Dahal struggles to divvy up ministries amid competing demands by partiesInsiders say each party in the coalition wants more and plum portfolios.
Tika R Pradhan
A week after securing the confidence of the House for the second time, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal is still struggling to expand his Cabinet.
And, if the statements of key leaders of the coalition partners are any indication, it may take a few more days for the prime minister to appoint the ministers.
As Dahal has been overseeing 16 ministries on his own, it shows the complexity of power-sharing among the coalition partners.
“First we will finalise the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the coalition. And then we will discuss ministerial allocations,” CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Kumar Nepal told journalists on the Parliament premises on Sunday.
Nepal’s statement clearly hints that the Cabinet will not get full shape within a few days as claimed by the prime minister.
Dahal had earlier repeatedly announced that he would pick new ministers within a few days but failed to walk the talk.
Earlier, Dahal had said he would expand his Cabinet by March 24. On Saturday he extended his own deadline to Monday (March 27).
But on Sunday, with the failure to hold the coalition’s meeting, which was expected to divide up ministries among the alliance partners, Dahal is unlikely to appoint new ministers on Monday also.
Shakti Basnet, a deputy general secretary of the Maoist Centre, said that the meeting of the coalition partners couldn’t take place on Sunday due to the prolonged meeting of the House of Representatives.
A member of the prime minister’s personal secretariat also echoed Basnet.
“The scheduled meeting of the ruling coalition could not happen today due to a prolonged meeting of the parliament. Also the prime minister remained quite busy the whole day in his official works,” the official said. “Therefore, the prime minister’s plan to expand his Cabinet on Monday could be affected.”
The prime minister had told his party leaders on Saturday that he would expand the Cabinet by Monday after finalising the allocation of ministries among the coalition partners on Sunday.
After securing a vote of confidence last Monday, Dahal had told reporters that he would appoint all ministers in four days after consulting the coalition partners.
Though the prime minister told his party leaders that Cabinet expansion would not be that difficult this time, he failed to pick ministers as there are many parties in the coalition and each demanding more and plum portfolios. They have been demanding more ministries than the prime minister can allocate. The Constitution has limited the size of the council of ministers to 25 members including the prime minister. Currently, there are 21 ministries and the government may split one and make it 22 to accommodate the parties.
The Nepali Congress, the largest party in parliament, is preparing to send its ministers under the leadership of the party’s vice president Purna Bahadur Khadka, who is one of the architects of the current ruling alliance. But with no decision on the allocation of portfolios, the party is yet to pick its ministerial candidates.
There are dozens of Congress lawmakers lobbying with the party leadership for ministerial berths. The rival faction in the party led by Shekhar Koirala and Gagan Thapa has been demanding at least three ministers for itself.
The Congress is demanding 10 ministries including Finance, but the party could get a maximum of eight ministries that were earlier allocated to the UML.
According to Congress leaders, the Cabinet expansion has become complex, because the smaller parties in the coalition have been demanding ministries more than they deserve.
Madhav Nepal-led CPN (Unified Socialist) is likely to send his ministers under the leadership of vice chair Beduram Bhusal.
CPN (Unified Socialist) having only 10 seats in the House of Representatives has demanded at least three ministries, a chief minister (in a province), and the ruling parties’ support for its candidate in one of the three constituencies where by-elections are being held in April. The Election Commission has scheduled the by-elections for three constituencies–Bara-2, Tanahun-2 and Chitwan-2 for April 23.
During the office bearers’ meeting of the Maoist Centre on Saturday, leaders suggested the prime minister allocate ministries including Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, which is essential for the party to ensure that the peace process-related bills are in place.
Currently, from the Maoist Centre, senior vice-chair Narayan Kaji Shrestha is deputy prime minister and minister for Physical Infrastructure and Transport, Rekha Sharma is Minister for Communication and Information Technology, Sudan Kirati is Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, and Aman Lal Modi is Minister for Federal Affairs and General Administration. The party’s leader Sushil Sirpali Thakuri is the state minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation while Janamat Party’s leader Abdul Khan is leading the Ministry of Water Supply.
Some ministerial portfolios currently held by the Maoist Centre including Shrestha’s could go to other parties during the reshuffle as the party is expected to lead the Home Ministry in which Shrestha is interested. Also, former home minister Shakti Basnet and former finance minister Barshaman Pun are seen as possible candidates for the post.
The Rastriya Janamorcha, the party that gave a trust vote to the prime minister, is not keen to join the government immediately while the Nagarik Unmukti Party chair Ranjita Shrestha said her party would only join governments—both at the federal and provincial levels—only after the release of her husband Resham Chaudhary, who is serving his time at Sadarkhor prison after being convicted in Tikapur incident.
According to leaders close to the prime minister, he is preparing to allocate eight ministries to the Congress, five including the Home ministry to his own party, three ministries to the Rastriya Swatantra Party, two each to the Janata Samajbadi Party and the Unified Socialist, and one each to the Janamat, the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party and the Nagarik Unmukti, besides one to either Prabhu Sah of the Aam Janata Party or independent lawmaker Amresh Kumar Singh.