KATHMANDU, Feb 25: Friction is brewing in the ruling Nepal Communist Party as Prime Minister KP Oli turns defensive after one of his confidants in the cabinet was implicated in a bribe of multi-millions and his government comes under question over poor delivery.
With a view to preparing a candidate for new prime minister, a section of party leaders led by Executive Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal are working hard to nominate party vice chair Bamdev Gautam as an upper house member of parliament. Furthermore, the dissident group in the party wants to amend the constitution to allow an upper house member to become prime minister, projecting Gautam as a prime minister in waiting in case of any emergency.
Due to lack of any party leaders with the grit to counter KP Oli in the government under the existing power equation, the Dahal-led group wants to line up Gautam as a next prime minister through the upper house and a constitutional amendment. Since the constitution now bars an upper house member from becoming prime minister, Dahal loyalists want to clear the constitutional hurdle.
Considering that Gautam would be the best choice to take on Oli if the former could be enticed with prime ministerial prospects, a constitution amendment proposal was floated at Sunday’s party secretariat meeting.
But before taking any formal decision in the party, Dahal approached President Bidya Devi Bhandari.
The intent was to lobby the president to nominate Gautam as an upper house member under the nomination quota allocated for the head of state.
An upper house seat to be filled by the president’s nominee is falling vacant on March 3 when the term of existing member Yuba Raj Khatiwada, who is also finance minister, expires.
Oli wants to give continuity to Khatiwada’s membership whereas Dahal is lobbying to nominate Gautam to the upper house seat when it falls vacant. Dahal has assured Gautam of lobbying to amend the constitution to clear the way to his becoming prime minister. And a task force headed by former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal was proposed for effecting the amendment.
Despite his playing a crucial role in forming the existing NCP by merging the then CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center), Gautam was defeated in the 2017 parliament poll from Bardiya. Dahal wants to bring him into parliament to bolster his strength in both the parliament and party.
But the proposed task force has faced widespread criticism. Under pressure from party leaders, legal experts and the general public, two task force members – Subas Nembang and Khimlal Devkota – expressed their inability to take on that responsibility.
They both went to Nepal’s residence on Monday afternoon to inquire about news reports related to formation of the task force. They put it to Nepal that amending the constitution in the interest of one particular individual would set a bad precedent.
They have argued that amending the constitution to pave the way for a member of the upper house nominated by the president to become head of government would be against the basic principles of the constitution.
Refusal by task force members to work on a constitutional amendment has put Nepal in a difficult position.
Nepal was among the majority of secretariat members who succeeded in making Agni Prasad Sapkota speaker of the lower house. Ahead of the speaker election last month, they had campaigned against Oli’s bid to elect Nembang to the speaker position. Oli was compelled to accept Sapkota.
Most recently, the Dahal-led faction was successful in having their line endorsed on the $500 million US grant. As against Oli’s wish to endorse the MCC agreement through parliament immediately, Dahal’s faction widened the debate in the party. An internal panel formed to study the grant agreement and give its recommendation to the government has recommended not to endorse the grant in its existing form.
Encouraged by the recent series of successes and by Oli’s setbacks, the Dahal camp has been fortifying its campaign against him.
On Monday, Oli acknowledged that efforts were being made to weaken his government although he didn’t speak out clearly.
“Several reactionary elements are hell-bent on defaming the government,” said Oli addressing a gathering of party cadres in Kaski.
Internal friction is so visible that Dahal cancelled his plans to attend an orientation program in Kaski. Instead, he held a ‘secret meeting’ at party headquarters. Party elder Madhav Kumar Nepal, coordinator of the task force for amending the constitution, member Devkota and party General Secretary Bishnu Poudel were reportedly present at the meeting.