Deuba’s plan for Cabinet expansion constrained by coalition partnersJanata Samajbadi Party wants ordinance to ease party splits withdrawn while CPN (Unified Socialist) wants the prime minister to wait until court order on Oli’s petitions.
Tika R Pradhan
After the House of Representatives endorsed the budget on Monday, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba said that he expected to expand his Cabinet “very soon”.
“The Council of Ministers will get its full shape very soon,” said Deuba in a brief response to reporters as he walked out of Parliament after the budget endorsement.
Deuba’s “very soon”, however, is not likely to be translated into action. He is caught between two of his coalition partners, the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi Party. His key coalition partner, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) also is pressing him to expand his Cabinet at the earliest.
The CPN (Unified Socialist), led by Madhav Kumar Nepal, and the Janata Samajbadi Party, led by Upendra Yadav, have different takes on the Ordinance to Amend the Political Parties Act-2017.
The Deuba government brought the ordinance on August 18, aided by which Madhav Nepal managed to split from the CPN-UML and form his own party. Because of the same ordinance, the Janata Samajbadi Party faced a split, as a faction led by Mahantha Thakur formed the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party.
As pressure has mounted on Deuba, who was appointed prime minister more than two months ago, to expand his Cabinet, he is asking his coalition partners to provide a list of leaders who he can appoint ministers. The Janata Samajbadi, however, has said it won’t do so until the ordinance to ease party split is made ineffective. The party fears a split, as there are quite many aspirants for ministerial berths, and those who fail to get ministries could split the party.
The Janata Samajbadi has 21 members [two suspended] in the House of Representatives and two in the National Assembly. As per the revised provisions effected by the ordinance, five members, of the total 23, of its Parliamentary Party can split the party.
Amid Janata Samajbadi’s demand that the ordinance be made null and void, the CPN (Unified Socialist) wants it to pass through Parliament in the existing form.
The ordinance had changed the provisions for party splits, saying 20 percent of members of the Parliamentary Party or Central Committee can register a new party. The ordinance was tabled in Parliament on September 8.
“Before the Cabinet expansion, there must be a decision on division of ministries [among the coalition partners], but this is yet to happen,” said Upendra Yadav, chair of the Janata Samajbadi Party. “The Ordinance to Amend the Political Parties Act also is an issue.”
Yadav said the ordinance brought by the Deuba government, because of which his party saw a split, was wrong and that it would bring further instability in the country.
“It must be withdrawn first,” said Yadav.
For the CPN (Unified Socialist), the ordinance does not matter. It’s major concern is the petitions that have been filed at the Supreme Court by UML chair KP Sharma Oli.
Oli has filed as many as three petitions against Speaker Agni Sapkota and the Election Commission. Oli in his petitions has claimed that Sapkota’s reluctance to issue a notice regarding the UML’s decision on August 17 to expel 14 lawmakers, including Madhav Nepal, was wrong. Oli has argued that the Election Commission’s decision to register the CPN (Unified Socialist) under Madhav Nepal on August 26 flouted the legal provisions, as the UML had already ousted Nepal and other leaders as lawmakers on August 17.
A hearing was earlier scheduled for September 13, but it was postponed until September 20.
A division bench of Justices Deepak Kumar Karki and Kumar Chudal started the hearing on Monday (September 20) but it could not be completed.
The court has not scheduled the next hearing.
While the Janata Samajbadi Party is pressing Deuba to withdraw the ordinance, the CPN (Unified Socialist) wants him to wait until the court settles the petitions against the Speaker and the Election Commission before deciding on sending the list of names as ministerial candidates. If the court passes an order in favour of Oli, the CPN (Unified Socialist) will get invalidated, which would mean Madhav Nepal and his leaders would be left with no option than to return to the UML.
“Some coalition partners have their own preconditions,” said Devendra Poudel, a Standing Committee member of the Maoist Centre. “The CPN (Unified Socialist) has asked the prime minister to wait until the court verdict while the Janata Samajbadi wants withdrawal of the ordinance. That’s why the Cabinet expansion has been delayed.”
There are too many aspirants for ministerial berths in the Maoist Centre as well, but the party is waiting for Nepal and Yadav to make their decisions first.
Top leaders of the ruling coalition, however, are expected to start discussion on Cabinet expansion and other governance issues from Tuesday.
“As the lower house has endorsed the budget today, leaders of the ruling coalition will start discussions on Cabinet expansion from Tuesday,” said Purna Bahadur Khadka, general secretary of the Nepali Congress party, who is a close aide to Deuba. “I think it may take some time to expand the Cabinet because coalition partners don’t seem to be ready yet.”
According to Khadka, since this is a coalition government, issues among partners are not uncommon.
“But the coalition has not reached a point where it could break, as some people are thinking,” said Khadka. “The existing partnership of the ruling coalition will continue. There are rumour mongers all around who want to see this coalition break. That’s just some people’s wishful thinking.”