The political crisis in Kathmandu has displaced COVID-19 from the headlines. The fast-paced developments on Thursday indicated that the power struggle within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was finally reaching a denouement. It also showed that Prime Minister K P Oli, who is under pressure from the Pushpa Kamal Dahal faction, is not stepping down without a fight.
Bow out, Editorial
This hour-by-hour account of the hectic political maneuverings on Thursday, 2 July:
Supporters of Prime Minister K P Oli drive to NCP party executive chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s residence in Khumaltar. Among them were ex-Speaker Subhas Nembang, Defence Minister Ishwor Pokhrel, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, Province 5 Chief Minister Shankar Pokhrel, adviser Bishnu Rimal, and Gandaki Province Chief Minister Prithvi Subba Gurung. Their main agenda was to try to defuse the confrontation between Dahal and Oli, and to stave off a crisis.
Across town, the Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of the NCP was meeting at his residence in Koteswor to draw out a strategy for the Standing Committee meeting scheduled for later in the day. Participants agreed that they should continue to demand that K P Oli step down both as Prime Minister and party chair, a demand reinforced in a joint meeting with Dahal supporters on Wednesday night at the Jhamel restaurant, Ageno.
Prime Minister K P Oli drives from Baluwatar to meet President Bidya Devi Bhandari at her official residence in Maharjganj to reportedly brief her about his plans to prorogue the budget session of Parliament. Although President Bhandari has a neutral and ceremonial role, she is believed to be a strong Oli supporter.
A pro-government rally is held at Mandala by youth supporting Prime Minister Oli with slogans like ‘No Toppling the Government’.
At high noon, Prime Minister K P Oli calls an emergency Cabinet meeting, where he proposes that the budget session of Parliament be prorogued because it was not safe for such a large gathering when the COVID-19 was spreading in Kathmandu. He also argued that there was no major agenda on the table except the MCC and citizenship bill, both of which needed further debate. Cabinet readily agreed, and Parliament ended its current session at 1700hrs.
President Bhandari officially announces the end of the budget session of Parliament ‘on the recommendation of the Cabinet’. Interestingly, Speaker Agni Sapkota, a close ally of Dahal, reportedly had no idea that the house session had been ended.
On the other side of Baluwatar, the NCP’s Standing Committee members were gathering for their scheduled meetings. But when the prime minister did not show up, and they heard about the Cabinet decision, they also decided to put off the meeting. Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhalnath Khanal and Pushpa Kamal Dahal were seen in a huddle outside.
Prime Minister Oli and his supporters met Pushpa Kamal Dahal in a last ditch attempt to iron out their differences.
Pushpa Kamal Dahal rushed off to Shital Niwas to meet President Bhandari, possibly because he suspected that Oli was thinking of introducing an ordinance to allow the NCP to split. A new UML party was registered on Wednesday.
It is still unclear whether Dahal and Oli have patched up their differences for now. It is possible that Oli has threatened to split off from the NCP with this followers if the Dahal faction insists on him giving up both posts.
There is a trust deficit between the two because Oli had agreed in March to divide up the party functions, and make Dahal executive chair of the party. However, in reality Oli kept control of both the party and government, hence the demand for one-person-one-post. But in last week’s Standing Committee meeting the Dahal faction demanded that Oli step down from both positions.
Insiders say that if Pushpa Kamal Dahal takes over as prime minister, Oli may insist on being the party chair.
Dahal get back to Baluwatar after meeting the president to rejoin the Standing Committee meeting, which is now been put off till Saturday.