The Nepal Communist Party factions which had pulled back from a split several times in 2020, may finally decide on Tuesday to go their separate ways.
Things reached a point of no return on Sunday after Prime Minister Oli dissolved the Lower House after finding out a rival faction of the NCP was registering a no-confidence motion in Parliament.
As acrimonious exchanges continue between leaders, and street protests against the prime minister’s move intensify, the two parties are holding separate meetings of their Central Committees on Tuesday.
“The struggle will now be for the two factions to claim the party name and symbol by a show of strength at the Election Commission,” says Tikaram Bhattarai, a lawyer.
This is against the backdrop of 11 writ petitions that have been filed in the Supreme Court, all challenging the prime minister’s dissolution of the Lower House as being unconstitutional and undemocratic. The apex court is set to hear the cases on Wednesday, and the future political course that Nepal takes may be decided then.
However, given the irreconcilable differences, the NCP’s separate conclaves could decide that after a 31-month marriage of convenience, a divorce may be the best course of action.
The erstwhile UML forged an electoral alliance with the Maoist party led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal ahead of the 2017 elections, and it swept all three levels of government with a near two-thirds majority in the federal Parliament and six out of the seven provincial governments.
The party formally united later that year and Oli took over as prime minister, sharing the party chairmanship with Dahal. However, the marriage has been rocky from the start.
Oli apparently refused to abide by an understanding that he would step down half-way into his term, while Dahal was irritated by the prime minister not consulting him on key appointments and decisions.
Twice before, when the NCP was on the verge of a split, it was the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqi who mediated a truce. This time, it looks like even she has given up.
Prime Minister Oli is having a meeting with his supporters at his official residence in Baluwatar on Tuesday morning, while the Dahal faction is meeting in the afternoon at a wedding banquet hall in Babar Mahal.
If the party does split, it will not strictly be with former UML and Maoist going their separate ways. Two ex-prime ministers from the UML, Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalnath Khanal have joined up with Dahal, while Oli has some Maoist leaders like Lekhraj Bhatta still supporting him.
Dahal’s strength comes from Madhav Nepal loyalists backing him – and several of them like Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai, Agriculture Minister Ghanshayam Bhusal, along with five other ministers resigned from the Cabinet on Sunday.
However, there are some wild cards. It is not clear yet which way the former UML heavyweight and NCP Secretariat member Bamdev Gautam will go. There is also considerable uncertainty about where the loyalty of Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, a former Maoist, lies.
If there is a split, Thapa is said to prefer not to join Oli’s new party if it is going to be called the UML. In July, Oli had already revived his old part in the Election Commission, it appears just for this contingency.
Other Maoists like Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, Haribol Gajurel and Mani Thapa have sided with Oli, but have not made their position clear yet and may be waiting to see which way the wind blows.
Oli’s closest allies at the moment are Lumbini Province Chief Minister Shankar Pokhrel, Gandaki Province Chief Minister Prithvi Subba Gurung, Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel, as well as former Speaker Subhas Nembang.
The two NCP Central Committee meetings are expected to announce disciplinary action against Dahal and Oli. The Dahal-Nepal faction is reported to have already taken its letter to the Election Commission, and the Oli group is said to be preparing to do the same. The Dahal-Nepal side is now trying to put pressure on the Supreme Court to have the Lower House reinstated.