Confrontation looms in the ruling party as Oli remains defiantOli’s reluctance to withdraw the ordinance despite agreeing to do so has raised concerns within the Dahal camp if he is up for some drastic political steps.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s refusal to withdraw an ordinance on the Constitutional Council Act despite committing to doing so before his party has stoked concerns if the Nepal Communist Party chair is scheming a more serious political move.
Party insiders say they were unable to figure out what Oli is up to but the way he has been holding meetings with leaders close to him and still refusing to abide by party decisions is an indication that he would not hesitate to take drastic steps.
“What is quite concerning is Oli’s deviation from the politics of consensus could not only be detrimental just to the party but also to the country,” said a ruling party leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.
After facing censure from leaders within his party and outside as well as analysts and experts on constitutional matters, Oli at his party’s Standing Committee meeting agreed to withdraw the ordinance that he had issued on Tuesday.
But on Thursday, he suddenly called a meeting of the Council at 5pm only to cancel it later after his meeting with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the other chair of the party. It was largely expected that the Cabinet meeting held later on Thursday evening would take a decision on repealing the ordinance. But that did not happen.
Friday remained a busy day for Nepali politicians.
The main opposition Nepali Congress held a meeting of the working committee of its Parliamentary Party and concluded that Oli must withdraw the ordinance without delay and call the House session.
Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal held a meeting with Congress senior leader Ram Chandra Poudel.
Oli held his own meeting with his loyalists.
Multiple leaders from the ruling party the Post spoke to agreed that there are concerns that Oli might take an unprecedented step but none explained what that could be.
Some were of the view that since Oli has badly slid into the minority in the party and sensed that the opposing faction led by Dahal and Nepal are not going to relent this time, he could, if no other options are left, split the party.
At least two leaders close to Oli said that Oli has intimidated members close to him that he would not give up and rather split the party if things take a turn for the worse for him.
“So far Oli has just been using smaller weapons; he has yet to fire the missile,” said Suman Pyakurel, a Central Committee member close to Oli.
The Dahal faction, which wants Oli to step down, however, does not want to be seen as the cause for the split. Leaders in the Dahal faction know very well that the split won’t serve them well.
So efforts to maintain unity will also continue, according to insiders.
But can Oli take a bigger step than splitting the party?
He may, if push comes to shove, given his vindictive nature, say leaders.
Oli has already warned his opponents once that he could “take a big action” if needed. Many believe Oli has not ruled out House dissolution if he comes under intense pressure from the Dahal-Nepal faction to step down.
Concerns are also rife if Oli has clinched some tacit understanding with the leader of the main opposition, Sher Bahadur Deuba.
Even leaders from Deuba’s party say he has been the biggest ally to Oli in the past three years despite being the leader of the main opposition party. Some Congress leaders told the Post on Thursday that Deuba was well aware of Oli’s ordinance move.
On Friday, Dahal and Nepal, according to leaders, cautioned Congress’ Poudel to be vigilant about Deuba’s move.
A leader close to Poudel told the Post that Dahal and Nepal communicated to Poudel their concerns about any possible alliance between Oli and Deuba.
“They said senior Congress leaders must keep a check on Deuba as Oli’s unpredictable and there could be some understanding between the two,” said the leader who refused to be named about the meeting between Dahal, Nepal and Poudel.
After reports suggesting that Deuba has maintained a soft stance on Oli despite his misadventures, especially Tuesday's ordinance, the Congress president on Friday went on the defensive.
“I took repeated initiatives to summon the House session. Since the Nepali Congress alone did not have 25 percent lawmakers in Parliament, discussions had taken place with leaders of other parties as well,” Deuba wrote on Twitter on Friday evening. “I demand the regular session of Parliament.”
Deuba’s Nepali Congress party too has attracted censure for failing to work as an effective opposition for the last three years, failing to hold the Oli government to account.
Meanwhile, in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), the Dahal-Nepal faction is devising its future strategy.
