October 5, 2018
The Prime Minister has been accused by his party members of limiting his leadership to a small faction, failing to govern efficiently, and displaying authoritarian tendencies.
Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli, who returned Kathmandu on Thursday after wrapping up a long engagement in the United States and Costa Rica, was flooded with questions over growing dissatisfaction within the Nepal Communist Party, in a chaotic press conference at the airport that more or less sums up the current state within the ruling party.
Oli’s role as the party co-chairman and the prime minister has been increasingly questioned by senior party leaders, some of whom have accused him of limiting his leadership to a small faction, failing to govern efficiently, and displaying authoritarian tendencies.
One year after the unification announcement between two major leftist forces—CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Centre)—and seven months after their merger, cracks have started appearing within the ruling unified communist party. The two major leftist forces had surprised many by announcing a broader electoral alliance on October 2 last year, just ahead of the provincial and federal elections.
Seven months later, the two parties merged formally creating a unified communist party, a development that was termed as historic by many political pundits.
Though the two parties took some time to establish the NCP, they worked in close collaboration ensuring a roaring election victory. The two parties, also known as the left alliance, had pitched stability for obtaining prosperity and development during the election campaign.
The idea resonated with the general public, earning the alliance a close to two-thirds majority in the federal and provincial election. The larger credit for party unification went to Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Maoist leader, both of whom rose above the petty interest to materialise the merger.
While stability and unity were promoted as key for national development by NCP leaders, the lack of exact elements seems to be taking a toll over the ruling party and the Oli administration, affecting their functioning as well as efficiency. A number of NCP leaders has become vocal in recent months about the growing differences within the party and the weak performance of the two-thirds majority government.
Important party decisions are made at the meeting of nine-member central secretariat comprising of Oli and Dahal. Deliberation within the party has declined as the frequency of the 45-member Standing Committee meeting has reduced in recent months.
“It is true that the party, as well as the government, has failed to live up to expectations of the people in the several fronts because those expectations were high,” said Jhalak Subedi, an analyst and political commentator. “Stating that the party or the government has failed on its endeavours, however, would be wrong as it requires policy implementation and its consistency to logically analyze how a system or mechanism has fared in a long run. While Subedi was quick to point that things weren’t looking good, he said the government and the party still need more time to work on their differences.
According to Subedi, the NCP leadership has failed to deliver on two accounts: first, empowerment of authorities in the local and provincial level in line with the spirit of the constitution; and second, strengthening the bureaucratic mechanism which has put the authority of the government in question due to their inefficient functioning.
“The federal government is still promoting agencies in the district level rather than empowering local governments,” Subedi said. Chief Ministers of seven provinces, wherein six of them belong to the ruling NCP, have become critical of the central government, accusing it of not willing to delineate authority to the provincial government.
Nowhere is the failure of state mechanism more visible than in its inability to yield results despite launching a probe on the rape and subsequent murder of 13-year old Nirmala Panta—over 70 days since the incident. The cases involving the smuggling of 33-kg gold and the murder of Sanam Shakya have also taken a back seat, while the government backtracked from its own motion to put an end to the monopoly of the country’s transportation syndicate. The reappointment of Nepal Telecommunications Authority Chairman Digambar Jha, who was labelled as ineligible to lead the institution by the Oli administration itself, also highlighted the weakness of the government in implementing its own decisions—or simply sticking to their words.
On the party organization issue also, the NCP has failed to deliver as the unification of lower level committees of the erstwhile UML and Maoist Centre is still incomplete.
“It is high time that Oli and Dahal hold some serious brainstorming on unifying the party at the lower level,” Subedi said, adding that the top leadership should think beyond calculation while making such decision.
While indecision over party committees is one of the major issues, failure of Oli to justify fulfilment of other key positions has become another factor for growing dispute. Madhav Kumar Nepal, the party’s second-ranking leader and former prime minister, is miffed with the appointment of the chairman of the provincial committee. Leaders close to Madhav Kumar Nepal have criticised the move, arguing that it is against the party statute to endorse such decision unanimously by the central secretariat.
Jhal Nath Khanal, another prominent leader of the party and former prime minister, has also remained unhappy with NCP’s affairs. Khanal’s position was downgraded to third when he was on a trip to China. He said he was also unaware about the party unification and therefore not in the country during one of the most important events in the history of the communist movement in Nepal.
Additionally, the unnecessary flaring up of the hunger strike of Dr Govinda KC, restrictions on demonstrations at public places, and recurrent controversial remarks from Oli added to growing public frustration, questioning the intention and tactics of the government. These activities did no good to Oli, the party or the government as thousands of people expressed their displeasure over social media and on the streets. Many have pointed to some of the government’s recent decisions and labelled the prime minister as intolerant.
The government has also failed to counter some of the policy decisions made by the erstwhile government led by Nepali Congress Sher Bahadur Deuba—the National Integrity Policy being one of among those.
Prominent NCP leader and the former speaker of the House of Representatives Shubash Chandra Nembang said he accepted that the party’s performance has been lacklustre, but expressed hope that issues that have surfaced recently will be gradually addressed. The NCP, according to Nembang, has come to power amid major chaos, which is why it will take some time for the government to become effective.
“There have also been a number of positive works,” Nembang said. “Nepal’s relationship with both India and China has strengthened. With significant headways made in Transit Protocol, Nepal will no more face situation of a blockade in the days to come. These are major achievements for a nation.”
Nembang, who is considered as a close aide of Oli, believes that the two-thirds majority in the parliament has given strength to the party to work on devising plans and policies that have long-term implications.
While Subedi feels that the growing feud within the party has surfaced among leaders seeking an active role in the day-to-day functioning of the party, Nembang said that party leaders should concentrate on devising a free and fair system rather than indulging on petty issues and passing comments in public.
“People who are questioning the decision of Central Secretariat themselves are the part of it,” he said. “Critical issues should first be discussed within.”