Under mounting pressure to resign, Nepal's beleaguered Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has downplayed the intra-party rift and said such disputes are "regular phenomena" that can be resolved through dialogue, as a crucial meeting of the ruling party was postponed by a week to give more time to the warring factions to reach a power-sharing deal.
Prime Minister Oli also vowed to protect Nepal's sovereignty and territorial integrity, amidst a border row with India.
In a previously unannounced address to the nation on Friday night, hours after the crucial Standing Committee meeting of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) was postponed for the fourth time, Oli said that it is the duty of a political party and its leaders to resolve the internal matters and disputes.
The meeting of the NCP's 45-member powerful Standing Committee was scheduled to be held on Friday. But it was postponed for a week at the last moment, citing floods and landslides that killed at least 22 people.
Top NCP leaders, including former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda', have demanded Prime Minister Oli's resignation, saying his recent anti-India remarks were "neither politically correct nor diplomatically appropriate."
But in his prime-time address, Oli tried to downplay the intra-party rift and growing demand for his resignation.
"It is natural for the people to wonder why parties are indulging in dispute while the country is beset by a pandemic and natural disasters,” said Oli. "Such disputes are regular phenomena that can be resolved through discussion and dialogue," he added.
"I will assure all that I will make every effort to consolidate national unity, protect democratic republic and uplift national pride."
Amidst a border row with India, the 68-year-old prime minister said, "I will also also commit myself to protect national sovereignty and territorial integrity."
India's relations with Nepal came under strain after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated a 80-km-long strategically crucial road connecting the Lipulekh pass with Dharchula in Uttarakhand on May 8.
Nepal reacted sharply to the inauguration of the road claiming that it passed through Nepalese territory. India rejected Nepal's claim asserting that the road lies completely within its territory.
Later, Nepal updated its political map through a Constitutional amendment, incorporating three strategically important Indian areas of Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura.
India has rejected as "untenable" the "artificial enlargement" of the territorial claims by Nepal.
The differences between the two factions of the NCP, one led by Oli and the other led by party''s executive chairman 'Prachanda' on the issue of power-sharing, intensified after the prime minister unilaterally decided to prorogue the budget session of Parliament.
The political future of Oli is now expected to be decided on July 17 during the Standing Committee meeting, amidst the growing involvement of Chinese ambassador to Nepal Hou Yanqui to save his chair.
The Prachanda faction, backed by senior leaders and former prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Jhalanath Khanal, has been demanding Oli's resignation.
Oli is under intense pressure to step down from the posts of Prime Minister and party chairperson as a majority of the NCP leaders have asked him to do so owing to the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and his unilateral actions, bypassing the party.
Oli and prachanda have held over half a dozen one-on-one meetings in recent days, but the two leaders are nowhere close to a deal. There's a growing demand from second-rung leaders to resolve the crisis within the party.
On Sunday, China’s ambassador Hou met senior leaders and former prime ministers Madhav Nepal and Khanal as hectic negotiations for a power-sharing deal were going on between Oli and Prachanda.
The Prachanda-led faction has asked Oli to resign from both the posts of the Prime Minister as well as the party chairman, while Oli is not ready to quit any of the two key posts.
There has been a demand from the party's senior leaders and cadres to adhere to the principle of one-man one post in the party since the unification process between CPN-UML and Maoist Centre started two years ago, said Ganesh Shah, the Standing Committee member.
If Oli sacrifices one of the two executive posts, a solution to the present crisis could be found, he said.
There has been turmoil in the NCP for the past few months, but Oli tried to divert the attention of the dissident group by giving a nationalist slogan and updating the Nepal's political map by incorporating three strategically key Indian territories, which served as means to pacify the internal tussle for some time.
However, the intra-party differences again surfaced since last week, after Oli accused the dissident groups led by Prachanda of hatching a conspiracy to remove him with the help of Nepal's southern neighbour.