Nepal’s ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) is currently embroiled in an intra-party feud, threatening the stability of the government led by Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli.
As expected, the two top leaders of the party – Oli and ‘executive chairman’ Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda – have been locking horns in a battle aimed at increasing their hold in government and party affairs.
This is not the first time that the two leaders are engaged in a bitter dispute. There have been several clashes between them after they decided to merge their respective parties in order to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in 2018.
Since the very beginning of the decision to merge their parties, which was primarily driven by their personal ambitions, power-sharing between Oli and Dahal remains a key issue. Several agreements in the past two and a half years have failed to settle this issue. The term ‘executive’ has been adopted to create a perception among party cadres that Dahal holds full power in party affairs.
The last agreement between the two leaders was signed in the second week of September this year, when they announced all differences between the duo had been resolved, ‘defeating efforts made by the national and international reactionary forces to split the party’.
The core of the agreement was that Dahal would serve as executive chairman, and Oli will remain as PM for the remaining two and a half years. The temporary arrangement, however, did not last even for one month with the rival factions returning to warring verbally.
On Friday, Dahal urged Oli to offer sacrifice to ‘maintain party unity and protect the federal democratic republic’, an apparent reference asking the prime minister to resign.
In a political document presented at a meeting of the party’s secretariat, a group of nine top leaders mandated to make decisions on immediate issues, Dahal urged Oli to look at the mistakes he had committed in the past critically. He also blamed Oli for promoting corruption and failing to maintain good governance.
Along with this, Dahal has made serious allegations against Oli for the first time since the unification of the two parties. The core of the problem inside the NCP is the hierarchy between the two leaders and the degree of the party’s scrutiny over the functioning of government.
Dahal is of the view that as the united party embraced the principle of co-chair during the unification, both chairmen are equal and there is no hierarchy. Oli, however, is saying that he is the senior chairman of the party.
Similarly, Dahal is of the view that there should be party control over the functioning of government, but Oli flatly dismisses such demands, saying that in parliamentary democracy, a party cannot dictate the functioning of government.
Therefore, the central issue is a leadership tussle in the NCP. During the merger of the two parties in 2018, there was a gentleman agreement between Oli and Prachanda to lead the party and government on an equal basis. But later, both leaders honoured a recommendation made by the party taskforce that Oli would lead the government for five years, and Dahal the party till the general convention.
In this September, the party was on the verge of a split. At that time, rival leaders of the party urged Oli to leave either the party chair or step down as prime minister. At that time, both sides had engaged in a signature campaign in order to secure majority votes from parliamentary parties.
However, top leaders faced huge pressure from second-rung leaders not to split the party, forcing them to reach a temporary truce.
Another tool that saved the party from splitting was the agreement to hold a general convention to elect the new leadership. But the preparations for this purpose did not make any headway.
Both sides remain firm
This week, the intra-party dispute has reached a serious level again with other senior leaders such as Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhala Nath Khanal backing Dahal’s political document. They are again urging Oli to give up at least one position – either prime ministership or that of the chairman. Oli, however, is publicly saying that if any action is taken against him, he will retaliate.
Many predict that Oli’s possible retaliatory action could be dissolving parliament, imposing a state of emergency, or issuing an ordinance to make the party split that would be favourable to him as he did in the past. Earlier, when there were disputes inside the party, Oli used to say that party leaders were trying to topple the government at the behest of foreign powers, an apparent reference to India.
This time, the situation is different because Oli himself is working hard to mend ties with India. After facing heat from Dahal, Oli has started reaching out to senior leaders Madhav Kumar Nepal, Bam Dev Gautam and others to seek their support.
The coming weeks will be crucial for the ruling NCP and the country as well, because any big development in the ruling party could affect the government. To date, senior leaders of the party seem united against PM Oli.
Kamal Dev Bhattarai is a Kathmandu-based analyst and journalist.