Deuba struggles to expand Cabinet as coalition partners squabbleWhile Janata Samajbadi demands withdrawal of ordinance that eases party splits, CPN (Unified Socialiast) eyes plum ministries. Maoist Centre has its own demands.
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba introduced an ordinance to ease party splits with a view to expanding his Cabinet. Now the same ordinance has become an albatross around his neck, as it is now hobbling Cabinet expansion.
At least one coalition partner has called for repealing the ordinance as a prerequisite for its nod for Cabinet expansion. As a result, Deuba has not been able to give his government a full shape even 50 days after he assumed office.
Sources said that the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) has been demanding that Deuba repeal the ordinance first, because it fears a further split in the party.
Of the 19 lawmakers the party has on its side, some had deserted Mahantha Thakur and are aspiring for some ministerial berths. JSP chair Upendra Yadav fears failure to ensure them ministerial berths could lead to another split in the party, and the only way to stop that is repealing the ordinance.
The ordinance has changed provisions for splitting a political party. Any group with 20 percent Central Committee or Parliamentary Party can apply for a new party. As per the amended rules, even four lawmakers of the JSP can register a new party if they want.
Then there are aspirants for ministerial posts from Madhav Nepal’s CPN (Unified Socialist). The party has 23 lawmakers. The Nepal group had played an instrumental role in installing Deuba as prime minister. The number of lawmakers in the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) looking for ministerial berths is also high.
“We are of the view that the ordinance should be withdrawn,” Yadav told the Post. “This is not going to do any good to any political party and democracy. That’s why we have asked the prime minister to expand the Cabinet only after withdrawing the ordinance.”
The fact, however, is the JSP had seen a split—Thakur formed Loktantrik Samajbadi Party—because of the same ordinance, even though it was primarily aimed at splitting the CPN-UML.
Until a few days ago, Thakur was one of the JSP chairs.
“Cabinet expansion is unlikely anytime soon… it might take 10-12 days or so,” Yadav told the Post. “We have made a request to the prime minister to deactivate the ordinance.”
Deuba was appointed prime minister on July 13 as per a Supreme Court order. The court on July 12 restored the House of Representatives dissolved by KP Sharma Oli in May and ordered the appointment of Deuba as prime minister.
On July 18, Deuba won the vote of confidence, as he was supported by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), the Madhav Nepal faction of the UML, the Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha.
Deuba, however, was waiting for the UML to split, as without the Nepal faction’s support, he was not confident of a majority in the House when it came to passing bills.
Despite the splits in the UML and the JSP, Deuba’s struggle to expand the Cabinet has continued.
A Nepali Congress leader said there is a tentative decision on the distribution of ministries among the coalition partners, but Cabinet expansion could take a few more days, as there are some disagreements between Yadav and Nepal.
The leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the CPN (Unified Sociliast) is demanding at least five ministries, including the Ministry of Physical Planning and Infrastructure, and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies. The JSP too has set its sights on the Ministry of Physical Planning and Infrastructure and the Industry, Commerce and Supplies. The JSP says it needs at least one of them.
These are considered lucrative ministries, given the high financial transactions, and with elections around the corner, many say most parties want to control them.
The Congress, which is controlling home and law ministries at present, wants to keep foreign and health ministries for itself.
The Maoist Centre has been given finance and energy ministries so far.
Deuba has been receiving flak for failing to give his government a full shape even as he is close to hitting two months of his prime ministership, especially when the country is in the midst of a Covid-19 crisis and has its foreign policy in disarray.
The budget, introduced by the erstwhile KP Sharma Oli government through an ordinance, is in limbo.
“We are particularly focused on four key issues like budget, calling the House session, deactivation of the ordinance related to the Political Parties Act and Cabinet expansion,” said Purna Bahadur Khadka, Congress general secretary, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting of the coalition partners.
Khadka said all the issues would be resolved “soon”.
“On budget, discussions are underway… on whether to bring a replacement bill in the House. The law minister [Karki] is holding consultations,” said Khadka. “As far as Cabinet expansion is concerned, we have to reach an agreement on portfolios among the coalition partners.”
Khadka admitted that there are calls from some sections for the ordinance to be repealed before the Cabinet is expanded. “Minister Karki is also holding discussions on summoning the House session.”
The Deuba government prorogued the House on August 16 and the next day it introduced the ordinance on easing party splits.
Deuba himself is under pressure from his own party to expand the Cabinet. A meeting of the rival faction in the party, led by Ram Chandra Poudel, on Tuesday decided to pile pressure on Deuba to expand the Cabinet as soon as possible.
“We have decided to urge the prime minister also to fix the number of ministerial portfolios divided among various parties,” said Arjun Narsingh KC, a senior Congress leader.
Deuha had assured at least two ministries for the Poudel camp and one for the Krishna Prasad Sitaula faction.
Insiders say allocation of ministerial portfolios to the factions within the Congress won’t be much of a problem and that major concern is how the coalition partners cooperate with Deuba.
As per a tentative agreement among the top leaders, Congress will get five ministries, besides the two it is leading now, and the Maoist Centre, CPN (Unified Socialist) and JSP will get five ministers and one state minister each.
Congress has already sent Umesh Shrestha as the minister of state for health. As per the constitutional provisions, the Council of Ministers can have a maximum of 25 members. Currently Deuba is leading 17 ministries.
Leaders say unless there is a decision on ordinance, Cabinet expansion is unlikely.
Yadav, the JSP chair, said further discussion on ministerial portfolio division will take place after a decision on the ordinance.
“We will enter the Cabinet expansion process after the ordinance is repealed,” said Yadav. “Discussion on portfolio division will start after that.”