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Reshuffling the Cabinet in Nepal

Reshuffling the Cabinet in Nepal

Siddhi B. Ranjitkar

Removing eight former members from and adding 20 new faces to his Council of Ministers, the King reshuffled it on Wednesday, October 07, 2005 just two weeks after the seven-party alliance signed a letter of understanding with the communist rebels to step up their campaign to oust the royal government. The king reshuffled the cabinet perhaps for two reasons.

One reason is the previous government failed to protect the crown prince from the falling stones thrown by the two groups (one pro-monarchists and another CPN (UML) cadres) fighting against each other at New Baneswor, Kathmandu on December 02, 2005 when the crown prince drove to receive his father king Gyanendra at the airport. Another reason might be to counter the political understanding reached between the seven-party alliance and the Maoists on November 22, 2005 for the elections to a Constituent Assembly that would end the current political stalemate. The king believes that he can end the political crisis by fighting against the Maoists and suppressing the parliamentary parties and at the same time going to the municipal elections on February 08, 2006 and the parliamentary elections in April 2007. The parliamentary parties and the Maoists believe that the king's strategy is just to prolong his autocratic regime, and the king is standing in the way to peace and democracy. Both the king and the opposition claimed that their own way of doing business is the correct one to end the current political stalemate.

Previous Home Minister Dan Bahadur Shahi stepped out of the cabinet was the ample indication of the first reason that the government could not even protect the crown prince from the falling stone while he was traveling to the airport through the brickbats between the pro-monarchists and the CPN (UML) cadres. The then government easily blamed the CPN (UML) and arrested over two dozens students alleging them as the stone throwers on the crown prince's motorcade. A large number of pro-monarchists equipped with hand-weapons riding on motorcycles paraded on the Ring road and went toward the CPN (UML) office on the night of December 03, 2005. The government posted several security personnel at the office obviously for protecting the office from the attacking motorcyclists. The CPN (UML) believed that it was a drama played by the government to threaten the CPN (UML). The party was demanding the government for taking actions against the hooligans.

If the king has in his mind to win the political game played against the seven-party alliance and the Maoists by reshuffling the Council of Ministers, he would not win the game simply changing some figures on the game board. After the tactical understanding reached between the seven-party alliance and the Maoists, the king has a single party left to play with. Using the former Panchas and some few businesspersons as his bets for playing a game with the seasoned politicians and parties, he would not be able to win the game unless he changes his policy on repression.

The king brought some persons such as Narayan Sing Pun and Keshar Bahadur Bista in his council of ministers. Mr. Pun had advocated for peace talks with the Maoists, and he played a key role in bringing the Maoists to a peace-talks table in his previous incarnation as a minister in the cabinet of Lokendra Bahadur Chand in 2002. Mr. Bista had been an advocate too for talking with the seven-party alliance for ending the political stalemate. Their influence on the king and the Council of Ministers would be visible only if the king would reciprocate the ceasefire declared by the Maoists and have talks with the seven-party alliance rather than having confrontation with them. It remains to be seen how hard and deep influence the hardliners could make on the king.

The king must have lost the hope of breaking up of the seven-party alliance, as the seven-party alliance instead of breaking up has made a pact with the Maoists and further consolidated their power for fighting against regression, and for peace and democracy. The king's strategy of promising to hold municipal elections and then parliamentary elections could not split the seven-party alliance. The consolidation of power of the opposition parliamentary parties by reaching an understanding with the Maoists has threatened the autocratic rule of the king. So, the king must have removed some tainted figures from his Council of Ministers and brought in some of the die-hard supporters of his regime to counter the opposition formed by the seven-party alliance and the Maoists.

It has been obvious that even after 10 months of his direct rule, the king could not deliver peace, corruption free administration and prosperity not to mention about democracy and fundamental human rights, which he frequently had committed to do so in the international forums and to the concerned foreign dignitaries. Nepalis have been ready to fight against anybody and any setup that stands in the way to peace. Therefore, not opting for peace and going head-on collision with the combined force of the seven-party alliance and the Maoists, the king had certainly demonstrated errors of his judgment and had further put his crown at stake. His motives and actions are not compatible to the institution of monarchy.

