As Unified Socialist recalls ministers, talk of Cabinet reshuffle gains momentumThe party has recommended replacements to the prime minister, but coalition leaders doubt Deuba will comply immediately considering the possible ripple effect.
After the CPN (Unified Socialist)’s decision to replace its ministers, discussions have started also in other parties of the ruling coalition for possible changes in the existing set of ministers.
However, other parties in the coalition have said that change in the Cabinet line-up should be done only after the ongoing parliamentary discussions on the new budget conclude, as replacement of ministers by one party will pile pressure on others to follow suit.
On Sunday, the Unified Socialist decided to recall four of its leaders from the government and send a new line-up.
“The Unified Socialist took the decision abruptly but I don’t think the prime minister will induct them without discussing it with other coalition partners,” said Ramesh Malla, chief personal secretary to CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal. “This decision has created extreme pressure on all coalition partners.”
Malla said the prime minister will discuss the issue among the top leaders of the coalition.
Currently the Congress-led government has the CPN (Maoist Centre), the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Rastriya Janamorcha as coalition partners besides the CPN (Unified Socialist).
“The decision of the Unified Socialist has increased pressure on other coalition partners, as the new ministers can influence the upcoming polls,” said a Maoist Centre leader asking not to be named.
Officials at the prime minister’s office have, meanwhile, said no other coalition partners except for the Unified Socialist have so far, decided to replace their ministerial line-up.
In the incumbent government, Nepali Congress has seven ministers including the prime minister and one minister of state, Umesh Shrestha. Deuba has kept the Ministry of Defence for himself after then Defence Minister Minendra Rijal resigned in December 2021 following his defeat in party elections.
The Maoist Centre has five ministers and a minister of state, and the Janata Samajbadi Party has four ministers.
Among the leaders recommended by the Unified Socialist for ministers, Sher Bahadur Kunwar is a former lawmaker. He retired as a National Assembly member after serving for four years.
According to a Unified Socialist leader, the two-day secretariat meeting of the party that concluded Sunday decided to replace its ministers.
“Today, we decided to replace our ministers,” said Vijay Poudel, deputy general secretary of the Unified Socialist. “We have already forwarded our decision to the prime minister.”
As per the decision, the prime minister will appoint Jeevan Ram Shrestha the minister for tourism, Metmani Chaudhary minister for urban development, Kunwar minister for labour and employment, and Bhawani Prasad Khapung minister for health. Khapung is currently serving as state minister for health.
The party has recommended Hira KC to be given the charge of minister of state for health and population.
Shrestha will replace minister Prem Ale, Chaudhary will replace Ram Kumari Jhakri, Kunwar will replace Krishna Kumar Shrestha and Khapung will replace Birodh Khatiwada.
Earlier, the ruling coalition had been planning a Cabinet reshuffle after the conclusion of local elections.
Maoist leaders had said last week there could be some changes in its ministerial line-up after the passage of the fiscal budget by parliament. However, a meeting of former standing committee members of the party held at Khumaltar on Sunday morning did not discuss replacing its ministers.
Prakash Sharan Mahat, spokesperson for the Nepali Congress, said there is a possibility of a reshuffle in the Cabinet, but the decision will be taken by the ruling alliance.
“Earlier there was a general understanding that a Cabinet reshuffle, if necessary, may take place after the budget. It is up to the ruling parties to take a call and there is a possibility, too,” said Mahat. “It’s not that other parties must follow suit just because one of the government partners decides to replace its ministers. Maybe the prime minister is thinking what to do next.”
Two more ruling party leaders have similar views about Cabinet reshuffle.
“We have not yet discussed a Cabinet reshuffle,” said Upendra Yadav, chairman of the Janata Samajbadi Party. “This issue will be discussed probably after the budget is passed.”
Yadav is also under pressure to rejig his party’s ministerial line-up.
One of the ministries other coalition partners are eying is the Ministry of Finance, which is currently held by Janardan Sharma, a Maoist Centre leader.
Sharma as the finance minister has drawn flak for his failure to address the economic crisis as well as some of his moves that many say amounted to breach of his jurisdiction.
The Maoist minister ran into controversy in April after he decided to constitute a panel to launch an investigation into Nepal Rastra Bank Governor Maha Prasad Adhikari, resulting in the governor’s automatic suspension. Adhikari returned to office on April 20 following a court order.
Before the local elections, Maoist chair Dahal had publicly said that a Cabinet reshuffle was on the cards.
“If the Cabinet is to be reshuffled, it should be done through a joint decision of all member parties,” said Malla, the chief personal secretary to Dahal. “The second largest party in the coalition should get the Home Ministry, but the call was ignored earlier.”
According to Gangalal Tuladhar, the deputy general secretary of the Unified Socialist, the “outgoing ministers” were appointed for a six-month term but they had remained in the positions longer than that.
The party leadership was under pressure to replace its ministers as all lawmakers of the party have been demanding ministerial portfolios. The leadership had promised to replace the ministers in six months.
After Kunwar’s induction, the Deuba Cabinet will have two ministers who are not lawmakers. Earlier on April 7, the prime minister appointed advocate Govinda Bandi as minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs.
As Deuba is planning to hold general elections at the earliest, possibly by November-end, he is exploring options to keep the current coalition intact while wooing other parties like the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party to join the government.
On Saturday, Deuba invited Loktantrik Samajbadi Party chair Mahantha Thakur to discuss their demands including amendments to the constitution and releasing their leaders and cadres imprisoned on political charges.
Asked if the party is joining the government, a leader dismissed the reports as rumours.
“No discussions have taken place yet in our party on joining the government,” said Keshav Jha, a Loktantrik Samajbadi leader.