Dahal brings up agreement with Oli again, leading to suspicion among party members

Kathmandu , May 31st 2019

A recent remark by Nepal Communist Party Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal regarding an agreement with Prime Minister and another co-chair KP Sharma Oli is leading some within the ruling party to wonder if a potential powerplay is brewing.

In a televised interview broadcast on Wednesday on Prime Television, Dahal brought up the five-point agreement signed between him and Oli a day before the unification of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) and the CPN-UML to form the Nepal Communist Party (NCP). The fourth point of the agreement states that the co-chairs will lead the government for equal periods of time.

Given that the party received a five-year term last elections, government leadership should’ve been divided equally between Oli and Dahal at two-and-a-half years each. Oli has already been in office for 15 months, and if the agreement is abided by, he only has 15 more months to go.

In the interview, Dahal said that nobody would be spared, not even himself, if the agreement is violated.

“It looks like Dahal has started to warn Oli,” said a central member of the party representing the former Maoists. “This indicates that there must be some misunderstanding between the two leaders.”

Though Dahal raised the issue of the deal, he also said that Oli could continue for the entire five-year term provided that the government steers clear of controversies.

Although the agreement is common knowledge within the party, some leaders, especially those from the erstwhile UML party, are wondering at the timing of Dahal’s statement, as Oli is currently in India for Narendra Modi’s oath-taking ceremony.

“The agreement is a known fact, but the mystery is in the timing of Dahal’s statement,” said Surya Thapa, a central committee member. “Why did he choose a time when Oli is absent?”

Time and again, Dahal has brought up the agreement, in what observers say is an attempt to remind Oli of the deal. This is the second time in three days that Dahal has spoken of the agreement. Earlier, on Monday, in response to a reporter’s question in Biratnagar, Dahal had said that the agreement was already out and things would move ahead accordingly.

In the past, Dahal’s repeated references to the agreement had irked Oli, who had asked him not to make any more statements. Dahal agreed to stop, saying it could affect the performance of the government.

But Ghanashyam Bhusal, a Standing Committee member, said people are talking about the issue “now” because Dahal has made the statement regarding the pact.

“Everyone knows about this agreement and talks around it would have emerged some day,” said Bhusal. “It [the statement] is but obvious.”

Dahal, a two-time prime minister, has had a bitter experience regarding power-sharing with Oli. In 2016, Oli had refused to hand over the reins to Dahal, despite a gentleman’s agreement to that end. Dahal had then been forced to side with the Nepali Congress, which is currently the main opposition.

Some ruling party leaders of late have been raising the issue of “one leader, one position” in the party, which largely means if Oli continues as the prime minister, Dahal should lead the party.

During the latest Standing Committee meeting held in the last week of December, Bamdev Gautam, a Secretariat member, had submitted his own political document proposing that the party should adopt a system in which one leader should not be taking dual responsibilities.

But given the agreement reached between Oli and Dahal, it is unlikely that the former Maoist leader would be content with running the party, while letting the former continue.

However, one member of the party’s secretariat said that despite the agreement, it will be extremely difficult for Dahal to take the reins of government from Oli. Hence, Dahal’s public statements are geared towards exerting pressure on Oli.

Some former UML leaders have also started to question Dahal’s intent, saying he is inclined to take sole leadership of the party if he is not allowed to lead the government.

“Dahal seems focused on individual leadership of the party, but that is not possible as the UML rank and file still have not accepted him,” said Thapa, who is said to be close to Oli. “The party will continue with dual leadership even after its national convention as doubts remain.”

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