Giving the Home Portfolio to the former Panchas, Mr. Kamal Thapa, the king had shown that he was not in a mood to reconcile either with the seven-party alliance or with the Maoists or anyone wishing for peace. Rather he seemed to intensify the suppression of the voices of the people for peace, of the seven-party alliance for peace and democracy, and of the rebels for elections to a Constituent Assembly by the muscle power of a person like Mr. Thapa who was with a dubious character. Mr. Thapa might need to face a lawsuit in the Court for his misdeeds during the Panchayat period if the Mallik Commission Report on the misdeeds of the former Panchas was implemented as CPN (UML) Leader Madhav Kumar Nepal publicly stated that he would.

The new government has no support of any major political parties. Chairman of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP), Pashupati SJB Rana disclaimed any responsibility for anybody of his party joining the government. He said his party members joined the new government on their own without consulting the party and its consent. He said, "Dialogue with parliamentary forces and formation of an all-party government is the only way to resolve the current problem." Six members of his party such as Kamal Thapa, Roshan Karki, Bhuwan Pathak, Brajesh Kumar Gupta, Toran Bahadur Gurung and Pratap Ram Lohar joined the new government on December 07, 2005. What actions Chairman Rana would take against those joining the government not known yet but he asked the party spokesperson Roshan Karki to quit the position of spokesperson; she complied with it. The party-members joining the government in their individual capacity had attempted to convince Mr. Rana of declaring them as the representatives of their party to the government but Mr. Rana declined. Similarly, on Thursday, December 08, 2005 in a statement, Rastriya Janashakti Party (RJP) Chairman and former Prime Minister, Surya Bahadur Thapa said that Central Working Committee Member, Buddhiman Tamang didn’t seek permission from the party before joining the government. So, he disclaimed his party's representation in the new government. In response to the party Chairman Surya Bahadur Thapa, the newly appointed Minister for Industry, Commerce and Supplies, Buddhiman Tamang resigned from both the central committee membership and the general membership of the Rastriya Janashakti Party. Chairman Thapa accepted it promptly. Mr. Thapa further stated that the cabinet reshuffle would not resolve the political crisis. Nepali Congress (Democratic) had suspended Mr. Mani Lama from the Central Committee for supporting the king's February-1 takeover, and then dismissed him from the party for joining the new government formed by the king on December 07, 2005.

Nepali Congress Leader and Former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala did not even comment on the reshuffle of the cabinet. Other leaders did not see any changes in the attitude of the king to resolving the political stalemate.

Deputy General Secretary of the Nepali Congress Ram Chandra Poudel said, "The reshuffle has no sense in terms of resolving the political crisis. This will not help resolve the situation in the country. It just shows that the king is not serious about defusing the situation in the country." Spokesman for the Communist Party of Nepal, Bamdev Gautam said, "This is only a continuation of the autocratic exercise. We are fighting for full democracy and these kind of minor changes will make no difference."

Only four of the ten members of the Council of Ministers formed by the king immediately after the February-1 takeover remained in the reshuffled Cabinet. They were Ramesh Nath Pandey, Radha Krishna Mainali, Buddhi Raj Bajracharya, and Tanka Dhakal.

The king must have retained Mr. Ramesh Nath Pandey as foreign minister believing that he has been successful in handling the foreign policy despite the fact that the king could not get an audience with South African political stalwart, Nelson Mandela during his recent sabbatical visit to South Africa and other African countries. Mr. Pandey was also not successful to take the king to New York for attending the 60th UN General Assembly. He also could not decrease the intense pressure put on the king by the international community. His only success might be to get the support of three countries such as China, Pakistan and Russia for the king. The rulers of these countries were lined up to the support the king as they saw their images on the king too as he was adverse to democracy, civil liberties and human rights as they were.

How Radha Krishna Mainali could retain his position and portfolio in the new Cabinet was not known yet. However, he was a strong man to reckon with and would be useful for the king at the time of grave crisis. Hopefully, he would not betray the king as he did to his parent party CPN (UML).

Vice-Chairman of the Council of Ministers, Kriti Nidhi Bista and Minister for Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, Buddhi Raj Bajracharya had been relegated to the Ministers without portfolio. Recently, Vice-chairman Kriti Nidhi Bista had described the 12-point understanding reached between the seven-party alliance and the Maoists as a positive development. He stated that any move to restoring peace in the country was a welcome step. However, the government did not react positively to the pact. Mr. Buddhi Raj Bajracharya had been relegated to the Minister without portfolio for any obvious reasons. So, he might lose the job any time in future. He was in a critical condition and just holding the ministerial position by a string.

