Quid pro quo quagmire

For almost a month now, nameplates bearing the name of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal have hung outside 16 of Nepal’s ministries in the absence of heads of the ministries. Most of the plates say the minister in question is ‘Not In’.

The Cabinet has only seven ministers after the UML, the erstwhile coalition partner of Dahal’s Maoist Centre, quit the government on 27 February. Dahal defected to forge a partnership with Nepali Congress (NC), and on 20 March passed a confidence vote in Parliament for the second time in three months.  

Now, Dahal has to go through the same struggle he did in December to reward his 10-party coalition partners, each of which are demanding plum portfolios. Members of Dahal’s 10-party alliance, including the CPN (Unified Socialist), JSP and Janamat await their pound of flesh. Rabi Lamichhane of the RSP also abandoned the UML to give Dahal his vote of confidence, apparently in return for his passport case being dismissed. 

The NC with 89 MPs is the biggest party in Parliament and insiders say it wants at least seven ministries including the Ministry of Finance, especially if the Maoists are to keep the Home Ministry for themselves. The NC will participate in government, and one faction wants either Prakash Man Singh or Bimalendra Nidhi to be in the Cabinet.

NC President Sher Bahadur Deuba is also said to be considering Shekhar Koirala, who challenged Deuba’s party leadership. Analysts say Deuba may be looking at blunting the factions in the party who pose a challenge to his leadership.   

“I do not think Shekhar Koirala, who stood against Deuba during the NC general convention, would be keen to be a minister in Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s government,” says analyst Puranjan Acharya, “He has the legacy of the Koirala family to uphold, and that will not allow him to work under a prime minister who does not come from the biggest party in the House.”

Congress Vice President Purna Bahadur Khadka is also said to be keen to join the government if he gets to head the Home Ministry, which Dahal has retained since the RSP’s  Lamichhane vacated the office following the Supreme Court’s verdict on his Nepali citizenship. Dahal’s preference for the powerful portfolio, however, is his trusted lieutenant Shakti Basnet. 

“We can take the peace process forward more effectively if the Home Ministry is headed by our party,” Ganesh Sah of the Maoist party told Nepali Times.

Madhav Kumar Nepal is feeling a bit left out, and wants the Home Ministry for his Unified Socialists, since Maoists, NC, JSP, and RSP have all got offices of prime minister, president, vice president, and deputy speaker respectively.  

Nepal is said to be prepared for his party to participate in government under the leadership of Bedu Ram Bhusal, he will have to battle it out with his party colleague Rajendra Pandey. 

But it is the RSP that has been most insistent that Lamichhane be returned to the home ministry. Lamichhane himself is readying for the Chitwan-2 by election on 23 April, and hopes to also reclaim his deputy prime minister post. 

JSP president Upendra Yadav, on the other hand, is seeking the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure with its ample budget, as well as the Ministry of Federal Affairs for his party – even though spokesperson Manish Suman says the party has not received any formal proposal from the prime minister.

Upendra Yadav will contest the by-election from Bara’s second constituency, which has been left vacant after his colleague Ram Sahaya Prasad Yadav was elected Vice President.

At present, Minister of Water Supply Abdul Khan from CK Raut’s Janamat Party is the only non-Maoist member of the Cabinet. Raut has asked for either the Ministry of Industry or Agriculture along with the deputy prime ministership.

Meanwhile, the Nagarik Unmukti Party (NUP) and Rastriya Janamorcha have said that they will not be part of the government for the time being. NUP chair Ranjita Shrestha insists her party will not join until party founder Resham Chaudhary is released from detention. 

All in all, PM Dahal is in for a rough ride, trying to keep all his partners happy.