Ruling party talks deadlocked despite six meetings

Despite agreeing to resume the Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday and declaring a ‘ceasefire’, both factions in the Nepal Communist Party appeared to have gone back to locking horns

Jul 09, 2020

Despite agreeing to resume the Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday and declaring a ‘ceasefire’, both factions in the Nepal Communist Party appeared to have gone back to locking horns.

There were sporadic demonstrations across the country on Wednesday in support of Prime Minister and party chair KP Sharma Oli, despite an agreement with co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal not to direct any street protests. Oli and Dahal, on Tuesday, had also agreed to resume the ongoing Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday but the meeting was postponed till Friday.

According to party insiders, this indicates the failure of dialogue between the two warring party chairs. Despite holding close to six one-on-one meetings since Monday, Oli and Dahal have failed to make any headway, said party leaders.

On Wednesday evening too, Oli and Dahal held a two-hour-long one-on-one meeting at the Prime Minister’s Residence but failed to reach any conclusion, according to Bishnu Sapkota, Dahal’s press coordinator.

“The leaders have not narrowed down their differences yet,” said Sapkota. “They will meet again.”

Dahal and Oli have been at loggerheads since last week, when the former, along with other senior party leaders, demanded that the latter resign as both prime minister and party chair. In response, Oli prorogued the Parliament so he wouldn’t have to pass a floor test.

The Dahal faction has since tempered its demands, asking Oli to only resign as prime minister, but Oli has remained adamant on not stepping down from either post.
“Both are adamant over their respective positions so no headway has been made yet,” party spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha told the Post.

Oli is under immense pressure from the party leadership, as most senior leaders, including Madhav Kumar Nepal, Jhala Nath Khanal and Bamdev Gautam, have allied against him. Over 30 Standing Committee members have also demanded his resignation as both party chair and prime minister for failing to respond adequately to the Covid-19 crisis, taking decisions without consultations in the party, and for using foreign policy to prop up domestic interests.

According to a Standing Committee member, the protests in support of Oli have not made things better. In Kathmandu alone, at least seven sporadic demonstrations in Oli’s favour took place on Wednesday, followed by several other protests in different parts of the country, including Saptari where the Oli rally was confronted by a Dahal rally.

“Oli’s supporters are coming out on the streets instead of supporting rapprochement inside the party,” said spokesperson Shrestha. “We are firm in the belief that the party should not split as it would be a betrayal of the people’s mandate.”

According to one party member, Oli has been using this same argument while refusing to resign as prime minister.

“Oli has been saying he is ready to obey what the party says and will correct his working style, but he will not step down because he became prime minister due to the people’s mandate, and he is also the elected chair of the party,” said the party leader.

Dahal, Nepal, Khanal and Gautam are all seeking a bigger role in the party, and by extension, the government. They believe that Oli has been acting unilaterally and not consulting with the party when it comes to governmental decisions. In the parliamentary democracy that Nepal practises, the government is run by a party, not by an individual, they say.
Second-rung leaders who’ve been active in negotiations say that Oli could potentially agree to the implementation of a November 19 deal between him and Dahal. The deal had made Dahal executive chair of the party while allowing Oli to lead the government for the full five-year term. The deal was never put in force as Oli had refused to cede any ground to Dahal, almost immediately saying that he was the “senior chair”.

Dahal, say party leaders, is wary of being caught in a similar deal once again.

“There will be agreement when Dahal’s scope as party chair is expanded,” said Rajendra Gutam, a central committee member who is close to Oli. “But Oli, who was elected as both prime minister and party chair, will not step down.”

Second-rung leaders had also told the Post on Tuesday that there is the possibility of the creation of a party ‘mechanism’ to assist the government. The mechanism, which will be mandated to work alongside the Oli government, will have Nepal, Khanal and Gautam as members, say party leaders.

There is, however, no indication that this proposal has been put forward by either of the two chairs.

“There is a deadlock,” said Standing Committee member Raghuji Pant. “There is no other option than to find a middle path to stop the party from splitting but we haven’t found that magic formula yet.”

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