Nepal government reshuffle during pandemic
Nepal’s Prime Minister K P Oli has replaced his Health Minister and Foreign Minister, two key officials who had been leading his government’s Covid-19 response, in a Cabinet reshuffle late Friday.
The move comes even as the Supreme Court is bearing writ petitions to overturn his dissolution of Parliament and call for early elections, and as he continues to fight for his political survival.
Oli’s UML party has been depleted by a rebel faction that is threatening to register a new party, so he has inducted ten ministers from the Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) which itself was split over whether to support Oli or not.
Oli has replaced some of his own UML ministers and replaced them with eight new ministers and two state ministers from the JSP, among them is Raghubir Mahaseth as the new Foreign Minister and Sher Bahadur Tamang as Health Minister.
The new Cabinet includes three deputy prime ministers: Mahaseth, as well as Rajendra Mahato from the JSP who also has the urban development portfolio and Bishnu Poudel from the UML who remains Finance Minister.
The 17 ministers (only two of them women) were sworn in by President Bidya Devi Bhandari at Sital Nibas on Friday evening. Prime Minister Oli has kept the Defence, Home, Communication, Agriculture, Industries and General Administration portfolio for himself for the time being, possibly to distribute it among members of the former Maoist party led by Ram Bahadur Thapa, who have supported him during the current power struggle.
The council of ministers include:
K P Oli: Prime Minister, Defence, Home, Communication, Agriculture, Industries and General Administration
Bishnu Poudel: Deputy prime minister and Finance
Rajendra Mahato: Deputy prime minister and Urban Development
Raghubir Mahaseth: Deputy prime minister and Foreign
Sher Bahadur Tamang: Health
Krishna Gopal Shrestha: Education
Basanta Nembang: Infrastructure and Transport
Lilanath Shrestha: Law
Sarat Singh Bhandari: Energy
Anil Jha: Water Supply
BImal Srivastav: Labour
Uma Shankar Argaria: Forests
Laxmanlal Karna: Land Management
Chanda Chaudhari: Women, Children
Equal Miya: Youth and Sports
Chandrakant Chaudhari: State minister of Energy
Renuka Gurung: State minister of Women, Children
Among the 13 who have been removed from the Cabinet are Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, Health Minister Hridayesh Tripathi, Deputy Prime Minister and former Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel. Also exiting are Tourism Minister Bhanubhakta Dhakal and Padma Aryal who handled the agriculture portfolio.
Raghubir Mahaseth lost no time after the swearing in, and went straight to the Foreign Ministry at 9pm to assume office. He had been removed as Infrastructure Minister by Oli in 2019 during a reshuffle after he was embroiled in a scandal involving the reinstatement of the transportation syndicates.
The new Health Minister Sher Bahadur Tamang defected from the rebel faction to Oli’s side recently, and has been a strong advocate in Parliament of legalising cannabis.