The Never-Ending Tussle for Power

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November Analysis

The Nepal Communist Party (NCP) boasts a historic majority in the parliament. On the other hand, the oppositions, Nepali Congress (NC) and Janata Samajwadi Party-Nepal (JSPN), are embroiled in intra-party struggle, factional politics, and leadership management. Against the backdrop of its strong numeric might and the opposition’s meek presence, the NCP government should be stable and efficient, theoretically. However, the disease of factional politics has not spared the ‘communist’ force either; a greed for money, power, and influence has plagued the party’s top leadership for about a year now. Many link the party’s recurring dispute to the ‘unnatural’ confluence of the erstwhile NCP–Unified Marxist Leninist (NCP–UML) and NCP–Maoist Centre (NCP–MC), where two leaders of the respective parties, KP Sharma Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda,’ struck a deal to unite the parties. Unsurprisingly, the personal characters, egos, and political ambitions of the two ‘alpha males’ collided sooner than an observer would have anticipated. The result is apparent: a prolonged intra-party crisis with Oli and Dahal colluding head on. In the latest turn of events, Dahal presented a 19-page long political document accusing Oli of bad governance and of abetting corruption and asking Oli to make a ‘sacrifice,’ meaning his resignation.[1] In response, Oli presented his own 38-page long proposal,[2] making accusatory claims against Dahal and asking him to withdraw his proposal and apologize. So, at this point, both the leaders appear firm on their positions, and the party, its leaders, and observers wait and watch how the events unfold and whether the NCP finally splits.

Before jumping into details, it is useful to look at a timeline of major events and analyze their progression. In May 2018, NCP–UML and NCP–MC officially merged to become the Nepal Communist Party. According to the initial agreement, the new NCP had two chairs, who would take turns running the government. To send a message of unity and stability, though, Dahal later agreed to allow Oli to be the PM for the full five-year term. However, before Oli could complete two years as the PM, the constitutional requirement to file a no-confidence motion,[3] serious factional polarizations had begun. The appointment of Agni Sapkota, Dahal’s aide, as the House Speaker on January 27, 2020, and task force’s recommendation for the parliament to not endorse the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact had both isolated PM Oli within his party; Oli had sought to place his confidante Subash Nembag as the Speaker and get the parliament to endorse the MCC compact as soon as possible. Feeling cornered, Oli had intensified his authoritarian tendencies and unilateral moves, which invited Dahal’s pressure now backed by the majority in the secretariat.

 In February 2020, the Dahal-Nepal faction had warned Oli of a vote of no-confidence, he showed a hesitation to bring Bamdev Gautam to the Upper House. While that warning had dissipated, a real pressure against Oli and his unilateral moves began in April 2020. However, Oli skillfully dodged it by diverting everyone’s attention to the Kalapani border dispute with India. The diversion did not last long though. By early July, the demand for Oli’s resignation had reached the party’s Standing Committee, and anticipating a possible no-confidence motion against him, Oli had to get the president to prorogue the running federal parliament. The Dahal–Nepal faction had to take a step back then, but a prolonged intra-party conflict finally culminated in a truce on September 11, where the Standing Committee meeting decided to divide the roles between Oli and Dahal; while the former would focus on the government, the latter would be the party’s executive chair. This truce, too, was short-lived, for Oli resumed his unilateral moves—making political and diplomatic appointments, attempting to change provincial government, and holding ‘suspicious’ and ‘anti-national’ meetings—which seriously irked Dahal and his faction.

Timeline of Important Events:

DateEvents
15 Feb 2018KP Sharma Oli assumes the office of Prime Minister
17 may 2018NCP’s official unification
28 Feb 2020Dahal-led faction warns Oli of vote of no-confidence over Bamdev Gautam’s appointment to the Upper House
April 2020Dahal’s pressure against PM Oli startedà the Kalapani issue saves Oli
2 July 2020The president prorogues the parliament after the cabinet’s recommendation; Oli suspected of a possible no-confidence motion and pressure to resign at the scheduled Standing Committee meeting
11 Sept 2020Standing Committee Decision: Oli as the PM and Dahal as NCP’s executive chair
13 Nov 2020Dahal presented a 19-page political document/proposal at the secretariat meeting
17-18 Nov 2020Chinese Ambassador Yanqi meets PM Oli, President Bhandari and other prominent leaders of NCP; secretariat meeting convenes at 1 pm on Nov 18
28 Nov 2020Oli presented his proposal at the secretariat meeting

Unlike before, NCP’s dispute has reached to lower levels this time. After the Dahal-Nepal faction sent Dahal’s long political document along with other letters of corresponded to lower committees, Oli’s group did the same. These actions caused a decentralization of the Oli-Dahal struggle, which was apparent in an incident in Chitwan, where cadres ‘chanted slogans against Surendra Pandey,’ a standing committee member.[4] Therefore, while distributing the letters and documents to lower levels offers transparency within the party, the actual content of these documents only expose the existing differences, ego-clashes, and malpractices of the two leaders within the party, which in turn will further polarize the party at lower level.

