Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and his fellow co-chairman of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Pushpa Kamal Dahal have reportedly been drifting apart after Dahal publicized the power-sharing deal with Oli. Dahal maintains that the agreement, whereby the two co-chairs becoming PM for two and half years each, should be implemented in its letter and spirit. But those close to Oli see this as a plot to change the government and push the country into another bout of instability. Kamal Dev Bhattarai talked to senior NCP leader Devendra Poudel, a close confidante of Dahal, for some insights.
There is a lot of public dissatisfaction over the performance of the federal government. How you react to this as a senior leader of the main ruling party?
First, with the formation of the two-third government, people’s expectations were sky-high. But there has not been the expected level of delivery. Second, opposition parties have consistently blown up government weaknesses, which has given the impression that the government is not performing well. Third, the party has failed to complete its unification process on time and there were thus lapses in government performance. Yet it does not mean the government has done nothing at all.
Are you suggesting that there has not been the desired level of coordination between the party and the government?
In some areas, the government has made substantial progress. All three levels of governments have come up with their budgets, which are now being of implemented. The tasks of building roads, highways, and other infrastructures are moving apace. But people had expected a lot in the terms of governance. You do not need huge budgetary support or FDI to change governance. There have been some lapses and we have to correct them immediately.
There is much talk about the power-sharing agreement between PM Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal after two and half years. What is the reality?
Let me give you an example first. In 2006 the Maoists joined the peace process, and we agreed to invite the United Nations to assist our peace process. We had some differences with Nepal Congress-led government of the time. But we signed some agreements with then Girija Prasad Koirala government and we fully implemented them.
The Maoists had some ideological differences with then CPN-UML. Yet we could agree on party unification. All this could happen because there was a level of trust between the two sides. It is impossible to move ahead in politics if there is no trust on political agreements signed between two sides.
Most of the Maoist and UML leaders were not there when the power-sharing agreement was signed. There were several issues and the two chairmen settled those through mutual consultations. The two then signed a power-sharing agreement. This is a real document whose implementation is based on trust and honesty. In fact, the very basis of unity was the power-sharing deal. Party unity could be achieved only after this agreement. Until there is new agreement, the agreement signed during party unification stands. Politics will move ahead smoothly only if this agreement is honestly implemented.
Is the agreement about the handover of either PM or party president to Dahal? Or does it deal solely with a change of PM?
We should not sow confusions about the agreement as two parties are now united. We should not provoke top leaders. We should not blow up the issue to the extent of party split; instead we have to work together to keep the party united and effective. We want to unite not just the party. We also want to take the main opposition Nepali Congress into confidence.
For party unification we skipped some core ideological differences, with a view of settling them in the general convention. But the power-sharing agreement clearly mentions that government leadership will be shared on rotational basis. There is no mention of specific date of change of prime minister, but it is again a matter of honesty. Now, KP Oli is the prime minister and no one wants to remove him right now. Even Chairman Dahal has made it clear that there would be no immediate change in government leadership. But we should also remember that the power-sharing deal has a time frame.
The party unification agreement stated that the General Convention would be held within a year of the deal. But is it possible to hold the convention right now?
It is agreed that all things would be settled through mutual understanding until the general convention. The first GC after unification will be held on the basis of understanding between two sides, keeping the spirit of party unification intact. It is not possible to hold general convention within a year so it will be postponed. But all things will move ahead as per the understanding reached during party unification.
In response to the power-sharing deal, some leaders and advisors of PM Oli have publicly spoken of ‘plots’ to derail the Oli government.
I have met friends who are making such remarks. They have one logic and it is justified too .They say talk of power sharing at a time when some forces are trying to weaken the government, including international forces, opposition and bureaucracy, would affect government functioning. But some friends are also publicly saying that there has been no power-sharing agreement and even if there is one, they would not own it. Some leaders say the party would not recognize the agreement between PM Oli and Prachanda. They cannot take such a position and make public speeches. Such irresponsible statements will only lead to a split. We should avoid them to keep the party intact.
What about the ideological differences between the former UML and Maoist cadres?
I think it is clear enough now. There was a lack of clarity over the party’s future course. Two ideological positions have been brought together under the same rubric of ‘Janatako Janabad’.
Oli is concentrating power and his ambition is piling up. What if Oli refuses to hand over government leadership to Dahal?
It is an important question. At the same time, it is very difficult question for us to speak about. KP Oli is the prime minister as well as our chairman. He was elected by the parliament. Even in the party PM Oli is elected. The PM’s success is our success and success of the whole country. So, it is our responsibility to protect him, to support him and help him pursue his projects. I am committed to it.
But I would suggest that he expands his advisory team. Many friends from the party are keen to support him and they should get the opportunity. The leaders who want to support the PM should have an access to him. Even former prime ministers have not been able to properly consult with the PM, and I feel the same. Also, I think the PM is trying to consolidate power in order to smoothen government functioning. But if you concentrate power and yet fail to deliver results, there comes a time when you have to justify such power-concentration.
How do you evaluate the recent frequency of meetings between your co-chairman Dahal and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba?
The meetings between Dahal and Deuba are not related to government. Dahal would not engage in such childish games. NC, which is in the opposition, is a signatory to the peace process. A big component of this peace process is transitional justice, which is yet to be settled. To settle it, there is a need for national consensus, which is impossible with Congress support. The two have been meeting to settle this issue.
Similarly, there is a need of collaboration with opposition on the issues of development, peace and prosperity. It is natural that the government is reaching out to opposition parties on common national issues. There is no chance of an immediate government change, unlike what Deuba may have been saying following his meeting with Dahal.