One year into unity, infighting and fissures disrupt the governing party

- SANJEEV GIRI, Kathmandu

Oct 5, 2018-

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who returned to Kathmandu on Thursday after a long engagement in the United States and Costa Rica, was flooded with questions over growing dissatisfaction within the Nepal Communist Party (NCP), in a chaotic press conference at the airport that more or less sums up the current state of the ruling party.

Oli’s role as the party co-chairman and prime minister has been increasingly questioned by senior party leaders, some of whom have accused him of limiting his leadership to a small faction, failing to govern efficiently, and displaying authoritarian tendencies.

One year after the announcement of unification between two major leftist forces—CPN (UML) and CPN (Maoist Centre)—and seven months after their actual merger, cracks have started appearing in the unified communist party. The two major leftist forces had surprised many when they announced a broad electoral alliance on October 2 last year, just ahead of the provincial and federal elections.

Six months later, on March 18, the two parties merged formally, creating a unified communist party—a development dubbed ‘historic’ by many political pundits. Though the two parties took some time to establish the NCP, they worked in close collaboration to ensure a roaring election victory. The two parties, also known as the left alliance, had pitched stability for gaining prosperity and development during the campaign.

The idea resonated with the general public, earning the alliance a close to two-thirds majority in the polls. Much of the credit for party unification went to Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, the Maoist leader, both of whom rose above petty interests to materialise the merger.

While stability and unity were promoted as key to national development by the NCP leaders, the lack of exact elements seems to be taking a toll over the ruling party and the Oli administration, affecting their functioning as well as efficiency. A number of NCP leaders has become vocal in recent months about the growing differences within the party and the weak performance of the government commanding a two-thirds majority.

Important party decisions are made at the meeting of a nine-member central secretariat led by Oli and Dahal. Deliberation within the party has declined as meetings of the 45-member Standing Committee have been less frequent in recent months.

“It is true that the party, as well as the government, has failed to live up to popular expectations on several fronts because the expectations were high,” said Jhalak Subedi, an analyst and political commentator. “Stating that the party or the government has failed on its endeavours, however, would be wrong as it requires policy implementation

and its consistency to logically analyse how a system or mechanism has fared in the long run.”

While Subedi was quick to point that things weren’t looking good, he said the government and the party still need more time to work on their differences.According to Subedi, the NCP leadership has failed to deliver on two accounts:

first, empowerment of authorities at the local and provincial level in line with the spirit of the constitution; and second, strengthening the bureaucratic mechanism which has put the authority of the government in question due to their inefficient functioning.

“The federal government is still promoting agencies at the district level rather than empowering local governments,” Subedi said. Chief ministers of the seven provinces, wherein six of them belong to the ruling NCP, have become critical of the central government, accusing it of not being willing to delineate the authority of the provincial government.

Nowhere is the failure of state mechanism more visible than in its inability to yield results despite launching a probe into the rape and subsequent murder of 13-year old Nirmala Panta--over 70 days since the incident. The cases involving the smuggling of 33kg gold and the murder of Sanam Shakya have also taken a back seat, while the government backtracked on its own motion to put an end to the monopoly of transportation syndicates. The reappointment of Nepal Telecommunications Authority Chairman Digambar Jha, who was labelled as ineligible to lead the institution by the Oli administration itself, also highlighted the weakness of the government in implementing its own decisions--or simply sticking to their words.

On the party organisation issue too, the NCP has failed to deliver as unification of lower level committees of the erstwhile UML and Maoist Centre is still incomplete.“It’s high time that Oli and Dahal did some serious brainstorming on unifying the party at the lower level,” Subedi said.While indecision on the party committees is one of the major issues, failure of Oli to justify fulfilment of other key positions has become another factor for the growing dispute. Madhav Kumar Nepal, the party’s second-ranking leader and former prime minister, is miffed at the appointment of provincial committee leaders. Nepal’s supporters have criticised the move, arguing that the party leadership announced the decision while Nepal was out of the country.'

Jhal Nath Khanal, another prominent leader of the party and former prime minister, is also unhappy with NCP’s affairs. Khanal’s position was downgraded to third when he was on a trip to China.Additionally, the unnecessary flaring up of the hunger strike of Dr Govinda KC, restrictions on demonstrations at public places, and recurrent controversial remarks from Oli fuelled public frustration, leading people to question the intention and tactics of the government. These activities did no good to Oli, the party, or the government as thousands of people expressed their displeasure over social media and on the streets. Many have pointed to some of the government’s recent decisions and labelled the prime minister as “intolerant”.

The government has also failed to counter some of the policy decisions of the erstwhile government led by Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba-the National Integrity Policy being one of those.

Prominent NCP leader and the former speaker Subas Nembang addmitted that the party’s performance had been lacklustre, but expressed hope that the issues that have surfaced recently would be addressed gradually. The NCP, according to Nembang, has come to power amid a major chaos, which is why it will take some time for the government to become effective.

“There have also been a number of positive works,” Nembang said. “Nepal’s relationship with both India and China has strengthened. With significant headways made in the Transit Protocol, Nepal will no more face a blockade in the days to come. These are major achievements for a nation.”

Nembang, who is considered as a close aide to Oli, believes that the two-thirds majority has given strength to the party to work on plans and policies that have lasting implications.While Subedi feels that the festering feud is among leaders seeking an active role in the day-to-day functioning of the party, Nembang said that party leaders should concentrate on devising a free and fair system rather than indulging on petty issues and passing comments in public.

“People who are questioning the decision of the Central Secretariat are themselves a part of it,” he said. “Critical issues should first be discussed within.”

Published: 05-10-2018 07:16

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