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Multiparty coalition struggles to appoint ministers

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Three days after Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal won a vote of confidence in Parliament with an overwhelming majority and three weeks after his appointment as prime minister, Dahal is still struggling to expand his Cabinet by bringing all the coalition partners on board.

The abrupt U-turn of the largest party in Parliament, the Nepali Congress, to give Dahal the vote of trust, according to some leaders of the ruling coalition, was initially one reason causing confusion among the coalition partners.

Earlier, Prime Minister Dahal had claimed that he would expand the Cabinet immediately after he got the confidence vote on January 10.

But many leaders of the ruling parties claimed the delay was solely due to competing demands of partners in ministerial allocations. According to multiple leaders the Post spoke to, ministerial allocation has become tough as all coalition partners have staked their claims in plum ministries.

With the parties failing to distribute the ministries, the meeting of the coalition scheduled for Thursday could not happen even on Friday.

“We have seven parties in the coalition and 10 of the 12 parties represented in Parliament have supported the government. The parties are thus struggling to select ministers,” said Hitraj Pande, chief whip of the CPN (Maoist Centre). “The Cabinet expansion could take a few more days.”

The ruling Maoist Centre has almost finalised its ministerial candidates, with the party likely to get a maximum of four to five ministries. The party’s senior vice-chair Narayan Kaji Shrestha is already in the Cabinet as deputy prime minister and minister for physical infrastructure and transportation.

Maoist Centre’s Rekha Sharma, who beat UML’s general secretary Shankar Pokhrel, has refused the offer of the top party leaders to become Vice-President and wants to be a minister instead, while another Maoist lawmaker, Sudan Kirati, who was elected from Bhojpur by defeating Province 1 former chief minister Sherdhan Rai, is also aspiring to become minister.

Mahendra Raya Yadav, the only directly-elected lawmaker of the Baburam Bhattarai-led Nepal Samajbadi Party that contested elections on the Maoist Centre’s election symbol, also has a high chance of being selected as minister. But Maoist Center leaders have been pressuring the party chair and prime minister to give priority to their own lawmakers in ministerial appointments.

“As all coalition partners will generally get their share in the Cabinet according to their strength in Parliament, I don’t think there will be a problem,” said Rajendra Lingden, chairman of Rastriya Prajatantra Party. “I don’t know why the meeting of the coalition has not been called yet.” The RPP has already decided that its chairman will lead the party in the Dahal-led Cabinet as deputy prime minister. However, with many lawmakers wanting to be ministers, the party has been struggling to pick its ministers. Leaders from other parties said that though the RPP is asking for four ministries, it could get a maximum of three. In a bid to ease the tension created by the abrupt decision of the Nepali Congress to support the new government, Prime Minister Dahal has twice met UML chair KP Sharma Oli in a span of 24 hours and held hours-long discussions. UML Deputy General Secretary Bishnu Rimal also attributed the delay in expanding the Cabinet solely to the difficulty of reaching an agreement among coalition partners on ministerial berths. “Initially, the prime minister had announced that he would expand the Cabinet only after the vote of trust. After that, the two party chiefs [Dahal and Oli] have held two rounds of meetings,” Rimal told the Post. “But that isn’t enough because other coalition partners must also be appeased.” He claimed that the delay had nothing to do with the Congress’ vote of confidence, as “the Congress’ move will have no bearing on the coalition’s future”. According to him, the Cabinet expansion shouldn’t take more than a day or two. Other coalition leaders also informed that the two top leaders have prepared a tentative list of all ministers. Through an informal meeting of its top leaders, UML has been working to finalise its ministerial candidates. The party is laying claim to Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation; Land Reform; Defense; and Foreign, among other ministries. The Loktantrik Samajbadi Party (LSP) had also given a confidence vote to Dahal’s government after the common minimum programme included all their issues and demands. “We will join the government if the ruling coalition wants us in,” said Keshav Jha, a leader of the LSP. According to leaders, a tentative agreement is in place to set aside nine ministries for the UML, five for the Maoist Centre, three to four for the Rastriya Swatantra Party, three for the RPP, two for the Janata Samajbadi Party, and one each for the Janamat and the Nagarik Unmukti parties. Janata Samajbadi Chairman Upendra Yadav said Oli, the convener of the high-level political mechanism, was yet to invite him for power-sharing parleys. The JSP has been demanding three ministries and a deputy speaker; it has already gotten the chief minister of the Madhesh province. “Given the complexity of managing the ministries I think cabinet expansion could take a few more days,” said a JSP leader. Four ministers, who were inducted to the Cabinet on December 26 without assigning portfolios, are still jobless. They include three ministers from the UML (Damodar Bhandari, Rajendra Kumar Rai and Jwala Kumari Sah) and one from the Janamat Party (Abdul Khan). Minister Khan said his party has asked for two ministries–Urban Development and Industry, and Commerce and Supplies.

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