Misunderstanding within the Maoist party, the largest in the Assembly, has become the main stumbling block to progress in Nepal. Factionalism has been the bane of Nepali politics for centuries, but perhaps never more than now.
The process of writing a new constitution has been grinding on at snail’s pace for more than three years, and the deadline for promulgation has been extended twice. Previously that has been largely caused by bickering between the parties.
There are three Maoist factions: the the dominant one controlled by party supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda), a hardline faction behind Mohan Baidya, and a faction that follows Dr. Baburam Bhatterai and is more inclined to work within the “bourgeois” polity.
The Maoists have had intra-party strains for many years: During their “people’s war” Dr. Bhatterai was demoted from the Central Committee and remained for months in isolation, under virtual house arrest. But for the last year disquiet has grown, and both the Baidya and Bhatterai factions have challenged Dahal over his control of the party, favoritism towards his followers, and his virtual monopoly of the dirty money that largely funds the party – and all other Nepali political parties too.
There are also dogmatic concerns for both factions. The hardliners advocate breaking off participation in the government and seizing state control through a militant street movement, and the Bhatterai faction thinks Dahal has appeased the party hardliners and failed to take advantage of the Maoist’s majority to control the existing state apparatus. But both factions care more about power within the party and access to ministerial berths and the income that can be extracted from them.
Power within the party is distributed according to a “work division.” A Central Committee meeting Wednesday addressed the work division plan and proposed new roles to several Bhatterai and Baidya faction members, replacing Dahal followers. Dahal will lose substantial influence over the party’s parliamentarians and over the military wing of the party.
Equally importantly it is believed that Dahal will support Bhatterai as the party’s candidate for the next prime minister, and the party has announced a reshuffle of the Maoists’ slate of ministers in the current coalition government. Ten of the twelve Maoist posts now go to Baidya and Bhatterai faithful, replacing, for the most part, ministers loyal to Dahal. Health and Population minister, Agni Sapkota, who has been accused of war crimes, is one of the ministers to be called back.
The change will weaken Dahal’s control of the party apparatus and his fundraising capability, but will leave him atop the party hierarchy and his faction in overall charge. The new Maoist ministerial slate includes four women and many different ethnic groups, fulfilling an earlier promise to fill seats inclusively. It will also allow the Maoists to project themselves as united and to declare the intra-party tussle that has halted all progress on peace and the constitution as an exercise in democracy.