While he has yet to clarify his June 4 Cabinet expansion, Oli does it againSeven more ministers appointed to curry favour with his supporters and an eye on the elections.
Even before criticism for last week’s appointment of new ministers had died down, KP Sharma Oli, who has been reduced to the status of caretaker prime minister, inducted more ministers to his Cabinet, in what looks like his utter disregard for the rule of law and his bid to consolidate power.
On Thursday, Oli appointed seven ministers and one state minister, leaving everyone questioning why he had picked them when the government’s current focus should be on fighting the pandemic that is ravaging the country.
Oli has given the Ministry of Home to Khagaraj Adhikari, Communication and Information Technology to Nayankala Thapa, Industry, Commerce and Supplies to Rajkishwor Yadhav, General Administration to Ganesh Kumar Pahadi and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development to Jwala Kumari Sah. Asha Bishwokarma has been appointed state minister for forest.
Oli has appointed Mohan Baniya a minister without portfolio, a position many say is absolutely unnecessary at this time.
This is the second Cabinet expansion by Oli since he dissolved the House of Representatives on May 21. Last week, he had inducted eight ministers and two state ministers into his Council of Ministers from the Mahantha Thakur-Rajendra Mahato faction of the Janata Samajbadi Party.
Oli’s Cabinet expansion on Thursday comes days after the Supreme Court issued a show cause notice to him for expanding the Cabinet last week.
“A verdict on his earlier Cabinet expansion is awaited and he has appointed more ministers defying the basic principles of democracy and the rule of law,” said Neil Kantha Uprety, a former chief election commissioner. “There is a constitution, there is a system, there is law, there is political culture, there are institutions. But they are being violated by someone at the top.”
Many believe Oli is trying to exploit the government to the fullest, eyeing elections that he has declared for November 12 and 19.
Even his own party members were surprised at Oli’s Thursday’s picks for ministers.
“Induction of less controversial faces means the prime minister is targeting elections,” said Rajendra Gautam, a central member of the CPN-UML. “Over 50 percent of ministers in Oli’s Council of Ministers now are from the Madhes.”
Gautam’s name was doing rounds for minister for communication and information technology. Similarly, Mahesh Basnet, a close aide to Oli, was tipped as home minister.
Both Basnet and Gautam are said to have played a key role in bringing the Mahantha Thakur-Rajendra Mahato faction of the Janata Samajbadi to the government.
“I was expecting [to make it to the Cabinet], but I do not have any complaints,” said Gautam. He believes Thursday’s Cabinet expansion makes Oli even stronger.
Besides his close allies, Oli has inducted one former Maoist and one politician from the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction.
Analysts say since governance is not Oli’s priority, he is inducting ministers to suit his interest rather than the public’s.
Nayankala Thapa, who has been given the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, is the wife of Ram Bahadur Thapa, who was home minister until last month. She is former chair of the Nepal Women’s Commission.
Thapa, a long-time Maoist politician, has deserted the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and sided with Oli.
His reappointment as home minister on May 14 was scrapped by the Supreme Court on May 20. Six other ministers also lost their posts, as the Supreme Court disqualified them saying they were not lawmakers.
Insiders say Oli appointed Nayankala Thapa so as to continue to have Thapa’s support.
Adhikari, who has been appointed home minister, is a long-time aide to Oli from Kaski district.
Rajkishwor Yadhav, another appointee in the Oli Cabinet, was unhappy after he was not made a minister on June 6.
A Janata Samajbadi leader said Yadhav could not be appointed last week after a debate over portfolio.
Narad Muni Rana, who was elected a Member of Parliament from Kailali in the 2017 elections, had defeated Arzu Rana Deuba, the spouse of Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba and a senior woman politician.
Oli also inducted Jwala Kumari Sah, the provincial chair of his party’s province no 2 office as minister for agriculture and livestock.
She is from Bara and now chair of our party in Province no 2, Bishnu Rijal, a member of the UML general convention organising committee, said.
Pahadi, who was earlier active in the rival Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of the party, is considered close to Yogesh Bhattarai. Bhattarai, who was with the Nepal faction, is currently making efforts to be Oli’s good books.
Baniya, the minister without portfolio, is from Karnali and an ardent supporter of Oli.
Minister of State for Forest and Environment Asha Bishowkarma hails from Bajhang. She was elected to the Constituent Assembly in 2013 under the proportional representation category.
Critics say Oli has filled his Council of Ministers with people who can barely challenge him, and this gives him an opportunity to bulldoze decisions as he wishes.
Oli’s decision to pick Raghubir Mahaseth as foreign minister last week met with criticism, but many say Oli’s sole intention behind doing this was to ensure direct access to matters related to foreign affairs.
By bringing as many faces as possible from the Madhes, Oli is also trying to appease the Madhesi vote bank, insiders say.
Oli’s bonhomie with the Thakur-Mahato faction has already raised quite an eyebrow among analysts, who call this newfound friendship between one-time foes intriguing.
According to Gautam, an aide to Oli, Madhes is important in view of elections, as there are 80, out of 165, constituencies from Jhapa to Kanchanpur along the plains.
“If opposition parties are working on an electoral alliance, why should we not prepare ourselves?” said Gautam.
But many find Oli’s penchant for power an affront to the people.
Even though the country is in the midst of a pandemic, Oli’s focus continues to be on power, rather than on the fight against the virus, which has been sickening and killing people across the country.
“What is this Cabinet expansion for? Is it to hold elections or to fight Covid-19?,” said Bishwa Prakash Sharma, spokesperson for the Nepali Congress. “This Cabinet expansion is a farce, a charade… an absolutely unnecessary move when Oli is surrounded by constitutional, legal and moral questions.”