Prime Minister Oli stands at his weakest phase in recent years as his move to issue two ordinances backfires.
--BY VISHWASH THAPA
There was no looking back for Prime Minister and Nepal Communist Party Chairman KP Sharma Oli ever since he defeated party’s senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal in 2014 to become the chairperson of the CPN-UML. A year later, he became the prime minister of the country in the coalition government with then CPN (Maoist Centre). He garnered huge appreciation for the role he played during the Indian blockade, which compelled the southern neighbour for an unconditional withdrawal of the blockade.
His government for the first time signed the Transit and Transportation Agreement with China, ending sole dependency with India for the trade route with the third countries. He might have stayed hardly over nine months in the government, he built an image as a nationalist and visionary leader.
The votes the people poured to the left alliance, the electoral tie-up with the Maoist, in 2017 elections, was a reflection that they saw a game-changing face in Oli. His slogan of stability and prosperity was endorsed with a thumping majority from the polls. Oli enjoyed the most comfortable position any executive head of the country had restoration of the democracy in 1990. He commanded both the government and the party with close to two-third majority. A majority of the provincial and local governments too are led by the leaders from his own party.
Yet, his government has failed to take remarkable steps in meeting the aspiration of the people, who voted him with high hopes, even after completing around half its tenure. He also has not demonstrated leadership in managing internal party dynamics.
The differences within the party mostly is the result of Oli’s highhandedness in the decision-making. When then UML and Maoist merged to become Nepal Communist Party there was an agreement Oli and party’s co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal would lead the government two and a half years, each. If not, Dahal was expecting leadership either in the government or in the party.
To pacify the mounting pressure, there was an agreement in November 2019 that Oli would concentrate on the government while Dahal, as an executive chair, would command the party. However, within a few days, Oli challenged Dahal’s position saying he is the “senior chair” and Dahal was second after him.
Dahal, by nature, is not the one who would be confined in the second rank. His political history shows he has always been in the command. It is, therefore, evident that he isn’t taking Oli’s dominance both in the party and the government easily.
Ever since the merger, he has constantly tried to woo Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bam Dev Gautam to build pressure on Oli for a compromise. So far, Oli has managed to keep position intact.
However, upcoming days are not going to be easy for him and probably will be the most difficult battle for him to fight within the party. The result of the battle not just will affect the political career of Oli but could be a significant event in the political history of the country.
All started with his abrupt, unilateral and shortsighted move. He gave a shock and surprise within the party and outside by issuing two ordinances – related to the political party and constitutional council—on April 20. Without even pre-information to his ministers, Oli tabled the two ordinances in the Cabinet, which were endorsed without hurdles and promulgated by President Bidya Devi Bhandari later same day.
One ordinance eased the way to split the party. Revising the earlier provisions, it said ensuring 40 percent either in the central committee or in the parliamentary party would be enough to split a party. The next, ordinance said the meeting of the Constitutional Council could be held if a majority of the six-members of the committee are present and the decision can be made by its majority votes.
Firstly, it was believed Oli, who is in the minority in the central committee if Dahal and Nepal form a separate camp, wanted the ordinance to split the party to his comfort. But, in the secretariat meeting held in the evening the same day he tried to convince the party leaders that it was targeted for other parties. And the ordinance for the constitutional council was necessary for the appointments in the constitutional body as Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, who is a member of the council, intentionally remained absent to halt the appointments.
The leaders in the secretariat said the ordinances were untimely and Oli should be discussing with party leadership before taking such crucial decisions. That was not an end to the story. The government’s decision has unfolded as an opportunity for the dissident factions to unite against Oli.
The move garnered powerful criticism from different quarters, which is seen as an attempt to consolidate the power. The political and constitutional experts say it is unfortunate that Oli, who fought the elections on the agenda of stability, is keen on creating instability by splitting the parties. They say the ordinance related to the constitutional council is even contradicted with the spirit of the constitution.
Many believe Oli wanted to kill two birds by a single stone by easing split in the regional party and threatening the dissident faction that he could split the party is he is cornered but that failed. “He has failed miserably in both the fronts. The ill-intended move is going to cost him high,” Hari Roka, a political commentator who follows the left politics closely, told the Post.
Indeed, his move has backfired. The ordinance aimed at splitting the Samajbadi Party Nepal has rather resulted in its merger with the Rastriya Janata Party, Nepal. Moreover, two of the party leaders—Mahesh Basnet and Kishan Shrestha, close to Oli have been accused of abducting Samajbadi Party Nepal leader DrSurendra Yadav to split the party under his direction.
A section of the party leaders and the civil society has started seeking Oli’s resignation. The dissident faction has seen the ongoing development as the most favourable condition bow him down.
As the environment inside the party and outside goes against him, Oli has turned defensive. He first withdrew the ordinances but that was not enough to calm the opposition voice against him.
The party leaders have demanded Oli to convene the Standing Committee meeting immediately to discuss his unilateral move. The party leaders are all prepared to seek clarification from Oli over his steps to bypass the party before taking crucial decisions. “We have asked Prime Minister Oli call standing committee meeting for the discussions in mending the differences between the party and the government,” Gautam said issuing a press note. “It is necessary to hold secretariat, standing committee and central committee meetings if necessary.”
Oli, having known that he will have to face tough questions and probably be asked for resignation, is not willing to call the meetings of the party committees. The party insiders say there is no way he will not call the meetings. Bedu Ram Bhusal, a standing committee member, said Oli will (have to) call the meetings. He said the Communist party operates based on what party decides and Oli’s government is no exception.
It is evident that Oli will have a hard time defending his move in the meetings. It is possible he will be asked to step down. The move he takes next will not just determine his political future but will also affect the country hugely.