The general understanding among the leaders of the Dahal-Nepal faction is that Oli is now trying to force Dahal to withdraw his political document that he presented at the November 13 Secretariat meeting. In his document, Dahal has levelled serious charges against Oli—from failing on governance and party fronts to promoting corruption and influencing the judiciary.
In his document, Dahal has also said Oli must make a sacrifice for the sake of the party and the constitution. Though Oli has also offered a rebuttal, he does not want Dahal’s political document, which he has termed a collection of indictments, to be officially discussed in the party.
On Thursday, Oli agreed to call off the Council meeting but he had intimated Dahal about not withdrawing the ordinance without consulting with the President.
“Oli is now using the ordinance as a tool to force Dahal to withdraw his document,” said a Standing Committee member. “Oli has already told Dahal that it could take some time before he withdraws the ordinance.”
Oli’s dilly-dallying to withdraw the ordinance despite agreeing at Wednesday’s Standing Committee is now viewed in the Dahal-Nepal faction as his confrontational approach. The one charge the Dahal-Nepal faction has levelled against Oli time and again is that he has refused to abide by party decisions.
At a meeting at Paris Danda, which used to be the headquarters of the former Maoist party, Dahal, Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal on Friday told the party leaders of Province 1 that Oli’s wayward behaviour would be detrimental to the party’s future.
According to a leader who participated in the meeting, both Dahal and Nepal appeared to be enraged at Oli’s refusal to withdraw the ordinance despite agreeing to do so.
“If Oli refuses to withdraw the ordinance, we will be left with no option than to take action [against him],” Jagannath Khatiwada, a central committee member, quoted the leaders including Dahal as saying in the meeting.
Leaders from both Oli and Dahal factions have a full day on Saturday to devise their strategies before they attend Sunday’s Standing Committee meeting.
Leaders said if Oli does not withdraw the ordinance before Sunday’s meeting, it will become more apparent that he is taking a confrontational approach.
“No matter what, the Dahal-Nepal faction does not seem to be in a mood to relent this time,” said Mani Thapa, a Standing Committee member. “And it looks like there is no word called a compromise in Oli’s dictionary. So confrontation is inevitable.”
Some leaders from both factions, however, have been trying hard to achieve peace in the party.
Ghanashyam Bhusal, a Standing Committee member and a minister in the Oli Cabinet, is one among them.
On Wednesday, Bhusal, along with Subas Nembang, Bishnu Poudel and Shanker Pokhrel, had managed to convince Oli to withdraw the ordinance reminding him of the consequences.
“The Oli camp is for making Dahal withdraw his political document. But the party has to decide on this matter,” Bhusal, who is close to Nepal, told the Post. “The party has to hold a meeting and decide the process… whether it should be withdrawn after discussions or without discussions on it… or whether there should be a committee or a task force to make recommendations… or whether two chairs can do it through an understanding.”
But those working to save the party unity are also concerned that the way things are going within the party is something like one step forward two steps back.
After a long drawn out tug-of-war, the party on September 11 decided that Oli would run the government in consultation with the party and that Dahal would take care of party-related affairs.
But Oli refused to abide by the decisions. He even refused to attend the December 7 Standing Committee meeting. The next meeting held after a week ended after passing a condolence proposal on the death of its Central Committee member Kaman Singh Lama. The next meeting was scheduled for December 16.
But Oli suddenly on December 15 bulldozed the ordinance.
As he is still reluctant to take back the ordinance, there are also speculations if Oli would go to the extent of introducing another one—similar to what he had introduced in April—so as to ease the provisions for a party split and registration of a new party.
Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, who is also a Standing Committee member, however, said that Oli is not going to take any drastic steps and ruled them out as mere speculations.
He, however, admitted that the party is in a crisis.
“Yes, the party is in a very difficult situation. There could be a patch-up between the leaders. But we also have to see if that will provide a lasting solution,” Gyawali told the Post. “The only thing that the prime minister is demanding is withdrawal of the document that Dahal had presented.”