As Rajendra Maharjan, a political analyst, rightly observes, the proposals/letters somewhat serve as ‘internal opposition’ because Dahal points out Oli’s and his government’s failures and weaknesses, which should have ideally helped Oli correct himself. However the exchange of letters have largely been only accusatory and dirty. They are intended to put all the blame on the other while appearing clean themselves, which means whoever emerges victorious in this power-struggle will automatically claim virtue. Due to the high stakes, neither Oli nor Dahal appear willing to backtrack. Instead, Dahal is expected to present a counter proposal to Oli’s latest document.

What Dahal and Oli want: [5]

What Dahal WantsWhat Oli Wants
Oli should self-criticize about his mistakes and weaknesses.  Dahal should withdraw his proposal and apologize.
New agreement should be struck; the September 11 agreement does not apply anymoreThe September 11 agreement should be implemented.
Both (Oli’s and Dahal’s) proposals should be extensively discussed.  A new common proposal should be prepared.
The crisis should be solved through Standing Committee and Central Committee  The ongoing crisis should be solved through party secretariat.  

So far, both Dahal and Oli have made their intensions clear. In the scheduled upcoming meetings of the Secretariat, Standing Committee, and the Central Committee on 1, 3, and 10 December respectively, both Oli’s and Dahal’s proposals are to be discussed. What is also likely is a series of other counter proposals from both the sides. It is clear that neither Oli nor Dahal wants to bear the burden of a party split, so the struggle is likely to continue.

In this Dahal-Oli struggle, other leaders who have been beneficiaries of the party’s government want to ensure that the party does not split. Leaders such as Madhav Nepal, Jhalanath Khanal, Bamdev Gautam, and Narayan Kaji Shrestha seem simply tired of Oli’s hardheadedness and unilateralism, which does not only isolate them politically but also deprives them of their dividends. Therefore, in Dahal, they see a friend with the common goal of limiting Oli. It should be noted that Dahal cleverly used these leaders, the resulting numerical strength in the Secretariat, Standing Committee, and the Central Committee, and the media to get to Oli before. His most recent offensive move to present the political document openly accusing Oli of bad governance and involvement in corruption scandals, however, was something rare and personal.

In addition to Dahal’s personal discontent with Oli’s unilateral moves and his frustration over his shrinking influence in the party and with the government, there are some external factors at play as well. For instance, with a primary goal to stay in power, Oli has been assessing his options and employing some; one of them was his meeting with NC president Deuba. While Deuba himself was widely criticized within his party for even considering any alliance with Oli and while an Oli-Deuba alliance is very less likely, the meeting was seen in a meaningful way. The prime minister was basically suggesting that he could survive a possible party split by joining hands with Nepali Congress. Irrespective of the actual possibility, the move was a tactical one, aimed at intimidating the Dahal-Nepal group.

India and China are also widely discussed when the NCP struggle is talked about, and rightly so. The recent series of visits of high level Indian officials indicate Oli’s readiness to mend a soured relation with Nepal’s southern neighbor. Some analysts such as Achyut Wagle observe that Dahal’s determination to corner Oli could be motivated by this renewed willingness to strengthen the India-Nepal ties.[6] Indeed, that is possible. Dahal has publicly been known to be pro-China; his objection to parliamentary endorsement of the American MCC grant has been well-known. Therefore, it is logical to assume that Dahal’s pressure against Oli is bolstered by the latter’s strong support for the grant. However, observers also note that China would want to sideline a pro-MCC Oli without compromising the NCP’s unity.[7] It is not surprising Oli’s threat to split the party has repeatedly met Chinese Ambassador Hou Yanqi’s mediation.[8] China understands that a split NCP would give away Nepal’s dominance to Nepali Congress, which would limit the influence that China has currently been enjoying.

Will the NCP split? Party split is not Oli’s intention, but if he has to do so to stay in power, he could. Dahal and Nepal do not want the party to split either. They only wish to limit Oli’s undue influence and pave a smoother path for their political future. According to some insiders, Dahal’s endgame is to take full control of the party and declare himself as the executive president.[9] He hopes to do so by making Bamdev Gautam the prime minister, replacing Bhandari, Nepal, or Khanal as the president and amend the constitution. Oli, on the other hand, wants to limit Dahal’s influence and maintain his legacy as a ‘great’ prime minister. The recurrent conflict within the party seems to be disturbances that continue to erupt, challenging their political ambition. Therefore, the upcoming meetings will be crucial in determining what will happen with the two leaders and the party.


[1] https://nayapatrikadaily.com/news-details/54846/2020-11-13

[2] https://english.khabarhub.com/2020/28/145018/

[3] Part 8, Article 100.4 of the Constitution of Nepal, 2015

[4] https://kathmandupost.com/politics/2020/11/26/to-reconcile-or-fight-ruling-party-factions-devise-strategies

[5] https://ekantipur.com/news/2020/11/30/160669988427221118.html

[6] https://kathmandupost.com/columns/2020/11/23/the-ruling-party-feud-has-far-reaching-repercussions

[7] https://shilapatra.com/detail/45900

[8] https://www.nepalitimes.com/editorial/you-stab-my-back-i-stab-yours/

[9] https://www.nepalitimes.com/latest/alpha-males/

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