Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba took office over a month ago, but aside from six ministers he has not been able to set up a full Cabinet yet because of the need to balance the demands of coalition partners.
This is despite the need to have all hands on deck to tackle the health and economic emergency caused by the Covid-19 crisis. The delay cannot just be attributed to the recently registered CPN (United Socialist) led by Madhav Kumar Nepal whose critical dissident votes forced the K P Oli government to step down in July and paved the way for Deuba to become prime minister for the fifth time.
It appears that the delay has more to do with the competing g demands within other members of the five-party alliance, including Deuba’s own Nepali Congress, the Maoist Centre and the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP).
Both Prime Minister Deuba and CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal had claimed that the Cabinet would be expanded as soon as CPN-UML’s senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal’s new party (United Socialist) was officially registered. Yet, even after being recognised by the Election Commission on August 25, Cabinet expansion has not happened.
Deuba has not been able to decide the next ministers from his own party, and because of the upcoming party general convention he wants to reward loyalists. So far he has appointed his trusted aides Bal Krishna Khand as Home Minister, Gyanendra Bahadur Karki as Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, and Umesh Shrestha as Minister of State for Health.
Deuba has announced his own candidacy for NC resident in the party’s next general convention which is scheduled for November. Deuba may be trying to decide on distributing ministerial portfolios to either reward loyal party members or buy the loyalty of dissidents.
So far, Deuba wants to appoint only those who have expressed their support for his re-election with ministerships. But he may find that he will have to compromise and take in key figures from the Bimalendra Nidhi and Ram Chandra Poudel factions so they will vote for his party presidency.
Another reason for the delay comes from the Maoist Center. Currently, former guerrilla commander Janardan Sharma has been appointed Finance Minister and Pampha Bhusal has been made the Energy, Water Resources, and Irrigation minister. Both are close to party president Pushpa Kamal Dahal.
Dahal himself publicly admitted last month that he was finding it difficult to select from his 49 Maoist MPs aspirants for ministerships. He said: “At most, we will be given only 7 portfolios. It has now become common practice to criticise the party if one is not made minister. I am under immense stress from all the demands. I wish I was able to make all 49 members ministers.”
Within the Maoist Centre, voices have been raised that leaders from the Ekta Kendra and the CPN (United Socialist), who have been with the Maoists since the war and integrated with the Maoists after the peace process, should be included in the government.
Even the JSP has split, and not been able to finalise the names of those who will join the government. Unable to strike a Mountain-Tarai balance, the Rastriya Janata Party led by Mahanta Thakur has been unable to finalise names either. The other member of the alliance, Rastriya Janamorcha, which has only one MP in Parliament has already announced that it will not participate in the government.
Deuba has not forgotten the role Madhav Nepal’s CPN (United played in getting him to office and apparently wants to reward it with 5-7 portfolios. And it could be that Nepal will also need time to decide on a list of ministers to give Deuba.