Oli-Dahal tug of war continues

Kathmandu, February 28

The tug of war between Nepal Communist Party (NCP) co-chairs KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal over who to nominate to the National Assembly that appeared to head towards rapprochement after last evening’s joint address by the top brass of the party is far from over.

The fresh dispute ensued after Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli rejected a unanimous decision taken by the NCP Secretariat on Wednesday to nominate Bamdev Gautam to the Upper House after Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada’s two-year tenure as NA member ends on March 3.

The recommendation — proposed by Dahal and endorsed by Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal and Narayan Kaji Shrestha — didn’t go well with Oli, who has fallen in minority in the nine-member Secretariat. Only General Secretary Bishnu Paudel and Defence Minister Ishwar Pokharel are on Oli’s side. He suspected a ploy against him by his party’s top leaders in collusion with some businessmen.

Oli is of the view that businessmen unhappy with Khatiwada’s policies had influenced the Dahal camp to oust Khatiwada. But Oli has conveyed to leaders close to him, as well as some opposition leaders, that he will not allow Gautam to replace Khatiwada.

The Dahal camp, meanwhile, has gone from strength to strength ever since their meeting at Gautam’s Bhaisepati residence in early January that culminated in Dahal’s favourite Agni Prasad Sapkota’s appointment as the speaker of the House of Representatives. It was that meeting that pressured Oli to back down from his stance to appoint Subas Chandra Nembang as the HoR leader and put him in minority in the Secretariat.

Subsequent Secretariat decisions, such as those related to Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact Programme and resignation of Oli’s confidant Gokul Baskota as the minister of communications and information technology, also were against Oli’s wishes.

However, Oli has resolved not to give in to pressure from his fellow leaders this time. He has argued that recommending an NA member is the prime minister’s prerogative. Oli has reportedly told his party and opposition leaders that he will not hesitate to take harsh decisions if he is continued to be cornered.

Oli’s Adviser Rajan Bhattarai said at a programme today that the party could just advise the prime minister about NA nominations, but it was up to the prime minister and the president who to nominate.

As Oli seemed adamant, Dahal, Nepal and Khanal met this morning at Dahal’s Khumaltar residence to find a middle ground and amicably resolve the dispute, which insiders say has the potential to push the party to the brink of split.

According to insiders, the Khumaltar meeting concluded that Gautam could be nominated to the NA and Khatiwada could continue as the finance minister. As per the constitutional provision, the prime minister can appoint anybody as a minister, but the incumbent has to win membership of one of the two houses of Parliament within six months of appointment. “Therefore, Khatiwada can again be brought back to Parliament after six months,” said an NCP leader.

Dahal, who visited Chitwan right after Khumaltar meeting, also spoke in the same spirit. “The Secretariat unanimously decided to nominate Gautam to the NA. Therefore, the PM will respect the decision,” Dahal told mediapersons. “As far as Khatiwada is concerned, he can continue as finance minister for the next six months. It is up to the prime minister to re-appoint him.”

Madhav Kumar Nepal is also believed to have conveyed the same to the PM today. Oli, who is making a bid to win over Nepal, had invited the latter to Baluwatar after the Khumaltar meet.