PM KP Sharma Oli and NCP chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal have agreed to reshuffle the cabinet. The finance ministry portfolio has been the center of discussion. NCP leader Bam Dev Gautam and former finance minister Surendra Pandey have also been considered for the job. However, former finance minister Poudel is PM Oli’s favored candidate for the post.
According to Baluwatar sources, a reliable hand with prior experience is being sought to handle the finance ministry at a time of the pandemic. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, NCP leader Madhav Kumar Nepal and NCP chairman Dahal want Pandey to lead the finance ministry. However, PM Oli is not in his favor. He wants Poudel for the job.
“President Bhandari and Dahal have given tacit support to Pandey. It's only Nepal who really wants Pandey for the job,” said the Baluwatar source, adding, “only the person Oli wants will have this job”. PM Oli is willing to include Pandey in the cabinet with a different portfolio. However, Pandey does not want any other job. Senior officials within the ministry of finance also say that Poudel is likely to be the next finance minister.
Poudel was Oli’s finance minister in his previous government. Despite widespread opposition, Poudel had doubled the social security allowance, which many NCP leaders believe propelled the party to victory in the last general election.
NCP secretariat Poudel is seen as a conciliatory figure within the party. Dahal and Nepal are not likely to oppose his appointment as finance minister. He was a key leader in resolving the Oli-Dahal dispute within the party.
People are likely to oppose a finance minister with no prior background on finance. Some argue that Poudel would not be able to handle the job during this pandemic. However, he was finance minister earlier and officials within the finance ministry say it would not be difficult for him to run the ministry.
A prime minister needs a loyal finance minister. Besides presenting an annual budget in the parliament, the finance minister has to work closely with the prime minister. Pandey would not agree to everything the PM says, and so his chances are slim, say senior NCP leaders.
Poudel was not embroiled in controversies during his prior stint as finance minister. There were no questions about his integrity, and this is a strong aspect for a finance minister.
Poudel will inherit an economy in deep trouble. The pandemic has destroyed the gains made by Nepali economy in the last few years. He will need a team of experts to handle the economy in crisis. External sources are limited, foreign support is on the decline, and recurring expense is on the rise. It will be a herculean task for a seasoned politician like Poudel to manage the finance ministry.