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Even more men in Cabinet now

Women’s representation in the cabinet dropped to a scant 8 per cent, down from the already low 13 per cent, when Prime Minister KP Oli sacked seven ministers including two female colleagues in the much-awaited cabinet reshuffle on November 20.

Minister for Drinking Water Bina Magar (also daughter-in-law of the Nepal Communist Party Co-Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal), and Minister for Land Management, Cooperative and Poverty Alleviation Padma Aryal retained their portfolios. Tham Maya Thapa, Minister for Women, Children and Senior Citizens, and Ram Kumari Chaudhary, state minister for agriculture and livestock were dismissed. Thapa was replaced by NCP leader Parbat Gurung who has been summoned by the Kathmandu District Court for attempted murder. 

Oli also dismissed Physical Infrastructure and Transport Minister Raghubir Mahaseth, Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Security Gokarna Bista, Minister for Federal Affairs and General Administration Lal Babu Pandit, Minister for Industries Trade and Commerce Matrika Yadav, and Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Development Chakra Pani Khanal. They were replaced by Basanta Nembang, Rameshwor Raya Yadav, Hridayash Tripathi, Lekhraj Bhatta, and Ghanshyam Bhusal, respectively.  

The newly-inducted state ministers are industrialist Motilal Dugar, Nawaraj Rawat, and Rambir Manandar for industries, health, and urban development, respectively. PM Oli also swapped the responsibilities of former Health Minister Upendra Yadav and Law Minister Bhanubhakta Dhakal. Yadav’s party, the Samajwadi Party, was not consulted before the changes although it is a junior partner in the ruling coalition. 

Oli, Dahal revisit an old understanding

Other things remaining constant, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli is to remain in office as prime minister until the term of the current federal parliament expires in 2023, following a new power-sharing arrangement he reached with Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Co-Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal. NCP spokesperson Narayankaji Shrestha on November 20 said that, following a meeting of the party secretariat at the prime minister’s residence, Dahal would now serve as the NCP’s executive head, although Oli would remain the Supreme Leader in the party’s seniority ranking.

Shrestha said that the new accord—reportedly brokered by President Bidya Devi Bhandari—would bring stability in the party and the government.

The arrangement puts an end to a long-running dispute over a reported gentlemen’s understanding under which—according to former Maoist members of the NCP—Oli and Dahal would each have leadership of the party and of the government for two-and-a-half years, or half the term of the federal parliament. Oli has denied the existence of such an understanding, which detractors say was reached ahead of the merger of the CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Center) to form the Nepal Communist Party in April 2018. A major implication of the new agreement is that PM Oli could become the first democratically elected prime minister in Nepal to serve a full term. The NCP has an almost two-thirds majority in the federal parliament.

On November 21, Oli told his new cabinet to work honestly and sincerely, and that he would regularly review their performance. The prime minister also wondered why the relevant minister and bureaucracy could not do simple tasks such as fixing potholes.  

“Kathmandu’s potholes! Kathmandu’s potholes! Kathmandu’s potholes!,” he fulminated. “Turn on the television, listen to the radio, look online, it’s the same sarangi (read as complaint). Why not solve this once and for all? Let’s get it done before this quarter ends,” the prime minister directed Cabinet ministers and secretaries at a meeting in Singha Durbar. 

Nepali Congress revisits the government’s failures

The main opposition Nepali Congress (NC) pointed out 21 major failures of the Oli government in the 21 months, and said these were in stark contrast to the many campaign promises made by the government parties. NC spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma said on November 19 that the high hopes with which Nepalis had welcomed the Oli government was giving way to widespread frustration at its failure to deliver on promises of growth and development, check corruption, and uphold the basic values of democracy and pluralism. The NC has accused Oli government of trying to impose dictatorship by attacking public institutions, the press and civic liberty through harsh laws and regulations.

The NC’s attack came a day after former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, a senior leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP), said that corruption was becoming rampant in all three tiers of governments due to corrupt ministers and bureaucrats. Nepal said at a program in Kathmandu that he was particularly worried about the theft of taxpayers’ money in local bodies, given the absence of any oversight mechanism.

Kalapani is ours: Oli

Prime Minister KP Oli on November 17 urged India to remove its troops from the contested Kalapani area, which he said was an integral part of Nepal. Speaking to the ruling Nepal Communist Party’s (NCP) youth wing, Oli said that his “patriotic government” would not cede even an inch of its territory. He asked the opposition and the media—both of whom he also accused of remaining silent over the decades—not to exaggerate the border dispute, as his government was working to resolve it through bilateral discussion with India.

Nepalis have been protesting a new political map issued by India that depicts some areas along the northwestern border, including Kalapani area, Limpiyadhura and the Lipu Lekh pass, tri-junctions variously claimed by Nepal, India, and China, as part of India. In the Indian Survey General’s new political map issued to reflect the division of Jammu and Kashmir, India considers Kalapani as part of Uttarakhand state’s Pithoragarh district. 

Stop hurting victims, says the NHRC

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will not support any decision or activity related to transitional justice that could hurt the sentiments of the victims of Nepal’s decade-long civil war, spokesperson Bed Bhattarai said. In a statement issued on November 20, Bhattarai emphasized the need for an independent and transparent transitional justice mechanism that would ensure justice for victims.

The commission’s statement came two days after a committee led by former chief justice Om Prakash Mishra published a list of 61 candidates for appointment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP). Ganesh Datta Bhatta, an associate professor at Nepal Law Campus, has been recommended as chairperson for the truth commission, while Lokendra Mallick is to return to CIEDP which he was leading until its term expired, following several extensions, without progress on addressing cases of enforced disappearance.