All eyes on Oli as ruling party heads to its crucial Secretariat meetingHow the chair responds to Dahal’s political paper levelling charges against him will define whether the conflict escalates or ceasefire returns, insiders say.
A showdown or a truce?
As the ruling Nepal Communist Party heads for its crucial Secretariat meeting on Saturday, all eyes are now on party chair KP Sharma Oli’s document, and insiders say how Oli presents himself could define the future course of the party.
Oli, also the prime minister, is set to present his political document, in response to the one presented by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other chair, at the Secretariat meeting scheduled for Saturday 1pm.
According to leaders close to Oli, he is preparing a political document which will “strongly” counter Dahal’s allegations but is likely to stop short of stoking hostility towards his opponents.
In his document, Dahal has levelled serious charges against Oli, including his failure to run the party and the government, and asked him “to make a sacrifice” for the party unity, the constitution and the system.
Dahal’s document has been owned up by leaders from his faction—Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal, Bamdev Gautam and Narayan Kaji Shrestha.
During the November 18 Secretariat meeting, Oli sought 10 days to prepare his own document but did not miss the opportunity to issue a warning that if the accuser [Dahal] fails to prove the charges, he has to step down [as executive chair].
“If charges against me are proven, there is no point for me to continue as party chair and prime minister,” Oli had said in the meeting.
Party insiders say they expect Oli’s document to come in such a way that it will try to defuse the crisis but in the meantime build pressure on the Dahal-Nepal faction for reconciliation.
The Dahal-Nepal faction, which had in June also demanded Oil’s resignation only to retreat later, this time appears firm on its stand. Leaders close to them say this time it’s a fight to finish, forcing Oli to resign from at least one post—party chair or prime minister.
“Till now, the two top leaders [Dahal and Nepal] are firm on continuing their battle with Oli,” said Matrika Yadav, a Standing Committee member close to Dahal. “Major leaders of the Dahal-Nepal faction have made it clear that this time all the outstanding issues should be settled, once and for all.”
But if push comes to shove, Oli might not hesitate to part ways. Though a split has been looming over the party for quite some time, it has continued to drag on as neither Oli nor Dahal wants to be seen as the cause for the same.
Pradeep Gyawali, a Standing Committee member and foreign minister in the Oli Cabinet, said the chair (Oli) is committed to protecting the party unity.
“I don’t think the chairman will take any other route except the one that leads towards a resolve to save the party,” Gyawali told the Post. “He has been constantly working to ensure that the party unity remains intact.”
But Oli over the last few weeks has been so driven into a corner by the Dahal-Nepal faction that he may not choose a way that could make him look like a vanquished hero.
The Dahal-Nepal in the past few weeks has been working to use all its might against Oli. Insiders say they are also planning to use the majority vote if Oli refuses to fall in line.
The Dahal-Nepal faction currently commands the majority in all the party committees—Secretariat (nine members), Standing Committee (44 members) and Central Committee (445 members).
Oli’s rivals also appear to be confident about holding the majority in the House of Representatives where the party has 173 seats.
According to leaders close to Oli, if the Dahal-Nepal faction attempts to employ majority votes, the basis of the unity has to be dismantled.
“If we have to opt for the majority-minority path, we have to first dismantle the very foundation of our unity,” Bishnu Rimal, a Standing Committee member and close confidante of Oli told ekantipur.com in an interview. “We have to go back to May 17, 2018. The basis of our unity is consensus.”
Oli’s CPN-UML and Dahal’s CPN (Maoist Centre) had announced the merger of the two parties to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) on May 17, 2018.
But over the last couple of years, it has become apparent that the glue for their unity was convenience rather than conviction.
Most of the party leaders in private admit that the unification was announced in a haste and that the merger was not organic, especially because they were the products of completely different schools of thought.
But since the party has already become two and a half years old, leaders say everyone including the chairmen should make efforts at peace rather than fanning the flames of discord.
One of the ways, according to the leaders, is taking the party forward on the basis of the September 11 Standing Committee decisions.
The committee had decided that Dahal would look after the party with executive powers while Oli would focus on the government and that the government would follow the party’s guidelines. According to the decision, the party would not interfere in the daily works of the government, but important decisions related to policies and matters of national importance should be decided in close consultation among the leaders.
“The main issues at hand are running the government and the party in a smooth and proper manner and concluding the unification process to lead the united party towards the general convention,” Rimal told ekantipur.com. “The chairman’s document will revolve around these.”
Insiders believe that given the vindictive nature Oli has, he is not likely to spare his opponents but he could take a conciliatory approach in his political paper so as to throw the ball into the Dahal-Nepal faction’s court.
In a telephone interview with the Post on Friday, Ghanshaym Bhusal, a Standing Committee member and minister in the Oli Cabinet, said whether it’s a moment of truth or a turning point for the party depends on what Oli comes up with in his document.
“The party no doubt is in a crisis,” said Bhusal. “We can say whether the conflict will further escalate or the party heads towards a reconciliation only after getting to know what is in the [Oli] document.”
That said, according to Bhusal, no matter how Oli presents himself at Saturday’s meeting, it will take a while before the conflict is resolved.
“The party needs a lasting solution—not piecemeal efforts—if we are to save the unity,” said Bhusal.
The Nepal Communist Party is holding its Secretariat meeting on Saturday at a crucial time, just a day before a high-profile visit from Beijing, which has not concealed its intentions of late to send a message to the party that it should remain united.
Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe is arriving in Nepal on Sunday. Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi in recent times has been openly holding talks with ruling party leaders, including Oli and Dahal.
Insiders say the leadership might try to avoid a hullabaloo just ahead of a visit from the north. Anyway, splitting the party is nobody’s goal, according to them.
“Tomorrow we will also decide whether to begin discussion [on Oli’s document] right away or later after allowing leaders to study that,” said Shrestha, Secretariat member and party spokesperson. “The future course of the party depends on how Oli responds to Dahal’s document.”
Bhusal said the Saturday meeting should try to find the path that takes the party to the general convention.
“To find the way that leads us to the general convention, we need to have a larger understanding,” said Bhusal. “If we can decide on that, which we have to do sooner or later, that will mean a big decision in itself.”