Why is it that every time Nepal’s prime minister goes to India, all hell breaks loose back home? In 2016, when Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal was being feted in a high-profile visit to New Delhi, the anti-corruption Czar Lokman Singh Karki held a hurriedly summoned press conference to say that he was investigating Dahal’s alleged misappropriation of billions of rupees meant for ex-Maoist guerrillas in UN supervised camps. As soon as he returned, Dahal got other political leaders to start impeachment proceedings against Karki.
Prime Minister Oli was in New Delhi for Narendra Modi’s inauguration last week, and it was Dahal’s turn to leak an agreement on the UML-Maoist unification that included a clause that said Oli and Dahal would ‘take turns as necessary and on the basis of equality’ to be prime minister. Many analysts say Dahal had initially shown flexibility on the timing because he thought Oli was in failing health and would have to step down sooner or later.
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However, with Oli showing signs of being in the pink of health, Dahal is getting impatient. Siding with him are his own colleagues, as well as disgruntled ex-UML stalwarts like Bam Dev Gautam and Madhav Kumar Nepal, who have not been given plum cabinet posts. On Oli’s side are powerful Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel, trusted aide Bishnu Paudel, as well as Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, who has distanced himself from his former Maoist bosses.
Gautam has been harping on about the need to have ‘one post, one responsibility’ and wants Oli to at least relinquish his party co-chairmanship. That is not going to happen, Pokhrel has publicly declared. Both Pokhrel and Paudel dismiss the leadership debate as an “artificial diversion”, and privately blame it on Dahal’s eagerness to be prime minister for the third time.
Dahal and Oli have met to try to iron out the issue, but both seem to be getting their trusted aides to rattle sabres while denying that there is a behind-the-scenes power struggle going on. The dispute is casting doubts about whether the Maoists and the UML are really united after all, and delaying the formation of a politburo and establishing a joint political structure.
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