Explainer: Five reasons why Deuba has dithered over cabinet expansion

Despite a series of consultations among alliance partners and within each party, the expansion of the cabinet is taking longer than expected.

Ashim Neupane

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba on August 12 revealed that he wanted to include the agenda of the MCC Nepal Compact in the common minimum program of the coalition government which was unveiled on August 8. But he could not do so due to the disagreement with Pushpa Kamal Dahal, Chairperson of Maoist (Center), a major ally of the current government.

This has been seen in a political circle as one of the early indications that the road ahead for the current government will not be rosy. This is possibly one of the reasons for the delay in cabinet expansion. There are only five ministers in Deuba’s cabinet at the moment–four cabinet ministers and a state minister.

It has been exactly a month since Deuba came to power. From a public health perspective, these are critical times. There have been speculations that a third wave of the pandemic has already started. But the country is without a full cabinet minister to lead the Ministry of Health.  Key portfolios such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, very important at the time since the country needs to secure vaccine support from other countries around the world, remain headless. Many other key ministries have no ministers to lead and manage them. So why has it taken such a long time for the government of Sher Bahadur Deuba to take  full shape? 

Here are the five reasons that have led PM Deuba to dither on cabinet expansion.

Factionalism within Nepal Congress: The grand old party Nepali Congress is no stranger to factional politics. Since its formation, the party has spawned several shoot-off parties, including one led by the incumbent chair Deuba. Currently, factionalism within the party seems as entrenched as ever, thanks to the upcoming general assembly to elect new leadership. Respective factions led by General Secretary duo Shashanka Koirala and Krishna Sitaula are still either indecisive or have not clarified their position regarding participating in the government. Dr Shekhar Koirala and Ram Chandra Poudel, key leaders in Nepali Congress, have not made their positions clear as to whether they will seek portfolios in the cabinet.

Vacillation of Madhav Kumar Nepal: The Madhav Nepal faction of UML is also indecisive about participating in the cabinet as their move will largely be dependent on KP Oli’s move within the party. Madhav Nepal was instrumental in toppling down the Oli government and forming the government under the leadership of  Sher Bahadur Deuba.  Deuba wants the Nepal faction to be onboard in his cabinet but Madhav Nepal and leaders from his faction are still in ‘wait and watch’ mode.  Nobody knows until when.

Aspiration of all Maoist leaders: The Maoist leaders are holding one-on-one and group consultations with supremo Prachanda to address their grievances ahead of the much-anticipated cabinet expansion in the Deuba government. It is in the public notice that almost all Maoist leaders are vying for the ministerial portfolio. Recently, media reports have suggested that one of the leaders threatened Prachanda of committing suicide if not nominated as minister. Prachanda himself has publicly said that he is facing problems due to the number of aspirants for the ministerial portfolio. It remains to be seen how he will manage to come out of the woods.

JSPN wants more: Top leaders in the Janata Samajbadi Party Nepal are also in discussion over how to address the infighting within the party for ministerial portfolios. The JSPN faction led by Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai had taken some of the leaders from Mahantha Thakur faction into their fold. It is likely that Upendra Yadav and Baburam Bhattarai convinced them by offering ministerial berths. There are many aspirants within JSPN as well. The leadership has not been able to make decisions because of the same.

Everyone wants powerful portfolios: All the alliance partners are vying for powerful ministries which they can use as clout to secure lucre for the upcoming elections. But in a coalition government, it is not possible to make every partner happy by allocating them key ministries. Deuba, a five-time prime minister, may not be a stranger to this but he is facing the problem once again.

While Deuba has previously created a record by forming the largest cabinet Nepal had ever seen, the constitution has now capped the size of the cabinet at 25. Thus, constitutionally Deuba will not be able to appoint more than 25 persons as ministers in his cabinet.

However, it is likely Deuba will increase the number of ministerial portfolios, especially state ministries to accommodate more leaders. Deuba is a seasoned political player,well-versed in managing conflicts by allocating public resources in the favor of a few leaders who help him in his ambitions to stay in power. But any action toward this direction will surely invite a public backlash and raise the constitutional question. 

To know whether he will repeat the same trend or dare to break the mould this time, we, too, will have to wait and watch.