The Nepal Communist Party’s dispute has subsided for now. Only time will tell whether it is permanent.
Politics is a game of possibilities. The line best suits the Nepal Communist Party, which has turned a number of unimaginable things into reality. Then CPN-UML and the CPN Maoist Centre amazed the world in October 2017 by forming an electoral alliance for the general elections. Not many actually believed the two parties would merge to form the Nepal Communist Party making it the strongest party in the democratic history of Nepal.
However, within less than two years since the formal merger in May 2018, the party last month reached a point where it seemed there was no turning back. The present turn of events, however, show the dispute has subsided for now. At least the statement from the party’s co-chairs indicates that though the dispute remains there, the party has averted the dire consequences for now.
“I repeat we won’t let this party split. It will remain united,” said party chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal addressing a gathering in Chitwan on July 12. Prime Minister and party co-chair KP Sharma Oli had given a similar statement two days before. In his address to the nation on July 10, he said disputes in the party often occur naturally and can be resolved through discussions and dialogue. “Disputes within the party are the internal affairs and it is the job of the party leaders to resolve them,” Oli said.
For the last few months, Oli has been facing severe criticism within the party for failing to perform as a chairperson and prime minister. As the Dahal and Madhav Kumar Nepal faction stand against the establishment, Oli is in a minority in all party committees. The majority of members from both, the party secretariat and standing committee, are for his resignation as the country’s executive head and the party chair.
As the rival voices increased in the party, Oli tried to divert it by blaming India for conspiring to unseat him as the prime minister following the revision in the statute to adjust Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani in the national political map. He also went on to blame the leaders in the country for supporting the conspiracy. His statement delivered in an event held by the Madan Bhandari Foundation on June 28 backfired on him.
In the Standing Committee meeting held, thereafter, the party leaders especially Dahal said it was they who actually demanded his resignation not India, in a clear hint that they would not let Oli escape easily. The deepening dispute led second rung leaders to take an initiative to avert a possible disaster in the party. Also, there is a strong perception within the party line and outside that Chinese Ambassador HouYanqi also has played a strong role to subside the dispute.
Hou, has met all the top leaders of the party along with the President Bidya Devi Bhandari giving a message from the Communist Party of China that it wishes the ruling party to stay united and resolve the differences through dialogue.
These turn of events has led to the postponement of party meetings allowing the chair duo to find a solution. However, several meetings between Oli and Dahal have not done anything concrete towards resolving the deadlock. While Dahal wants Oli to step down both as the party chair and prime minister, the latter is saying he will stick to both the positions.
Informed party sources, however, say, following severe pressure, Oli has conveyed a message to his fellow chair that he is ready for Dahal to lead the party as an executive chairperson and he will not interfere in the party activities. This is as per the spirit of a deal between the two head honchos in November last year.
Will Oli’s proposal to return to the eight months old deal help the ruling party to get away from the present crisis?This is questionable. Party insiders say unlike in the past Dahal alone cannot forge a deal with Oli because he also has given assurances to Nepal. While building a Dahal-Nepal alliance, they agreed that the former would be prime minister and the latter would take command of the party.
Political experts believe things do not look easy for Oli, this time. Shyam Shrestha, a political analyst with a deep understanding of the Nepal Communist Party, said Oli is responsible for the present crisis. He said it is no more a secret that the two had agreed that they would lead the government for two and half years each. After Oli didn’t remain honest to the agreement, there was another agreement to give the party's executive role to Dahal. But, within a week, Oli said he was a senior chair in the party and Dahal was second in rank.
“Oli’s dishonesty might cost high not just to him but to the entire party,” Shrestha warned. The party leaders say after the standing committee the central committee meeting will discuss the dispute. The direction from the party committee does not compel Oli to resign as the executive head.
If Oli is pushed into the minority in the parliamentary party, he will have moral pressure to quit. But, the only legal way to sack him is registering a no confidence motion in parliament. If Oli fails to ensure a majority he will have to step down. Registration of a no confidence motion by the NCP will consequently lead to a party split.
Either of the factions of the NCP will need Nepali Congress support to form the government but the primary opposition has announced it will not join in the game of government formation. If Congress sticks to its announcement, no party will prove to be a majority in the House which will push the country into midterm elections.
If Dahal’s statement is anything to go by, he will not let the party split. “There are problems in the party, however, we will keep the party intact,” he said. Some of the party leaders have floated a proposal that could give a solution. Providing the party's executive authority to Dahal and forming a council led by Nepal to oversee the government’s activities are crucial points of that proposal. It also proposes reshuffling of the ministers and chief ministers, providing a respectable share to the Nepal faction and making appointments in the constitutional positions through a consultative process.
In case the dissident faction is not satisfied without Oli’s resignation, he would ask them to wait for a few months before handing over the power. It is possible that Oli will leave after completing three years. “No one can stop the party from splitting if the Dahal-Nepal faction doesn’t want to wait for some time,” said a central working committee member close to Oli. “That, however, will be unfortunate not just to the party but to the nation as a whole.”
The lower rung leaders are optimistic that the party will not split. However, only time will tell if the ruling party resolves the unprecedented crisis within the party through give and take, or if it will result in a split.