Congress leaders jostle to lead party in governmentNC Vice-president Khadka, who had key role in hammering out deal between Dahal and Deuba, could be frontrunner.
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is set to seek a vote of confidence in the House on Monday and plans to expand his Cabinet by the week’s end.
A meeting of the 10 political parties supporting the government on Saturday decided to give Dahal their vote of confidence. The meeting also decided to back a bill to amend the Enforced Disappeared Persons and Truth and Reconciliation Commission Act-2014 that will provide the basis for appointing office bearers to the two commissions.
Ganga Dahal, personal assistant to prime minister Dahal, wrote on Facebook: “The meeting decided to stand together on the bill that is going to be tabled in the House tomorrow and extend a vote of confidence to the prime minister.”
After the CPN-UML and two other forces, the Rastriya Prajatantra Party and the Rastriya Swatantra Party, left the government following the breakdown of the alliance formed on December 25, Dahal is all set to take the Nepali Congress on board as the largest coalition partner.
More parties including the CPN (Unified Socialist) will join the government but according to multiple leaders the Post talked to, power-sharing negotiations will only begin when Dahal wins the vote of confidence. After the UML withdrew its support to the Dahal-led government, the Congress, having voted for Dahal in his first floor test earlier, is going to fill the void. This brings into discussion the issue of who among the Congress lawmakers will represent the party in the Cabinet.
The Congress has called a meeting of the party’s work execution committee on Sunday. Though some party leaders, including general secretary Gagan Thapa, say Congress lawmakers should leave their opposition benches in the House of Representatives before the confidence vote, the party is yet to decide on it.
According to one Congress office bearer, someone senior will lead the party in the government with the portfolio of deputy prime minister. That could be party Vice-president Purna Bahadur Khadka, Shekhar Koirala, Bimalendra Nidhi or Prakash Man Singh, Congress leaders said.
Party spokesperson Prakash Sharan Mahat is also interested in leading the party in the government by taking the finance portfolio.
There is often a long queue of lawmakers seeking ministerial positions at Deuba’s residence, a Congress central committee leader said. “With a large number of aspirants, it is hard for Deuba to manage the dynamics inside the party,” the leader said.
Congress has a total of 99 lawmakers in the lower and upper houses.
Though the prime minister has said he can only offer eight ministries to the Congress, the ones led by UML members earlier, the Congress is looking for 10.
The CPN (Unified Socialist) and Janata Samajbadi Party are claiming at least three ministries each. The Loktantrik Samajbadi and the Janamat parties are also demanding two ministerial berths each; the Nagarik Unmukti Party and the Rastriya Janamoracha are yet to decide whether to join the government.
The Rastriya Swatantra Party pulled out of the government on February 5 but is yet to withdraw its support extended to Dahal. It supported the ruling alliance during the presidential election.
“It’s still unclear how many parties will vote for Dahal,” a leader close to the prime minister said.
Within Congress, the rival Shekhar-Gagan camp is in a mood to bargain with Deuba. Out of the eight ministries possibly offered to Congress, the camp aims to lay claim to at least three.
“I have not spoken to Deubaji so I cannot say who will be leading the government from the party,” said Koirala, adding that the selection of ministerial candidates would begin once the prime minister secures the vote of confidence.
As Vice-president Khadka played a key role in negotiating between Dahal and Deuba and removing the UML from the alliance, he could be the frontrunner to lead the party in the government. Khadka, who once served as home minister, is interested in joining as deputy prime minister and home minister.
The prime minister, however, is under tremendous pressure to keep the home portfolio within the Maoist party. In that case, Khadka may have to settle for the defence portfolio, one Maoist Center leader said. The Unified Socialist has also staked its claim to the home ministry.
Former Congress vice-president Nidhi is also a contender to lead the party in the government but that is for Deuba to decide, he said. “I’m interested too but I’m not lobbying for it,” said Nidhi.
Singh, another former vice-president, has publicly expressed his interest to join the government. He is said to be keen to lead the health ministry as a deputy prime minister.
Senior leader Arjun Narsingh KC said the matter is yet to be discussed in the party’s central working committee and the work execution committee. Once the prime minister wins the trust vote, the Congress will take a formal decision, he said.
Other finance ministry hopefuls from the party are Gyanendra Bahadur Karki and Udaya Shumsher Rana.
“As the government faces daunting challenges, the coalition should come up with a joint commitment to tackle the economic crisis, unemployment, corruption, and impunity,” said KC.