Nepal ruling party on verge of split

Younger member of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) are trying to prevent a split in the Nepal Communist Party because of a intensifying confrontation between Prime Minister K P Oli and party executive chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

The long-simmering power struggle between the two is now reaching a climax with Oli accusing Dahal of trying to remove him from power and impeach President Bidya Devi Bhandari, while Dahal has accused the Oli of going back on past power-sharing agreements.

After Thursday’s standoff which ended in an on-going session of the NCP’s Standing Committee being put off till Saturday, many had expected the two top leaders to patch up their differences.

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Indeed, there have been hectic meetings over the past two days of Oli and Dahal loyalists as well labbying by second and third-tier NCP members to head off a split. Oli and Dahal also had a phone conversation on Saturday morning which did not seem to have healed the rift – in fact it seemed to have increased Oli’s determination to make this a make-or-break fight.

On Saturday evening, he went to see President Bhandari – his fourth meeting with her in the past week. He then called a meeting of the Cabinet at Baluwatar during which he said that he would under no circumstances resign from both prime ministership and party leadership as demanded by the Dahal faction.

“Nepal’s communist movement and nationalism are at stake, and it is my duty to defend both,” he is reported to have told his ministers, adding that there was a conspiracy to remove him and impeach the president.

Oli is also said to have warned his ministers to either come out and support him, or step down from the Cabinet. The prime minister appears to be preparing for any eventuality – his close supporters last week re-registered the United Marxist-Leninist (UML) party at the Election Commission.

And to add more credibility to his threat of splitting the party, Prime Minister Oli got President Bhandari to prorogue the budget session of Parliament so that he could, if necessary, pass an  ordinance allowing parties to split with a 40% majority in the Central Committee. 

Some observers believe that by threatening to revive the old party, Oli is trying to improve his bargaining position vis-a-vis Dahal since so many of the NCP members are against the party splitting.

The strategy seems to be working. On Saturday, even NCP supporters who are in the Dahal camp stepped up their meetings to stave off a party split. Oli’s own supporters, including ex-speaker Subhas Nembang, Defence Minister Ishwor Pokhrel and other advisers met Bam Dev Gautam, who is said to be a key player in the party tussle. Later in the evening, Gautam also met President Bhandari.

Late on Saturday night, 52 Central Committee members of the NCP held a Zoom meeting, and demanded an immediate emergency meeting to find a solution to the crisis because the Standing Committee meetings kept getting postponed and were not effective in stemming the crisis.

“We all agreed that we have to try to keep the party united at all cost, and for this we need a Central Committee meeting to thrash out the issues,” said member Thakur Gaire.

The centre-left UML went into an electoral alliance with the former Maoist party during the 2017 local and federal elections. This unity allowed the two to sweep the polls with nearly two-thirds of the votes.

The two parties later formally united to form the Nepal Communist Party. However, the threat of a split comes even as the parties have not fully completed the unity process of the rank-and-file.

Despite the party uniting, Oli and Dahal have been on a collision course for the past two years – mainly driven by an ego-clash and ambition of the two leaders.

Dahal has accused Oli of not respecting past agreements to hand over the party leadership to him, while Oli says Dahal has tried to undermine his government every step of the way in the past two years.

Oli has used the border dispute with India to buy time for himself, and last week publicly accused Dahal of trying to bring him down at the behest of India.