Last week, it looked like the rift in the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) between Prime Minister K P Oli and co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal was finally settled after a compromise deal between the two leaders allowing Oli to stay on as prime minister till April next year, and electing Dahal as party head.
Then the two drove off to see President Bidya Bhandari so she could be a witness to the deal. However, at that meeting on 18 July, Oli did not mention handing over prime ministership. Dahal’s was immediately suspicious that Oli was backtracking, and called his daughter Ganga Dahal to post on Facebook that there was no deal.
The honeymoon did not even last 24 hours. This new evidence shows what little trust there is between Oli and Dahal, and how the party and country are held hostage by an ego clash between the two. There is nothing ideological about this clash, it is not about principles. The Dahal faction doesn’t like Oli’s go-it-alone attitude, and the prime minister doesn’t see any reason to give up both elected posts.
Ex-prime ministers Madhav Nepal and Jhal Nath Khanal, from Oli’s erstwhile UML, are piling on pressure on Dahal not to trust Oli’s words. And the prime minister has got two fence-sitting leaders, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa and former minister Bam Dev Gautam, to his side.
This puts Oli in a majority in the NCP Secretariat, which he has been trying unsuccessfully to convene. Meanwhile, the Dahal faction is trying to hold the often-cancelled Standing Committee meeting in which Oli’s group is in a minority. On Wednesday, 152 NCP members signed a petition calling for a Central Working Committee meeting to solve the dispute in the party.
As the leadership standoff continues, second tier leaders fear that the party is heading for a split. Oli is waging psywar on Dahal – on Wednesday he dropped in unannounced at Bam Dev Gautam’s residence in Bhaisepati, a move that was sure to make Dahal even more suspicious after the pictures went up on Facebook.
If the rift widens in the coming days, Oli may fall back on his option of passing an ordinance allowing political parties to split. This would pave the way for him to revive the UML, which he has already re-registered. He has also been meeting opposition NC leader Sher Bahadur Deuba and others, possibly to forge some kind of coalition to keep the NCP out.
The power struggle within the NCP is happening at a time when the country is facing health and economic emergencies. Unemployment is soaring, and there is a serious surge of coronavirus cases in Tarai border cities with evidence of community spread. At a time when the government’s entire focus should be on tackling these emergencies, it is preoccupied with a fight-to-the-finish between the two alpha males of the ruling party.