Deuba faces censure from own party over Cabinet expansionThe ruling coalition, despite a series of meetings, has failed to provide names for ministerial posts, earning bad repute for the government.
After almost two months and a half, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on Wednesday “expanded” his Cabinet, by adding one more member, Narayan Khadka as foreign minister, only to face ridicule from the public as well as rebuke from the rival faction in his own party, the Nepali Congress.
The Ram Chandra Poudel group, which has been challenging the establishment faction led by Deuba, was quick to respond.
It not only called a meeting of its leaders but also censured Deuba for not holding consultations in the party while appointing minister(s).
“Deuba did not even consult within the party while appointing the minister,” said Tejulal Chaudhary, a lawmaker who participated in the meeting of the Poudel camp on Wednesday. “Instead he consulted and informed only the ruling alliance about who he was going to appoint the minister.”
Besides reservations over what it calls Deuba’s “unilateral decision”, the Poudel faction has also sought to know how many portfolios the party will get in the Cabinet and how many berths have been kept aside for the faction.
Deuba, known as a master in running a coalition government, has been facing a tough time, as he has failed to give his government the full shape, largely because of too many aspirants in the partner parties and their own preconditions. The constitution allows only 25 members in the Council of Ministers.
His coalition partners are the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre), CPN (Unified Sociliast), a breakaway faction of the CPN-UML, and Janata Samajbadi Party. While Deuba appears to be constrained by the CPN (Unified Socialist) and the Janata Samajbadi with their own riders, many wonder what is stopping the Maoist Centre from sending its ministers, even though Deuba has been constantly demanding a name list.
The Janata Samajbadi’s precondition that Deuba first withdraw the ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act-2017 for the party to join the government is understandable, as it fears split. The CPN (Unified Socialist) had been asking Deuba to wait until a court settlement of the cases filed by UML chair Oli. The party, however, does not seem to be rigid if Deuba wants to expand his Cabinet without appointing its leaders for now.
Sources in the Deuba camp say the Nepali Congress is likely to get eight portfolios in the Cabinet, including the prime minister. Since Deuba has already appointed three ministers, including Khadka on Wednesday, there are four berths left. The Poudel faction is seeking three portfolios. Then there is yet another faction in the Congress, which is led by Krishna Prasad Sitaula, which is likely to get one.
One of the reasons the Maoist Centre has not given the name list of its ministers is said to be a lack of understanding among coalition partners on who will get how many berths.
If the Congress gets eight portfolios, the Maoist Centre is looking at six or seven if not more, which would mean division of 10-11 ministries among the CPN (Unified Sociliast), Janata Smajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha.
Rastriya Janamorcha has only one member in Parliament, and it has stood by Deuba ever since he staked claim to the post of prime minister in May, though it was rejected by the President.
The needle of suspicion now is pointing towards the Maoist Centre, if it is hobbling Deuba from expanding his Cabinet, contrary to general perception that the CPN (Unified Socialist) and Janata Samajbadi are the major hurdles.
Krishna Bahadur Mahara, spokesperson for the Maoist Centre, however, said the ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act is the major reason for the delay in Cabinet expansion. He, however, would not say what is holding his party from sending the list of ministers to Deuba.
“The government is planning to introduce a bill to replace the ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act. It will be tabled in Parliament soon, most probably on Thursday,” Mahara told the Post.
The Maoist Centre, however, neither has made its conditions public nor sent the list of ministers to Deuba.
The party on Wednesday held a meeting of its Standing Committee to “select” ministers to be inducted into Deuba’s Cabinet. As of now, there are two ministers from the party—Janardan Sharma (finance) and Pampha Bhusal (Energy)—in the Cabinet.
On Wednesday, the ruling coalition also held a meeting to discuss Cabinet expansion.
Also, the Nepali Congress held a meeting of party office bearers, where the Poudel faction strongly raised the issue of delay in Cabinet expansion.
“During the meeting, the prime minister said that he is also increasingly worried about the delay in Cabinet expansion,” Prakash Sharan Mahat, a Congress joint general secretary, told the Post. “He said that the coalition partners have not forwarded the names, thereby causing the delay.”
According to Mahat, Deuba said that the coalition partners are having some issues within their parties.
“Once they forward the names, I will expand the Cabinet,” Mahat quoted Deuba as saying.
In view of too many constraints, Deuba is not likely to expand the Cabinet anytime soon. Khadka’s appointment had become necessary because the government had to send foreign minister to New York to attend the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
A Nepali Congress leader said that it will take some more days to expand the Cabinet.
“The replacement bill for the ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act will be tabled in the House on Thursday or Friday,” said the leader close to Deuba. “It, however, will take 72 hours for it to mature. “Once the bill is endorsed, the Cabinet will be expanded.”
So, said the leader, Cabinet expansion is unlikely before next week.
“The bill will revise the provisions introduced by the ordinance, making it necessary for any group to prove control over 40 percent members of the Parliamentary Party and Central Committee for splitting the party,” said Bishwa Prakash Sharma, spokesperson for the Nepali Congress.
This will address the Janata Samajbadi’s concern as well.
The current ordinance leaves a sword of split hanging over the party. As per the amended provisions, any group in the party can form a new party with support of 20 percent members of the Parliamentary Party or Central Committee. With 19 members in the lower house and two in the upper house, five disgruntled members in the Janata Samajbadi can split and form a new party. Janata Samajbadi chair Upendra Yadav has already made his objection to the ordinance public.
“Once some technical issues are sorted out, the Cabinet will be expanded,” said Sharma. “By the first half of the next week, most probably.”