Mr. Tanka Dhakal had been quite vocal as the Spokesman for the Government and the Minister for Information and Communications. He had done a number of things as Information and Communications Minister starting from looting the equipment from the Kantipur FM Radio station and to stopping the Sagarmatha FM Radio from relaying the interview of the Maoist leader, Prachand given to the BBC Nepali Service. Unfortunately, the success to the minister's actions was hampered by the Supreme Court's stay order. His most critical media amendment ordinance of 2005 was still pending in the Supreme Court for validation. So, it was not surprising that he went down to be the Minister for Local Development that did not carry much weight in the Council of Ministers.

Krishna Lal Thakali, Durga Shrestha, Dan Bahadur Shahi, Khadga Bahadur GC, Ram Narayan Singh and Madhukar Shumsher Rana -six members of the first Council of Minister headed by the king were dropped out of the new Cabinet. They were the victims of their own deeds.

Former Finance Minister Madhukar Shumsher Rana had to leave the cabinet for not being effective in handling the economy. During the last 10-month reign of the cabinet headed by the king, the country was steadily heading toward the economic bankruptcy. He even attempted to bring in the highly subsidized Indian fertilizer to Nepal through an informal channel to make huge profits for the gang, for the nation, or for himself not publicly known yet. It certainly became a scandal for him to account.

Former Minister for Women, Children and Social Welfare, Mrs. Durga Shrestha could not stand up against the questioning of the constitutional anti-corruption body called Commission on Investigation into Abuse of Authority (CIAA) for abusing her authority for personal gains. Based on the complaint filed against her, the CIAA formed a probe team to investigate the complaint. The CIAA-probe team found that she had been receiving allowances and benefits going beyond the legal provision.

Former Minister for General Administration, Krishna Lal Thakali must have been overshadowed by the very strong personality such as Chief Secretary Lok Man Singh Karki - son of the noted philanthropist Bhupal Man Singh Karki. Mr. Lok Karki earned a lot of dubious reputation by being a strong bureaucrat against the people and for being a supporter of the authoritarian royals. He even must have tainted the good image of his father. So, Mr. Thakali must have been the victim of the very aggressive Karki.

Former Home Minister, Dan Bahadur Shahi got out of the Council of Minister for obvious reasons for not being able to save the crown prince from flying bricks thrown by monarchists and the CPN (UML) cadres at each other while fighting for their respective parties.

Two assistant ministers, Jagat Gauchan and Senate Shrestha were booted out of the council of ministers. The noted criminal and Former Assistant Minister, Jagat Gauchan included in the king's cabinet during the previous reshuffle of the cabinet, was kept out of the current cabinet because the king must have thought that it was time to clean up the cabinet from the people of criminal backgrounds. He was implicated in the attempted murder case and stayed behind bars for a number of years. He was one of the conspirators of the attempt on the life of the renowned journalist Mr. Padam Thakurati of the Panchayat era (1960-1990). Mr. Thakurati was one of the investigative journalists who had exposed the misdeeds of the then regime, for which he almost paid by his life. Former Assistant Minister, Senate Shrestha had earned a reputation for being involved in the fertilizer scandal when he was a businessman.

The king retained the most important portfolio, the Ministry of Defense for himself in addition to being the Chairman of the Council of Minster. The new council of Ministers has 36 members including the king.

Most of the newly inducted faces were former ministers during the Panchayat era and the rest were the individuals who were booted out of the political parties. Reshuffling of the cabinet also demonstrated the king's uncompromising attitude toward the people wishing for peace, the seven-party alliance and the Maoists. This was the third time the king reconstituted his Council of Ministers after the February-1 putsch. He first constituted the council of Ministers on February 02, then reconstituted on February 14 and July 14, 2005.

The current reshuffle of the king's cabinet does not make sense in terms of resolving the political crisis rather it might intensify it because of the inclusion of the most controversial former Ministers of the Panchayat era. These new ministers are for the king to hear from them what he wants. He has shut down his ear to the criticisms of the Nepali Congress party leaders and CPN (UML) leaders, and the people's wish for peace. He is trying to shield himself from the political reality of the crown at risk and is living in the world of his wishful thinking.

Monday, December 12, 2005.

ENDS

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