Deuba is struggling. But what is Maoist Centre up to?It has intrigued many as to why Dahal, the leader of the key coalition partner, is not providing a list of ministers to the prime minister to help him expand the Cabinet.
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal on July 24 said that he was under immense pressure.
“We have 49 lawmakers in the House of Representatives and everyone aspires to become a minister,” said Dahal while addressing a memorial day of the founding leader of Nepal Communist Party Nara Bahadur Karmacharya at his party headquarters Paris Danda in Kathmandu. Less than two weeks earlier, Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba had been appointed prime minister with the strong backing of the Maoist Centre.
In what may have been an innocuous statement, what Dahal said now appears to be his true dilemma. Even though Prime Minister Deuba has been asking for names for ministerial candidates for his coalition government, the Maoist Centre has not provided the list.
The Maoist Centre is a key coalition partner in the Deuba government, with CPN (Unified Socialist), Janata Samajbadi Party and Rastriya Janamorcha as Deuba’s other supporters.
The CPN (Unified Socialist) has 24 members in the House and the Janata Samajbadi Party 21. Rastriya Janamorcha has one representative in the House, and it is unlikely to join the government.
The ruling coalition on Sunday held a meeting, once again, to discuss various issues including Cabinet expansion.
“Prime Minister Deuba asked coalition partners to provide the list of names for ministerial positions at today’s meeting again,” said Durga Poudel, vice-chair of the Rastriya Janamorcha. “We have urged leaders to induct ministers from the Congress and Maoist Centre if other parties have issues.”
It has been two and a half months since Deuba became prime minister, and one criticism he has been constantly facing is: he has failed to give his government the full shape.
The Janata Samajbadi Party has its own problem. It wants the ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act to be withdrawn, as it fears it could lead to a split in the party. The CPN (Unified Socialist) wants the ordinance to be passed.
What does the Maoist Centre want then? Many wonder if the other small coalition partners have issues, as the key coalition partner, Dahal should have provided the list of the candidates to be appointed as ministers.
Analysts and some in the Congress party believe that Deuba’s reputation is being tarnished because of the Maoist Centre, as it is hurting the coalition more than helping.
“If the Congress and the Maoist Centre had filled their quotas, the government would have got a functional shape, and Deuba would not have to face the criticism,” said Shree Krishna Aniruddh Gautam, a political analyst who is also a columnist for the Post’s sister paper Kantipur.
So far, the Nepali Congress has three ministers and one state minister and the Maoist Centre has two ministers in the Deuba Cabinet.
Bal Krishna Khand (home minister) and Gyanendra Bahadur Karki (law minister) of the Congress and Janardan Sharma (finance minister) and Pampha Bhusal (energy minister) were appointed on July 13, the day Deuba took the oath of office as prime minister. On July 25, Deuba appointed Umesh Shrestha as minister of state for health. Congress party’s Narayan Khadka was appointed foreign minister on September 22.
“We have been pressing the prime minister to expand the Cabinet by inducting ministers from the coalition partners that have no issues,” said Min Bishwakarma, lawmaker and central member of the Nepali Congress. “But that could not happen as top leaders argue that they want to show unity among coalition partners.”
Until a few days ago, the CPN (Unified Socialist) had asked Deuba to wait until the court decided on petitions filed by CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli against Speaker Agni Sapkota and the Election Commission. Now with the Supreme Court refusing to issue an interim order on September 24, there does not seem to be any problem for the party to provide names of leaders for ministers. The CPN (Unified Socialist), however, had maintained that Deuba could expand his Cabinet if he so wished.
But still, Deuba has not been able to expand his Cabinet.
“I wonder why the prime minister has failed to convince his key coalition partner, the Maoist Centre,” said Pradip Poudel, a Congress leader. “While coalition partners are holding back the list of ministers, it’s Deuba who is facing criticism.”
The Janata Samajbadi Party’s concerns, however, appear to be genuine, as there are too many aspirants for ministerial jobs and those who fail to make it to the Cabinet could split the party at the drop of a hat.
The ordinance to amend the Political Parties Act has changed the provisions for party splits. Any group that controls 20 percent members of the Central Committee or the Parliamentary Party can register a new party. With 21 seats in the lower house and two in the upper house, five of the Parliamentary Party members can easily split the party.
Janata Samajbadi chair Upendra Yadav has been firm on his position—that the ordinance must be withdrawn first. The government presented the ordinance in Parliament on September 8. There are now just two options—either the government withdraws it or presents a replacement bill by reversing the provisions to the pre-amendment stage. Before the ordinance, for any group to split a party, it needed to prove control of 40 percent members of the Central Committee and the Parliamentary Party.
The Maoist Centre so far has not provided any plausible answers to why it has not given the list of names of its leaders for Deuba to appoint them as ministers, raising questions if it’s chair is yet again playing the game of one-upmanship.
When asked, Maoist Centre leaders offered a half-hearted response.
“Actually we have not given names because we want all the ministers to be inducted together,” said Haribol Gajurel, a Standing Committee member of the Maoist Centre. “Since we have already waited for such a long time, why should we hurry and not wait for some more days?”
But as days are passing by, it’s Deuba who is facing criticism and not the Maoist Centre.
The Maoist Centre in the past too has betrayed the Nepali Congress. After withdrawing support to Oli in July 2016, the Maoist Centre had forged an alliance with the Nepali Congress in the run up to the 2017 elections. After serving as prime minister for 11 months Dahal handed over power to Deuba in May 2017. But as elections neared, Dahal joined hands with Oli. The duo formed an electoral alliance in the 2017 elections. They won. The Congress lost badly.
Political analysts say despite being a key partner, Dahal has maintained an uncanny silence, letting Deuba bear the brunt alone. Deuba was forced to issue the ordinance at the behest of Dahal, as the latter wanted the UML to split, in his bid to settle a score with Oli.
The ordinance now has become an albatross around Deuba’s neck, and Dahal has not been of any help.
“Dahal is acting as though he has no obligation to bail Deuba out,” said Gautam, the political analyst. “But it’s Deuba’s fault as well, as he must have known by now how Dahal functions. It looks like Deuba has fallen into a trap… Dahal has become a necessary evil. Deuba needs Dahal but the latter has not been of any help.”
Geja Sharma Wagle, a political commentator who has been following the recent developments very closely, said that the Cabinet expansion has been constrained by coalition partners, rather than issues within the Congress.
“Leading such a coalition is a political compulsion for Deuba,” he said.