At a late night meeting at Baluwatar on Wednesday, Oli gave it one last try and offered Gautam the Dolpo constituency so he could succeed him as prime minister. But this time Gautam did not take the bait. He insisted on nomination to the Upper House, and be made deputy prime minister and finance minister.
Oli tried to find a way to convince Dahal about retaining Khatiwada at a meeting on Tuesday, but Dahal told Oli that he could not take that decision on his own and would have to put it to the secretariat.
Oli is now in a bit of a bind. He realised that he was in a minority in the party secretariat, with even his staunch loyalist Bishnu Paudel said to be supporting Gautam, and Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa fence-sitting. Oli had to agree to Gautam’s nomination to the Upper House, but he may still have something up his sleeves.
Khatiwada will have to resign from his finance minister position by Saturday, but insiders say Oli could still renominate him with President Bidya Bhandari’s consent.
In the past, whenever he has been cornered in the NCP secretariat or standing committee, Oli has pulled a rabbit out of a hat And given this track record, the Prime Minisster still has options to retain Khatiwada as finance minister.
The NCP dissident’s main irritation with Oli is that he does not consult them and wants to go at it alone, and a decision to re-nominate Khatiwada would reinforce that distrust.
Oli’s other option is to make Khatiwada and Bamdev’s future position part of a package deal over a proposed Cabinet reshuffle, and other pending political appointments. Midway through his term, Prime Minister Oli must know that there is widespread public disenchantment over his performance – especially in his government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis.
A change of faces in his government would buy him some time, appease party rivals, and allow him to continue unchallenged for a while longer. This has become important because it will determine who is incumbent as the country faces another general election in 2022.
If he is unable to save Khatiwada this time, sources at the Prime Minister’s Office said, one Oli lollipop would be to promise to make him ambassador to the United States.
The whole debacle has re-exposed the rent-seeking culture among Nepal’s politicians to be obsessed about power, the country be damned. Thursday secretariat meeting was not about how to address the emergency the country faces, but about power and position.