BY MAILA BAJE
Like much of what has been going on in the country, the severity of the latest eruptions inside the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) tends to depend on who you are asking. Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli, the putative senior co-chair of the ruling party, and his partisans see a vast conspiracy brewing against the government. Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’, the NCP’s executive co-chair and titular head of the rival faction, considers these developments a customary character of a democratic party.
The proximate causes for the discontent that has gripped the NCP since its creation two years ago through the amalgamation of the mainstream Maoist and Marxist-Leninist factions keep changing. The underlying reason is the sheer fraudulence of that unity that is obvious to the point of obliviousness.
While maintaining the façade has served the protagonists, the putrefaction continues to ooze out of sundry orifices. Bam Dev Gautam, recently promoted to party vice-chair, wants a seat in the upper house of parliament, despite having lost the last election to the lower chamber. The recent elevation of NCP spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha to the upper chamber despite having also lost the election to the lower house may boost Gautam’s claim. But, then, the latest brouhaha cannot be comprehended without appreciating the shifts in the goalposts.
The last time the issue came up, Gautam had memorably refused to enter the upper house without a guarantee that he would also become prime minister. This time around, Oli torpedoed Gautam’s prime ministerial ambitions by thwarting the NCP’s scheme to devise the necessary constitutional amendment. But the premier seems to have suffered a setback in his effort to block Gautam’s path to the upper house.
Dahal et al., citing the NCP’s secretariat’s overwhelming decision in favor of Gautam, have made the issue one of insubordination if Oli refuses to recommend Gautam’s name to President Bidya Bhandari for formal nomination. Oli continues to demur, insisting that he had forwarded Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada’s name to the president well before the NCP secretariat’s decision.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokharel – a steadfast Oli loyalist – has confirmed that the government would follow the party decision, but conveniently left out a timetable. And not before Surya Thapa, Oli’s press adviser and the man Gautam blames for engineering his electoral defeat, wondered aloud why the NCP has become so capricious since Dahal became executive chair.
Of the Dahal-Madhav Kumar Nepal-Jhal Nath Khanal-Shrestha-Gautam quintet arrayed against him, Oli sees Nepal as the most malleable link. But Nepal is proving to be a harder nut to crack this time. Dahal has raised the stakes by issuing his most direct statement against the Millennium Challenge Corporation agreement with the United States which Oli is pressing parliament to endorse in its original form.
Pushed so tightly against the wall this time, Oli has not lost his inventiveness. He has put such a price on loyalty that it has become the sole arbiter of who is and isn’t corrupt and malfeasant. Moreover, if Oli sees this period as the most propitious for his much-needed kidney transplant, his instincts can’t be faulted.
Will a chastened Oli ultimately succumb to his rivals? Or will he dissolve parliament and call fresh elections, giving himself as well as Khatiwada a six-month reprieve in a devious tweak to the NCP’s ‘win-win’ compromise? What about President Bidya Bhandari, who is said to support Oli? Whatever she decides, she won’t find the aftermath entirely ceremonial.
President Bhandari may not go to the extent of imposing a state of national emergency – although, in all honesty, the body politic increasingly warrants one. The head of state could seek the advice of the Supreme Court on whether nominating someone defeated in direct elections to the lower chamber can be constitutionally appointed to the upper house during the same five-year term. Shrestha, after all, was elected indirectly. Determining whether Gautam’s elevation through presidential nomination represented the apogee of arbitrariness or routine administration of state might even help plug a major breach in our constitutional edifice. How many new ones it may create is a different matter.