KATHMANDU, July 6: Ministerial portfolio-sharing between the establishment faction of Nepali Congress and the rival faction led by Ram Chandra Paudel has triggered intra-party rift within the ruling party.
As the party president Sher Bahadur Deuba and Paudel have been at loggerheads about sharing the number of ministerial portfolios between them for the past several days, Prime Minister Deuba's plan to expand the cabinet immediately after the second phase of local has been affected.
According to leaders familiar with the development, the faction led by Paudel has demanded at least five ministerial portfolios, while ensuring they are also provided equally influential ministries in the cabinet. However, Prime Minister Deuba has maintained that the Paudel faction can be given only four ministerial portfolios as he plans to induct Rastriya Prajatantra Party and other fringe parties in the cabinet.
"As NC will have 13 ministerial portfolios in this cabinet, we have demanded at least five ministerial portfolios. This is our fair demand as Deuba himself used to claim 40 percent ministries when he led the rival faction in the party," said a leader belonging to the Paudel faction on condition of anonymity.
A meeting of the Paudel faction held at General Secretary Shekhar Koirala's residence was attended by senior leaders including Prakash Man Singh, Ram Sharan Mahat and Paudel himself. The faction has staked claim for various influential ministries such as Ministry of Physical Infrastructures and Transport, Ministry of Information and Communications, Ministry of Energy and Ministry of Irrigation.
However, Prime Minister Deuba has turned down the demand, saying that ministerial portfolios that NC will be holding are yet to be settled with other coalition partners.
Paudel held a meeting with Deuba at the prime minister's official residence later in the evening to apprise him about their decisions. The Paudel faction has threatened not to send any minister if they are denied respectful position.
Earlier, Paudel had threatened to boycott the oath-taking ceremony of Prime Minister Deuba, alleging that he was running the party unilaterally. However, he changed his mind after Deuba's promise to fulfill their demands.
The Paudel faction is planning to send its minister under the leadership of Bal Bahadur KC. Sources said Deuba, who wants to give ministry of information and communications portfolio to Mahesh Acharya, is miffed with the Paudel faction for not including him.
Leaders close to Deuba said that he plans to expand the cabinet at the earliest. "Should everything go as planned, the prime minister is likely to expand the cabinet tomorrow [Thursday]. This may be delayed if the differences are not settled," said NC leader Ram Hari Khatiwada.
Deuba has already inducted Gopal Man Shrestha as education minister, Gyanendra Bahadur Karki as finance minister and Farmullah Mansoor as labor minister from his party in his cabinet. While Krishna Prasad Sitaula-led faction is planning to send Bhimsen Das Pradhan in the cabinet, Khum Bahadur Khadka is likely to pick Mohan Basent as ministerial candidate.
The main coalition partner, CPN (Maoist Center) has already sent Krishna Bahadur Mahara (Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister), Janaradan Sharma (Home Minister) and Prabhu Shah in Deuba's cabinet. Likewise, Nepal Loktantrik Forum Chairman Bijaya Gachchhadar has already been appointed as Deputy Prime Minister and Local Development Minister. Sources said Prime Minister Deuba is planning to bring Rastriya Prajatantra Party and Federal Socialist Forum Nepal as well in the cabinet.