Nepal PM shuffles ministers around

Prime Minister K P Oli has gone ahead with his long anticipated changes in the Cabinet, however it is not as sweeping as was expected.

The general secretary of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and Oli loyalist Bishnu Poudel has been appointed to be Finance Minister to take over from Yubaraj Khatiwada who had to step down this month because his term in the Upper House expired, and he was designated as Nepal’s next ambassador to the United States.

The prime minister has also taken away the defence portfolio from his key supporter, Ishwar Pokhrel, and kept it with himself. Pokhrel, who also headed the Covid-19 Crisis Management Committee  (CCMC) has been shunted off to be a minister overseeing the prime minister’s office and Cabinet, but keeps the rank of deputy Prime Minister. Pokhrel presided over the CCMC which was implicated in alleged irregularities in the import of millions of dollars worth of Covid-19 equipment, test kits and drugs.

Parbat Gurung, who headed the Ministry for Women, Children and the Elderly, has been appointed Minister of Information and Information Technology, and his place has been taken by Leela Nath Shrestha. Krishna Gopal Shrestha has been appointed Minister of Urban Development.

Defence Minister Ishwar Pokhrel has been removed from his post and appointed minister of the prime minister’s office.

Although political observers had been expecting a major reshuffle, Wednesday’s announcement was surprising because of its cosmetic nature. No one prominent lost their jobs, and some senior party figures just got shuffled around.

The reason, analysts say, is because of the renewed rift between Prime Minister Oli and his party colleague Pushpa Kamal Dahal, and disagreements over appointments to the Cabinet, constitutional bodies and provincial chief ministers. 

There is speculation that Pokhrel may have been removed as defence minister ahead of the visit by Indian Army chief Manoj Mukunda Naravane later this month, which had been postponed because of the pandemic and Nepal’s border dispute with India. Pokhrel has been a critic of India’s policies towards Nepal in the past, and has had public run-ins with Nepal’s own army chief, Purna Chandra Thapa.