Issues in ruling parties further delay Cabinet expansionUpcoming convention occupies Congress. Other partners have too many aspirants for limited ministerial portfolios.
More than two weeks after assuming office, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba is yet to give full shape to his Cabinet. Despite meetings between top leaders on Wednesday and Thursday, the parties in the ruling alliance are yet to come to an agreement on Cabinet expansion.
“Cabinet expansion is unlikely before Sunday,” said a Nepali Congress leader on condition of anonymity.
Besides Deuba needing to balance the demands of the three different parties in the ruling alliance, there are internal issues within them that need to be resolved first.
“We have not yet finalised the ministerial portfolios among the ruling alliance,” Janata Samajbadi Party Chairman Upendra Yadav told the Post. “As soon as we conclude the power-sharing deal between us, the Cabinet expansion will not become a big deal.”
At present, besides Deuba, there are four Cabinet ministers and one minister of state running the government.
On Thursday, a meeting of senior ruling party leaders agreed on a tentative division of the ministerial portfolios but a final decision is yet to be made, according to a leader close to Prime Minister Deuba.
According to a senior leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), Nepali Congress will keep eight ministries including the prime minister for itself.
The Maoist Centre and Janata Samajbadi Party will get seven each if the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of the CPN-UML does not join the government, the leader said.
The ministerial portfolios need to be decided. At present, the Nepali Congress has the home and law portfolios while the Maoist Centre has finance and energy. Deuba has also appointed a Minister of State for Health from his own party.
“We are also waiting for the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of the CPN-UML which mutinied inside the party and voted for Deuba [during the confidence vote in Parliament],” the Nepali Congress leader said. “That is another reason why there is a delay over Cabinet formation.”
During the vote of confidence on July 18 in the House of Representatives, 22 UML lawmakers voted for Deuba. But the Nepal faction is undecided about joining the government.
Maoist Centre chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal met with senior UML leader Nepal on Thursday and asked him to join the government.
“But Nepal was undecided,” a member of the Dahal’s secretariat said. “It has been decided to wait for the Nepal faction’s decision for two more days.”
According to Yadav, there is immense pressure on Nepal both to join the government and not to.
“It is unconstitutional for the faction to join the Deuba government and lawmakers will lose their posts although they are free to join the government. They need to be willing to take the risk,” UML Standing Committee member Beduram Bhusal said. “Therefore, we are not joining the Deuba government until we form a new party. We will not join the government as a separate faction.”
Meanwhile, the Nepal faction may be given a share of political appointments, according to leaders close to Nepal.
Then there are internal matters that the parties need to focus on besides ministerial portfolios.
“Internally, we are discussing how to convene the 14th General Convention of the party that is scheduled to take place on September 1-4 which has become uncertain now,” another Nepali Congress leader said. “The prime minister and our senior leaders are busy settling disputes inside the party. Reaching a conclusion over holding the party’s General Convention is a key priority for us, although we are simultaneously discussing possible nominees for the Cabinet.”
Deuba has to satisfy various factions within his party while allocating ministerial portfolios.
According to another Nepali Congress leader close to Deuba, the party president has assured two Cabinet ministers and a state minister from the rival Ram Chandra Poudel faction of the party and one minister has been set aside for another faction led by Krishna Prasad Sitaula.
“Deuba has been telling leaders from his own faction that he will hardly get two more Cabinet positions,” the leader told the Post on condition of anonymity. “Our party will hardly get additional six portfolios but there are over two dozen aspirants.”
The situation is similar in the Maoist Centre.
A few days ago, Dahal said that he is under increasing stress as all 49 lawmakers have expressed their interest to become ministers.
“Now, we have started zeroing in on candidates from each province to trim the number of the aspirants for ministers,” said a party’s Standing Committee member on condition of anonymity. “Chairman Dahal has made clear that it’s impossible to make everyone happy. So, hopefully, there will be some adjustment to the long list of aspirants by giving them other assurances.”
Janata Samajbadi Party similarly has over a dozen aspirants from among the 19 who supported Deuba during the confidence vote, according to Arjun Thapa a member of the party’s Executive Committee.
But there is another internal issue that the party has to settle before deciding on ministers.
According to Yadav, the party will join the government after electing the leader of its Parliamentary Party.
“Once a Parliamentary Party leader is elected, the process of selecting ministers will begin,” Thapa told the Post.
Before the internal divisions in the party started surfacing last December, another party chair Mahantha Thakur had appointed Rajendra Mahato as Parliamentary Party leader. But after the Election Commission recognised the faction led by Yadav as the legitimate party, an election will be held to choose the leader.
“We are going to hold the elections to the Parliamentary Party on Saturday,” said Yadav.
According to a Maoist Centre leader who did not want to be named, Janamorcha Nepal, the other party to support Deuba, is unlikely to participate in the government as it has just one lawmaker but will get some share in political appointments.
The party, however, has other concerns.
During a meeting of the top leaders of the ruling alliance on Wednesday, Janamorcha Nepal chair Chitra Bahadur KC raised the issue of talks about ratifying the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact under which Nepal will receive a grant of $500 million from the United States. The compact is awaiting parliamentary ratification since it was signed in 2017 during Deuba’s earlier stint as a prime minister.
“We are not in favour of ratifying the MCC in the present terms and if that is going to be ratified from the House, we will no longer be in the alliance,” KC was quoted as saying by one participant of the meeting.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Deuba was urged not to make mistakes of making unilateral decisions and appointing controversial figures in important positions without taking other members of the alliance into confidence, like the way his predecessor KP Sharma Oli did, according to a participant who did not want to be named.
The parties in the ruling alliance have also formed a team to come up with a common minimum programme of the government so that there is less friction within the alliance.
Purna Bahadur Khadka, a general secretary of the Nepali Congress, heads a six-member cross-party task force to prepare the common minimum programme and provide other inputs to the government to ease its functioning including making recommendations for political appointments.
Khadka, Minendra Rijal and Ramesh Lekhak represent the Nepali Congress while Barsha Man Pun and Dev Gurung are from the Maoist Centre and Rajendra Shrestha represents the Janata Samajbadi Party in the task force.
But Deuba has his own difficulties and he made this clear during Wednesday’s meeting asking the other leaders to understand his personal obligations and compulsions too, the meeting participant said.
Deuba pointed out that he is under pressure for not expanding the Cabinet and has already been criticised for his appointment of Umesh Shrestha, a businessman with interests in education, health and banking, as the minister of state for health.
“The message is bad as I am struggling to expand the Cabinet,” Deuba said at the meeting, according to the meeting participant.
“Your failing to name ministers has affected the government and I am being criticised,” the meeting participant quoted Deuba as saying.