Dahal under strain as Oli backs RSP’s claim for home ministryParty has decided to wait till Saturday before making a final call on its place in government.
Tika R Pradhan
The seven-party ruling coalition seems to be in a serious crisis within just 40 days of the formation of the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government.
The Rastriya Swatantra Party (RSP), a major partner in the ruling coalition, has threatened to pull out of the government after the prime minister refused to reinstate party president Rabi Lamichhane as home minister.
The joint meeting of the RSP’s Central Committee and the Parliamentary Party on Thursday evening decided to continue to stake its claim on the home ministry, this time at the high-level political mechanism, and wait until Saturday for further developments. RSP spokesperson Mukul Dhakal said they took the decision at the request of Prime Minister Dahal and UML chair KP Sharma Oli who sought two more days to settle the issue.
“At the request of Dahal and Oli, we have decided to wait for two more days before taking the final decision on whether to pull out of the government,” said Dhakal after the hours-long meeting.
According to party insiders, during the joint meeting, RSP lawmakers as well as central committee members opposed the idea of pulling out of the government as it would then be hard to defend why the party joined the government if it had to quit so fast. The RSP leaders also said they wouldn’t be able to justify leaving the government just because party president Lamichhane did not get the powerful home ministry.
Spokesperson Dhakal said they also discussed the issue, via telephone, with the Rastriya Prajatantra Party leaders. The party also requested the RSP to wait until the meeting of the high-level political mechanism that will discuss the issue, Dhakal added.
However, the prime minister's CPN (Maoist Centre) is yet to formally recognise the high-level political mechanism, saying that it was formed largely at the behest of UML chair Oli.
All eyes are on the RSP, which is the fourth largest party in Parliament and the third largest in the ruling coalition, as its pullout could destabilise the government. As per the constitutional provision, Prime Minister Dahal will have to seek a vote of confidence within a month if any of the ruling coalition partners withdraws its support to the government.
Dahal seems to be under extreme pressure from both the RSP and UML chair Oli to reinstate Lamichhane in his previous position–deputy prime minister and home minister. But some Maoist Centre leaders attending the party’s Standing Committee meeting on Thursday said the prime minister assured party leaders that there wouldn’t be any changes in the current ruling alliance.
The RSP has 19 seats in the House of Representatives after its chief Lamichhane lost his position as a member of the House of Representatives after the Supreme Court last week invalidated the Nepali citizenship used by Lamichhane to contest the elections.
Earlier, after a brief meeting of the party’s Standing Committee, Prime Minister Dahal told reporters that he believed the RSP wouldn’t pull out and there wouldn’t be any changes in the ruling coalition.
Maoist Centre leaders, however, are against reinstating Lamichhane as home minister. They want the party to have at least one strong ministry. Maoist leaders said they are unhappy at the way UML Chairman Oli has been mounting pressure on the prime minister.
Prime Minister Dahal has told his party’s Standing Committee members that both Lamichhane and UML chair Oli have been putting tremendous pressure on him to allocate the home ministry to RSP chief Lamichhane.
“The prime minister said that Lamichhane has been creating difficulty in the coalition by demanding the home ministry with the backing of the UML chair,” said Anjana Bishankhe, a Standing Committee member of Maoist Centre. “We don’t understand why the UML chair is supporting Lamichhane.”
Maoist Centre leaders said the prime minister attended the Standing Committee meeting that lasted just minutes. According to them, the prime minister was visibly tense. They said Dahal just shared that some coalition partners were creating tension in the coalition.
After reacquiring Nepali citizenship from the District Administration Office of Kathmandu on Sunday, Lamichhane has been demanding that Prime Minister Dahal reinstate him into his previous position as deputy prime minister and home minister. When the prime minister asked him to wait until the Supreme Court issues a full text of the verdict in his case, Lamichhane then started putting pressure on Dahal via UML chair Oli, the leaders said.
Though Lamichhane lost his position as a member of Parliament, he can rejoin the Cabinet, with the proviso that he wins a by-election within six months. UML leaders have already said that they could support Lamichhane in his bid to win the by-election.
Oli says the RSP is the undisputed claimant to the home ministry and it is up to the party to pick its ministerial nominee.
“If RSP wants Lamichhane to be inducted as home minister, it’s their concern,” said Oli while speaking to reporters in Biratnagar on Thursday.
It is not only the RSP that has threatened to quit the government. Two other coalition partners Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) and Nagarik Unmukti Party (NUP) have also refused to join the government over various concerns.
The JSP is dissatisfied with the power-sharing deal while Unmukti has said it will join the government only after its leader Resham Chaudhary is freed from prison.
Meanwhile, police on Thursday arrested Unmukti Party lawmaker Arun Kumar Chaudhary from Banke on an old conviction in an arson case. His arrest has further angered the Unmukti party.
Besides, another coalition partner Janamat Party is also displeased over not getting a ministry of its choice. The party’s leader Abdul Khan, who wanted the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, assumed office several days after other ministers did. Janamat Party’s chief CK Raut has publicly expressed his dissatisfaction with the power-sharing deal.