Madhav Nepal’s tale of woe continues with ministers defying party decisionUnified Socialist chair wants Cabinet reshuffle but Deuba is reluctant, stoking blame game.
For Madhav Kumar Nepal, remaining in the ruling coalition has not been easy. He is clearly not happy with the poll results and he believes the major coalition partners—Nepali Congress and CPN (Maoist Centre)—were not supportive during local elections. But his problem is he cannot walk away from the coalition.
His tale of woe doesn’t end here. He is struggling to keep his party, the CPN (Unified Socialist) which was born just nine months ago in August, in order.
Despite the party’s Standing Committee meeting deciding earlier this month to recall the current set of ministers and send a new line-up, the decision is yet to be implemented. Amid this, the four ministers from the party have threatened Nepal and put forth conditions for them to be recalled.
As the party faces the threat of an implosion, some leaders have blamed Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba for being reluctant to implement its Standing Committee decision.
“Most of the leaders in the meeting today said the prime minister delayed the implementation of our party’s decision,” said a Secretariat member asking not to be named. “So the party chair will have to press him for Cabinet reshuffle at the earliest.”
The Cabinet reshuffle issue has been in discussions ever since the results of the local polls were out. Then it was stalled for the budget presentation and its passage.
Insiders say now the prime minister is waiting for the National Assembly to pass the budget for reshuffling the Cabinet.
An aide to the prime minister said that Cabinet reshuffle is likely only after the Unified Socalist officially hands over the names of the leaders to be appointed as ministers.
“Reshuffle could also happen on Friday but I don’t think the Unified Socialist has presented its official decision at the prime minister’s secretariat yet,” he said, asking not to be named.
But Cabinet reshuffle is easier said than done for Deuba.
He does not want to run the risk of setting a chain of events in motion. Once he changes Unified Socialist ministers, he will face pressure from other parties as well, including his own Nepali Congress to do the same.
A leader close to Deuba said there are aspirants in other parties as well.
But there is yet another reason Deuba will wait for a while before he changes Unified Socialist ministers.
“Not just Deuba, Maoist Centre Pushpa Kamal Dahal also is against the reshuffle at this point of time,” said a Congress leader. “Changing the current set of ministers from the Unified Socialist may stoke trouble in the party, which can have an impact on the coalition.”
Both Deuba and Dahal want the current coalition to remain strong until the upcoming polls.
Nepal has not been able to tame his ministers also because he wants to save his party.
Insiders say Nepal failed to react to the high-handed attitude of his party’s ministers, especially Prem Ale and Ram Kumari Jhakri, because he fears they could desert him, which could throw the nascent party into disarray.
And Deuba and Dahal have to pay attention to the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) as well, said the Congress leader.
JSP is also facing the risk of a vertical split with its federal council chair Baburam Bhattarai upping the ante against chair Upendra Yadav. Bhattarai has already conveyed to Deuba not to accept Yadav’s “unilateral” decision to change the ministers.
The Unified Socialist has four ministers and a minister of state in the government while JSP also has four ministers.
“Cabinet reshuffle at this time will have multiple ramifications for the coalition,” said the Congress leader. “So Deuba and Dahal are treading carefully.”
Meanwhile, some Unified Socialist leaders say they will take up the issue at the politburo and the Central Committee.
“Our decision to change the ministers has not been implemented yet. We will raise this issue at higher committees. If party decisions are not implemented, it will send a negative message to our members,” said Gangalal Tuladhar, deputy general secretary of the Unified Socialist. “We have agreed that chair Nepal will have to press the prime minister to implement the party's decision at the earliest.”
According to Tuladhar, party leaders have seriously raised the issue at their secretariat meeting saying that the prime minister has blocked their decision on one pretext or the other.
According to leaders participating in Thursday’s secretariat meeting, questions were raised if the party should continue to remain in the coalition. But the party has decided not to walk out of the coalition until the upcoming federal and provincial polls, they said.
Party chair Nepal’s calls that the four ministers pave the way for other leaders have been brazenly turned down.
Party spokesman Jagannath Khatiwada, however, ruled out any possibility of a revolt.
“There are talks that the ministers could even defect to other parties if they are asked to quit, but that’s just speculation,” spokesman Khatiwada told the Post.
Birodh Khatiwada, who is health minister from the Unified Socialist, said after the budget is endorsed by the Federal Parliament, the prime minister will reshuffle the Cabinet in consultation with leaders of the coalition.
“It’s not a new thing for party leaders to meet our chairman,” said Minister Khatiwada. “We have asked the chairman to change the ministers after the budget is passed and ensure balance of region, ethnicity, and gender as well.”
Jeevan Ram Shrestha, a Standing Committee member, who was named as the replacement for Ale, the tourism minister, said he has been told by some party leaders that information about the oath will come by Friday.
“But I have not received any information officially as of now,” Shrestha told the Post on Thursday evening. “Let’s see.”