There is nothing wrong with a prime minister celebrating his 69th birthday, but PM Oli has done himself no favours by not paying attention to the optics. The Athrai birthday was timed badly and was in bad taste. And it was not the first time this has happened. A New Delhi five-star hotel sent a $10,000 bill to the Nepal government in 2016 when Oli celebrated his birthday there during his first tenure as prime minister.
Oli is known for carefully cultivating his public persona, and he should have known the social media reaction to heli-borne cakes and videos of birthday boy slicing into Nepal with a kitchen knife. It is looking more and more like the emperor has no idea he is naked.
Oli is doing his nemesis, prime minister-in-waiting Pushpa Kamal Dahal, a great favour with these mis-steps. In fact, Dahal has only had to twiddle his thumbs, waiting for Oli to self-destruct. There is no love lost between these two Big Boys of the NCP, and it now looks like Dahal has the upper hand.
A morally weak, politically feeble and physically frail Oli would like to have his succession issue sorted out before checking into hospital for his second kidney transplant. But Dahal is determined not to let that happen.
In this elaborate chess game, Dahal’s primary aim is to undermine the foundation of the former UML rank and file, who still make up a significant block in the NCP. He knows he cannot make a dent at the cadre level, which is why he is peeling away top leaders like Jhalanath Khanal, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Bam Dev Gautam from the Oli camp.
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Dahal advanced former UML leader Bam Dev Gautam into the Upper House this week. Gautam has been home minister thrice, and has a barely concealed ambition to be prime minister. The trouble is, he lost in the 2017 election.
But Dahal’s move has spooked Oli, who has got Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel to deliver some Twitter broadsides, and to keep Yubaraj Khatiwada on as Finance Minister till the announcement of the annual budget even if his Upper House term is expiring on 8 March. Former Speaker Subhas Nembang has also come out strongly against Gautam being inducted into the Upper House, saying this sets a bad precedent.
One danger is that President Bidya Devi Bhandari, who is close to Prime Minister Oli, will be dragged into the fray. The sooner this paralysing power struggle in the NCP is resolved, the better it is for Nepalis, for whom the electoral promise of ‘stability and prosperity’ has become a joke.
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