the premiership during the end of his term, so as to let Deuba oversee the elections, which are due in 2022.
Some Congress leaders, however, said such a scenario is far-fetched.
“My understanding based on the information I have is the meeting [between Oli and Deuba] basically focused on appointments in some key constitutional positions,” said Gagan Thapa, a central member of the Nepali Congress. “Later, when the prime minister talked about the ongoing situation in his party, he touched upon the possible political scenario and sought Deuba’s support.”
According to Thapa, his understanding is that Deuba responded positively.
Since the Congress itself is a divided house, Deuba’s words would not mean a commitment on behalf of the whole party.
“I have not been told about the meeting,” Ram Chandra Poudel, a senior Congress leader, told the Post. “We will reject if Deuba takes any unilateral decision. Any decision that can have far-reaching implications must be discussed within the party first.”
Just while intra-party conflict is escalating in the ruling party, the opposition party’s problem is no less. As it is gearing up for its general convention, there are too many aspirants for the post of party president, which Deuba does not want to give up as yet.
Amid all this, such a collusion between Oli and Deuba, the leaders of the ruling and opposition parties, could threaten democratic norms, many say.
When Oli was elected the prime minister in February 2018, he had the mandate to lead the government for the full five-year term, something that had not happened in the country in more than two and a half decades.
Just as the intra-party wrangling in the ruling party is making a mockery of democracy, the new developments suggest even bigger anti-democratic maneuverings.
Leaders close to Oli have attempted to make light of the meeting between him and Debua—with some even saying no such meeting had taken place.
Oli is currently preparing a political document of his own “to counter” Dahal, who in his political document presented on November 14 levelled serious charges against Oli.
Oli has said if the chargers are proven, he will not be able to hold the posts of party chair and prime minister. But the accuser has to step down if he cannot back the charges with evidence, Oli told the party Secretariat meeting on November 18 .
Nepal Communist Party members are bracing for a face-off between Oli and Dahal during the next Secretariat meeting, scheduled for November 28.
Raghuji Pant, a Standing Committee member of the ruling party, described the Oli-Deuba meeting as [Oli’s] stunt to keep his opponents on their toes.
“I don’t think Oli will split the party and form a government with the Nepali Congress’s support,” Pant told the Post. “It’s a rumour floated by Oli’s loyalists. Oli is a master politician; he won’t act childish. How can a prime minister who is leading a government with almost two-thirds majority go for a coalition government?”
According to Pant, meetings between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, however, are common in the parliamentary system.
“But what we are hearing… that the Nepal Communist Party is just about to split and that talks are being held to form a government with the support from the Congress party seems to be a deliberate leak,” said Pant.
“Oli himself has demanded 10 days to submit his political document. Everyone in the party has appreciated that move and we are waiting for the next Secretariat meeting.”
Matrika Yadav, also a Standing committee member in the ruling party and a close confidante of Dahal, also believes the Oli-Deuba meeting and talks about formation of an alliance between them as the Oli camp’s tactic to threaten the opponents.
“I don’t think the main opposition will support Oli to form a government even if [our] part splits,” said Yadav. “On top of that, I believe what prevails is the party’s collective decision in the Nepali Congress, not what Deuba wishes or decides.”
Tika R Pradhan contributed reporting.