KATHMANDU, Feb 27: Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli expanded his three-member cabinet to seven members on Monday, inducting ministers from major ruling partner CPN (Maoist Center) also.
With a view to bringing the Upendra Yadav-led Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN) into the government and garnering a two-thirds majority for the ruling coalition, Oli has not given full shape to his cabinet at its first expansion. With the new constitution limiting the cabinet size to 25, the new government had reduced the number of ministries to 18 from 31, counting the Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers as a separate ministry.
Prime Minister Oli has been able to expand his cabinet after the CPN (Maoist Center) submitted two names to him for induction into the government, as per the seven-point agreement reached between the two parties in the left alliance last week.
President Bidya Bhandari administered the oath of office of ministers to Ishwar Pokherel (the new Defense Minister) and Yubaraj Khatiwada (Finance Minister) from UML and Ram Bahadur Thapa (Home ) and Matrika Yadav (Industry and Commerce ) from Pushpa Kamal Dahak's Maoists, at the president's office at Sheetal Niwas. Khatiwada is a fresh face in the cabinet while the three others have already served as ministers on different occasions.
A former governor of Nepal Rastra Bank and vice-chairman of the National Planning Commission, Khatiwada is a monetary economist. He will be the first to head the Ministry of Finance in the government formed after full implementation of federalism in the country. Defense Minister Pokhrel has briefly headed the Foreign Ministry and Commerce Ministry in the past. UML General Secretary Pokhrel will be second in the hierarchy in the Oli-led cabinet.
Thapa, who headed the Defense Ministry in the cabinet led by Maoist Chairman Dahal after the first CA election. was strategic commander of the Maoist combatants during their decade-long armed insurgency and also party general secretary. His tussle with Nepal Army chief Rookmangat Katwal resulted in the collapse of the Maoist government. Katwal was removed by the Maoist government but reinstated by the president.
Industry and Commerce Minister Yadav came into the limelight during his tenure as Forest Minister in 2008 after he locked up the local development officer of Lalitpur inside the toilet over a row concerning the crusher industry.
Both Thapa and Yadav had severed their ties with the Dahal-led Maoists right from before the dissolution of the first CA. They merged back with the mother party after the promulgation of the new constitution in 2015. Dahal has now rewarded the former breakaway leaders with cabinet appoints in the first cabinet expansion.
Though the government is yet to take full shape, Oli is not planning to induct any deputy prime minister into his government, according to UML leaders.
Oli had broken the record by inducting seven DPMs in his first government in 2015, to draw in more political parties and garner a majority in parliament. His government had faced a lot of criticism for appointing many DPMs and adding extra burden on the economy. If Oli sticks to his stance of not appointing any DPM, his government could be the first not to have any DPMN after the second CA election in 2013. Earlier, Girija Prasad Koirala's interim election government in 2006 and the Khil Raj Regmi election government in 2012 were formed without any DPMs.
Thapa was elected a National Assembly member from Province 3 while Pokhrel and Yadav are lower house members. Khatiwada is the only non-parliamentarian in Oli's cabinet as his appointment to the upper house on the recommendation of the government was stayed by the courts on Sunday.
Clause 7, Article 76 of the constitution has provisioned that a minister must be a member of parliament. But under Article 78, a non-parliamentarian can become a minister on condition that he/ she get membership of parliament within six months of appointment.
A person appointed minister without being a member of parliament will be relieved of the post if he/ she fails to get membership of either house within the six-month period.