The coming few weeks will determine the way forward for the stalemate within the ruling party.
--BY VISHWASH THAPA
The formation of the Nepal Communist Party was conceived and executed solely by the then CPN-UML Chairman KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, then chair of CPN (Maoist Centre). Now, as the party is veering off towards a probable split it is because of the duo themselves.
For months, the feud with the ruling party was largely institutional where dissident factions led by Dahal and party senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal wanted their consent in the decisions taken by the Oli government. Now, the dispute has gone to the personal level as Oli and Dahal, in their political papers, accuse each other of trying to tarnish their image and political career.
It all started when Dahal, in his political paper presented at the party’s secretariat meeting on November 13 accused Oli of failing in governance, protecting the corrupt and working against the spirit of party unity. He also accused him of running the government unilaterally bypassing the party’s programme and manifesto and not allowing him, who is the executive chair of the NCP, to conduct the party activities.
His 19-page political document demanded a sacrifice from Oli as well as some self-criticism, accepting his mistakes, to save the unity of the party, the constitution and the federal republic country.
Dahal’s accusations were the manifestation of a growing dissatisfaction with Oli triggered by the latter’s decision to unilaterally nominate the ministers and ambassadors in different countries. Oli, in his 38-page rebuttal, tabled at the secretariat meeting rubbished Dahal’s paper saying it deserved nothing but abrogation. He called it a documentation of Dahal’s personal grudges, frustrations and vested interests to defame him.
He has responded to every allegation by Dahal and tried to show that he was the one who took the NCP to this level, therefore, he reserves the right to make the decisions of his choice.
Now the contention is whether to discuss the political papers with the party committee or not. Oli, who enjoys the support of the party’s general secretary Bishnu Poudel, deputy prime minister Ishwar Pokharel and Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa in the nine-member secretariat, is saying Dahal’s document deserves no discussion. He is for cancelling the formal meetings and trying to force an agreement through informal dialogue.
He has been using Poudel and party deputy parliamentary party leader Subash Nembang to reach out to Dahal. However, it’s already been around a month since the party chairs had a one to one meeting.
The Dahal-Nepal faction, which holds a majority in all the party committees, wants formal meetings of the party to take the decisions. As the dissidents wanted to build pressure on the Oli faction through majority decisions, Dahal on December 3 called a party's Secretariat meeting though Oli opposed it. The meeting was held despite Oli’s absence which concluded asking him to be present in the meeting called for December 5.
By sacrifice, the Dahal-Nepal faction means Oli to resign both as prime minister and party chair. And, their bottom line is to ask Oli to resign either as chairman or prime minister. On the contrary, Oli has been arguing he got the positions through the legitimate bodies—party’s general convention and party’s parliamentary party— and that he won’t heed the decision of the party’s committee constituted for the transition.
His faction wants every decision to be taken from the general convention and has proposed the convention be held at the earliest possible time. Mani Thapa, a standing committee member, said Oli doesn’t want to give up any of the positions. If he has to sacrifice one of the positions, he will give up the chairmanship but under the condition that it be handed over to the second rung leader.
The party insiders say Oli will make every possible attempt not to give the party leadership or the prime ministerial position to Dahal or Nepal. He has been arguing that, as both of them have already led their parties for years and have already become the executive head, they should agree in handing over the leadership to the next generation.
However, the dissident faction feels that it is all just part of Oli’s tactics to continue his time in power. The faction has already reached an agreement that Nepal would be party chair while Dahal will take the command of the party. The leaders of the establishment faction say Oli would have given up the party’s chairmanship by now but he fears that the Dahal-Nepal faction will take it as granted and start to demand his resignation as the prime minister in no time.
If not, then they would not allow Oli to function freely and would try to make him a rubber stamp which by nature he won’t accept. Oli wants to be in the prime minister’s chair for five years and there are still two more years until the next general election. He could opt for harsher steps, lead the government and go as far as splitting the party.
He has been reaching out to Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba for support in case NCP fails to remain intact. Rather than succumbing to the pressure from the Dahal-Nepal faction Oli would be ready to support Deuba to lead the election government for one year for the support he gets from him to remain in power for the next year.
Currently, the Oli faction is in the minority in all of the party structures from the secretariat, standing committee, central working committee and parliamentary party. The Act on political parties, however, makes it mandatory to have a 40 percent share in both the central working committee and the parliamentary party to split the party. The Oli faction has it in the parliamentary party but lacks it in the central working committee. Therefore, Oli could introduce an ordinance to revise the Act to ease the conditions to split the party. The Oli faction believes it commands the support of 75 lawmakers and if the Nepali Congress, with 62, supports him he can still continue in the government.
If NCP splits, any of the factions need Congress’s support in the government. If Congress denies it to be part of the government and no party can prove to be the majority in the parliament then it will lead to a midterm election.
Splitting the party, however, will be a last resort by Oli, according to the leaders close to him. Following the exchange of accusations against each other, there are slim chances for a truce between the two chairpersons. Another option for Oli currently is attempting to forge a deal with the former UML faction under Nepal.
He is mobilising his confidants to reach out to Nepal with a proposal to support him to take the party leadership from the upcoming general election. He has said as the former UML have dominance from the root level, he can easily get a victory. Whether the NCP remains intact or faces a vertical split will depend on how well the negotiations go between Oli and Nepal.