Kathmandu, Aug. 16 -- Three days after returning from Singapore following a medical checkup, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was taken ill on Thursday, postponing a long overdue secretariat meeting of the ruling Nepal Communist Party. The meeting had been postponed two times already.

On his return from Singapore, Oli, on Monday, had told reporters that he was fine.

"We suggested that he rest up after he came down with a fever," said Narayan Kaji Shrestha, the party spokesperson. "We have decided to meet on Friday afternoon."

The secretariat meeting was last held on July 29 and has not taken place since as both party co-chairs were abroad. The meeting was supposed to be held on Tuesday and again on Wednesday, but was postponed each time due to internal wrangling. It is imperative that the meeting be held as the party has long been attempting to select the leadership of the various departments and party organisations.

Eight leaders-spokesperson Shrestha, former prime minister Jhalanath Khanal, Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel, standing committee members Ghanashyam Bhusal and Beduram Bhusal, and central member and former minister Ram Karki-have laid claim to the party's School Department.

The ruling party, which is still very much divided along former party lines, will need to decide which faction-the UML or the Maoists-gets the School Department. Accordingly, a leader can then be appointed.

"The party has yet to decide which of the two former parties will lead the school department," said party General Secretary Bishnu Poudel. "There are still some issues to be finalised through an official meeting."

The party has 32 departments, including the School Department and a Policy Academy. The party's top leadership had agreed to give 18 departments, including the Policy Academy, over to the UML and 14 departments to the Maoists.

Former UML leaders have already agreed that former prime minister Madhav Nepal will lead the International Department while Khanal will lead the Policy Academy and secretariat member Bamdev Gautam will look after the Organisational Department.

However, the Madhav Nepal faction has opposed Oli's proposal to allow standing committee member and chief advisor Bishnu Rimal to lead the Labour Department, Goma Devkota to lead the Women's Department, and Mahesh Basnet the Youth Department. All three leaders are close aides to Oli.

Tensions are expected to run high between the former UML and Maoist camps over School Department, as leaders are yet to agree on its leadership. The School Department, which is responsible for imparting training to the rank and file on the party's political line, is considered an important unit in a communist party.

Both formal UML and Maoist factions are likely to lay claim to the School Department, according to leaders, which could further complicate the unification process.

Assigning leadership to the party's various departments is a crucial aspect of party unification, which remains incomplete even though the UML and the Maoists merged over a year ago. The party has yet to finalise the leadership of different party-affiliated organisations, commissions, the national council, various foreign committees and the Senior Communist Forum.

The two Co-chairs Oli and Pushpa Kamal Dahal, along with Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa and General Secretary Poudel, had been busy at Baluwatar since early morning, conducting all necessary preparations to finalise party unification. The prime minister's sudden illness led to the postponement of all preparations.

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