Oli remains undecided on Gautam as he goes under the knife

Anil Giri

Despite the fact that Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli will be undergoing a kidney transplant on Wednesday, Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, which was expected to decide on the officiating prime minister in Oli’s absence and the Bamdev Gautam affair, ended with no clear conclusion on either.

Oli will be admitted to the hospital on Monday but unlike in the past, when Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel took over the prime minister’s duties, there was no clarity on who will be overseeing day-to-day governance.

“Since the prime minister is not going out of the country, no discussion was held on the officiating prime minister,” Energy Minister Barshaman Pun told the Post. “I don’t think the Cabinet needs to take a decision on the matter when the prime minister is within the country.”

As per practice, the prime minister usually deputes a senior Cabinet minister to look after day-to-day governance only when he is out of the country.

Pokhrel, who is also Minister for Defence, had been looking after governance whenever Oli was out of the country, either for treatment or on official visits.

According to doctors, Oli will have to stay in the hospital at least a week following the transplant. But even after discharge, he is unlikely to immediately start engaging in day-to-day governance. Doctors said that it will take at least a month for Oli to recover.

Sunday’s Cabinet meeting was also expected to take a decision on ongoing furore within the ruling Nepal Communist Party regarding party Vice-chair Gautam’s nomination for the National Assembly. There is now confusion over whether Gautam will be inducted into the National Assembly or Yubaraj Khatiwada, whose term in the National Assembly is expiring on March 3, will continue as finance minister.

“The Cabinet did not discuss whether to give continuity to Finance Minister Khatiwada or nominate Gautam, even though we were expecting the prime minister to table a proposal during the meeting,” a minister told the Post on condition of anonymity. “No discussion on the agenda, however, means Gautam’s nomination has certainly been pushed further back.”

Last week’s Secretariat decision to nominate Gautam, who lost the 2017 parliamentary elections, for the National Assembly has become a major bone of contention in the ruling party, driving a wedge between party Chairs Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

Hours after the Secretariat decision on Wednesday, Oli had told his confidantes that he will not nominate Gautam, who is being backed by Dahal, for the National Assembly. The Dahal camp, however, has maintained that Oli is under obligation to abide by the party’s decision.

Amid rising tensions in the party, with Oli and Dahal pitted directly against each other, senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal has been acting as an interlocutor over the past three days to find a ‘win-win’ scenario.

According to party leaders, Oli agreeing to nominate Gautam for the Upper House and Dahal making a concession to let Khatiwada continue as finance minister could resolve the ongoing dispute for the time being.

Bishnu Rijal, a central committee member, said that the prime minister seems to be trying to defuse the tension.

“He did not recommend a name to ward off any possible conflict just ahead of a major operation,” Rijal told the Post.

As per the existing provisions, an unelected person can be appointed a minister but he or she must become a member of one of the Houses—either the House of Representatives or the National Assembly—within six months from appointment. Oli could have appointed Khatiwada the finance minister again and he could have been in office for at least six months before he would need to be reappointed to the National Assembly.

The dispute seems to have been shelved for the time being, but insiders say that behind-the-scene exercises are likely to continue. Oli is cornered in the ruling party for the first time since party unification and his becoming prime minister. Dahal has managed to wrest control of the nine-member Secretariat, with some senior UML leaders who have been long-time colleagues of Oli’s, siding with Dahal.

– The Kathmandu Post

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