Deuba makes overtures to Oli over House obstruction, MCCUML chair says position remains the same on both issues.
Prime Minister and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba held a meeting with KP Sharma Oli, the chair of the main opposition CPN-UML, on Saturday morning at the latter’s residence in Balkot. This was the first one-on-one meeting between Deuba and Oli after the former was sworn in as prime minister on July 13 to replace the latter.
The meeting comes amid continued House obstructions by the UML and confusion over the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the $500 million American grant, which has left Nepali political landscape and the society largely divided. The MCC is awaiting parliamentary approval.
“Basically, the prime minister came up with two agendas to meet the party Chairman Oli,” said Subas Nembang, a UML vice-chair. “The prime minister sought UML’s help in lifting the obstructions and ratification of the MCC.”
But on both issues, according to Nembang, the opposition party’s position remains unchanged.
During the meeting, Deuba, according to multiple leaders the Post spoke to, warned Oli that the ongoing House obstruction was sending a negative message and that keeping the MCC in limbo for long would reflect poorly on Nepal.
Communication Minister Gyanendra Bahadur Karki said that more meetings are likely between the prime minister and the main opposition leader.
“At least communication has started,” Karki told the Post.
Deuba took over from Oli on July 13 last year, a day after the Supreme Court ordered the Congress president’s appointment as prime minister. Oli ever since has mocked the Deuba government as “a government formed by a court order,” to assert that it lacks the people’s mandate.
Oli has snubbed calls for meetings in the past. He has boycotted at least two all-party meetings called by Deuba—on September 30 and December 19.
Deuba, however, has sent Congress leaders, including Karki, to meet Oli several times.
Senior Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel, who also heads the high-level political coordination committee formed by the five-party ruling alliance, met with Oli on Wednesday to discuss a host of issues, including House obstruction, the crisis in the judiciary and the MCC.
Deuba currently leads a five-party alliance in which the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and the CPN (Unified Socialist) are key partners. The two leftist parties are led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal, Oli’s bete noires.
Both parties are opposed to MCC ratification from the House unless some clauses are amended. Though the UML has not made any position on the MCC, it was during Oli’s tenure that then finance minister Yubaraj Khatiwada registered it in Parliament in July 2019.
The MCC now threatens the ruling coalition as some suspect Deuba and Oli could reach a deal on the passage of the American programme.
“As far as the MCC is concerned, it’s the government that should make up its mind first,” Nembang quoted Oli as telling Deuba.
Deuba’s meeting with Oli comes in line with a decision of the high-level political coordination committee.
“The coordination committee meeting had entrusted the prime minister with the task of holding a meeting with Oli to discuss the ongoing House obstruction,” said Upendra Yadav, chairman of the Janata Samajbadi Party, another partner in the ruling alliance.
The UML has been obstructing the House meetings, objecting to the Speaker's refusal to issue a notice in line with the party’s decision to expel 14 lawmakers, including Madhav Nepal.
The UML on August 17 expelled the lawmakers and wrote to Speaker Agni Sapkota to issue a notice.
However, Sapkota took no action. Then the government brought an ordinance to ease splits in parties and Madhav Nepal formed the CPN (Unified Socialist), which was registered at the Election Commission on August 25. On August 29, the Speaker announced it was not necessary to take action on the UML’s recommendation as the dissidents had already formed a new party.
The UML has accused Speaker Sapkota of conspiring to split the party.
The winter session of the House commenced on December 14. The UML has obstructed all its meetings since, but the government has managed to get some ordinances through amid the opposition protest.
The next meeting of the House of Representatives has been scheduled for January 12. But it is unlikely, as scores of senior leaders, including the prime minister, are in isolation after the Maoist chair tested positive for Covid-19.
“A PCR test conducted on the party chair yesterday [Friday] evening showed Corona positive,” Dahal’s secretariat said in a Facebook post. “Since he has been in isolation as per the doctor’s advice, all his scheduled programmes have been cancelled.”
Dahal’s colleagues Narayan Kaji Shrestha, Haribol Gajurel and Matrika Yadav also tested positive for the virus. Both Dahal and Shrestha participated in the high-level political coordination committee meetings on Thursday and Friday in Baluwatar. Prime Minister Deuba and senior leaders of the ruling alliance were present in the meetings.
Saturday’s meeting between Deuba and Oli lasted about an hour, but secretariats of both sides were tight-lipped on what they discussed.
Members of the secretariats said they were unaware of the discussions as the meeting was “one-on-one” between the two leaders.
A member from the prime minister’s private secretariat said that talks “went well”, but there was no visible progress.
“Probably the prime minister and the main opposition leader will hold yet another round of meeting,” the member told the Post who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Hopefully, we can have some tangible results then.”
When Deuba walked out of Oli’s residence, he refused to talk to the media. He headed straight to Baluwatar from there.
In response to the media's query about the meeting, Oli, otherwise quite a loquacious leader, chose to respond in a few words.
“It went well,” Oli made a brief comment.